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Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 4:39 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hawks to keep close eye on Ducks’ top line

CHICAGO – The Blackhawks know from first-hand experience last season how much the Ducks’ top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry can impact a game – especially if left unchecked for even a couple seconds.

Last season, the Ducks beat the Hawks 2-1 on March 26 at the United Center and Perry scored both of Anaheim’s goals. Getzlaf and Ryan also picked up assists on both markers, as the Ducks’ top line dominated the puck most times they were on the ice.

“You’ve really got to be mindful when they’re out there and really try to limit their time deep in the zone,” said Blackhawks back-up goalie Ray Emery, who started that game for Anaheim and picked up the win. “Those three players are dominant players on their own, and when they play together it’s that much more special. They can kind of find each other with little blind plays and quick spins to the net and they’re always dangerous when they’re out there. More nights than not, if you shut them down you’re going to do pretty well against their team.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville agreed with that assessment, stating that his team can’t even have one lapse when the Ducks’ top trio is on the ice. The Hawks had a number of defensive miscues on Saturday night that led to a 5-4 shootout loss at home to the Colorado Avalanche and will need to be a lot better on against the Ducks on Tuesday.

Quenneville even said he’ll likely use more than just the energy checking line of Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik to defend them.

“That line does a lot of things you don’t see,” Quenneville said. “They can make special plays and they kind of have an understanding of where other guys are and they’re dangerous around the net with quick sticks. There’s got to be an awareness of when they’re on the ice. They play so much it’s a tough responsibility for one line (to defend them), so hopefully a couple of guys will have a chance of seeing them as well.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 4:37 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hawks hope to end shootout struggles

CHICAGO – The good news for the Chicago Blackhawks so far is that they’re not leaving as many points on the table this season as they did a year ago.

Last year, a trend of blowing third-period leads put the Hawks in a difficult position in the Western Conference standings at the end of the season – when about five teams were battling for the last two playoff spots.

Still, Chicago has lost both of the shootouts it’s been in through the first seven games and losing those extra points is unacceptable in their minds – especially with an all-star trio of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp making up the first three in their shootout lineup.

Alas, Toews and Kane – who’ve been good in shootouts historically – are both 0-for-2 so far, while Sharp is 0-for-1.

“There are key points that have been left on the board, especially in the shootout,” said Kane, who is 17-for-45 in shootouts for his career. “With the talent we have in our room, you definitely want to get that other point and we feel like we should every time. It’d be nice to get those. They add up at the end of the season when you’re picking spots for the Western Conference.”

Asked if maybe goalies are just getting better at shootouts, Toews scoffed at that notion.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Toews, who leads the Hawks with a mark of 19-for-39 in shootouts for his career. “Everybody wants to talk about (shootouts) since Kaner and I are 0-for-2, but we’ve had a pretty good history at that. We’ve got a lot of good shooters on this team, so at the end it’s the coach’s decision if they want to mix things up, but when we’re in that situation we trust fully the guys who are going out there. It’s not for lack of trying. Sometimes it just doesn’t go in.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 3:59 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Maroon may make NHL debut for Ducks

CHICAGO -- After skating with the Ducks’ second line in Tuesday’s morning skate, 6-foot-4, 225-pound rookie forward Patrick Maroon is hoping to make his NHL debut on Tuesday night in Chicago.

Maroon is from St. Louis, which is just a four-hour drive from Chicago, so his family will be in attendance to hopefully see his first game.

Maroon skated with center Saku Koivu and forward Teemu Selanne on Tuesday, but there seems to be some feeling among the Ducks traveling media contingent that Maroon could find himself replacing Bobby Ryan on the left wing of the top line with center Ryan Getzlaf and right wing Corey Perry.

Neither place in the lineup would change his designated role to use his big frame and help open up the ice for whomever’s playing with him.

“I’m just going to play my game, get pucks in, go to work and create offense for those guys,” he said of the Ducks’ top forwards. “Just create havoc, so they have room to play their game. It’s just exciting. If I play it will be my first game ever and first NHL experience.”

Maroon was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round (No.161) of the 2007 Entry Draft. He was traded to Anaheim on Nov. 21, 2010 along with David Laliberte in exchange for Danny Syvret and Rod Bordson.
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Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 3:56 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ducks may take longer look at Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO -- The Anaheim Ducks are prepared to pay the price to keep 19-year-old rookie forward Devante Smith-Pelly longer than the nine games if they want to take a longer look.

Smith-Pelly, a two-way forward with a big body, is currently playing the wing on the Ducks’ third line. He’s recorded just one assist in seven games with a minus-3 rating, but his defensive ability and physicality (11 hits) are intriguing to Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle.

“(He’s a) big physical winger that has to play the body to be effective,” Carlyle said. “If he’s not skating and playing the body, he just becomes another player out there. He’s a 19-year-old kid we’re asking a lot of to play a third-line role for us, but again, that’s what it’s about.”

If the Ducks opt to keep Smith-Pelly longer than nine games, his time clock for NHL free agency would start with Game 10. They could still return him to the OHL’s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors later in the season, but the season would count toward his eventual NHL free agency instead of counting as a junior season if he’s sent back before or at the nine-game mark.

Smith-Pelly hopes to make it a very tough decision no matter what the Ducks decide.

“I talked to (Ducks General Manager) Bob Murray and he said that nine-game mark … he’s not too worried about burning a year on the contract or whatever,” Smith-Pelly said on Tuesday. “He says as long as I deserve to be here I will be. If or when that time comes, if I don’t deserve to be here I won’t … whether it’s seven games, 10 games or 80 games. That kind of makes me feel like I’m doing some things right and making the decision pretty hard on them.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 2:25 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Ducks, Blackhawks

Here are the projected lineups for when the Anaheim Ducks face the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at the United Center:

DUCKS
Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Patrick Maroon - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Andrew Gordon - Andrew Cogliano - Devante Smith-Pelly
Matt Beleskey - Maxime Macenauer - George Parros

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa - Lubomir Visnovsky
Sheldon Brookbank - Toni Lydman

Jonas Hiller is expected to start in goal with Dan Ellis serving as his backup.

BLACKHAWKS
Andrew Brunette - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Sharp
Daniel Carcillo - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Michael Frolik
Viktor Stalberg - Marcus Kruger - Jamal Mayers

Duncan Keith - Nick Leddy
Brent Seabrook - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Steve Montador - Sean O'Donnell

Corey Crawford is expected to start in goal with Ray Emery serving as his backup.
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:46 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

No communication issues for Avs’ Varlamov

Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson was asked if there were any communication issues that needed to be worked out between the Avalanche's blueliners and Russian goalie Semyon Varlamov – who was brought in via a trade in the off-season.

The Avs don't have any other Russians on the roster, which was a big change for Varlamov – who had a couple of countrymen with him on the Washington Capitals. Still, Johnson said the communication on and off the ice is better than you might expect.

"When he first got here, I asked him if it was going to be tough for him not having any Russian guys around anymore, but he said he liked it because he could work on his English and not just speak Russian all the time," Johnson said. "I thought that was a pretty good answer. He just wants to learn and talk to his teammates and get acclimated with what we want him to do. It's worked well so far and the communication from (defensemen) to the goaltender has been pretty seamless. He understands the basic stuff we're saying to him."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:46 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Pivots take center stage in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche are similar in a lot of regards. They're both built around a young nucleus of talent and they both like to get up and down the ice at a fast pace. They also both have some serious star value at the center position.

That last one, however, is one of the most intriguing aspects whenever they play. The matchups Saturday night ought to be fun to watch. Colorado's top two centers , Paul Stastny (one goal, four points) and Matt Duchene (one goal, four points), will be measured against Chicago's Jonathan Toews three goals, five points) and Patrick Kane (two goals, six points).

Each team has impressive guys centering the third line, as well. Chicago's Dave Bolland (four goals, five points) has added offensive punch to his usual defensive ability, while Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly is doing the same with five assists and a plus-5 rating.

"It's going to be one of those games where both teams are looking for their best players to step to the forefront," Avs coach Joe Sacco said after Colorado's skate on Saturday. "If you look at it that way, just the [top] two centermen they have and with our centermen [it's ] the same thing. It's going to be a game where the best players are going to have to shine."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:26 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hossa likely to play against Colorado

After taking another day off from practice Friday, Chicago Blackhawks star forward Marian Hossa took part in the morning skate Saturday and is set to play Saturday night against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.

His on-ice absence Friday was more cause for concern about an undisclosed upper-body injury that's been termed "minor" by Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, but Hossa said he's simply trying to keep his body in good shape for the rest of the season.

"If there was a game (Friday), I definitely would've played," said Hossa, who has three goals and five points in five games played thus far. "Sometimes it's smarter to … instead of going 20 minutes on the ice … just go in the gym and take care of your body a different way."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:19 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kane staying at center for Chicago?

It sounds like Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is getting closer to removing the "experiment" tag from Patrick Kane playing center instead of right wing after seeing a lot of good things from the move in the first six games.

Kane has looked pretty good in the middle on the second line, especially when placed with star forward Marian Hossa on the right wing. Hossa and Kane are both playmakers with a knack for setting up scoring chances and they're finding plenty of room to work thanks to the gritty efforts of left winger Daniel Carcillo.

It Kane's defense that had some concerned about the move, but he's been solid and knows how to use quickness with the stick to backcheck in the defensive zone. He's also holding his own in face-offs.

"We like the way he plays," Quenneville said. "Defensively you're comfortable with him and offensively a lot of good things have been happening – especially that combo with him and (Hossa). I believed that it could very well happen (all along), that he's that type of player that could adapt to that situation – especially since he's been a center his whole life. Immediately it looked like he was comfortable down low, so we've been pleased."

If it works long-term, at least for the rest of this season, it could turn out to be a brilliant move by the Hawks -- who appeared to need a second line center via free agency or trade. Now, with Kane doing the job, it gives Hawks general manager Stan Bowman a little more flexibility with the roster.

Kane hasn't scored a point in a couple of games, however, so he's looking to break out again on Saturday night against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.

The Hawks are unveiling statues of team legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita before the game outside the United center, but Kane said he isn't daydreaming of having his own someday.

"Right now, I'm just trying to get back on the score sheet after two games," he said, laughing. "I'm not really worried about a statue."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 3:58 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hawks happy with third defense pairing

Sean O'Donnell and Steve Montador have provided some steady play along the blue line as the third pairing for Chicago and the Blackhawks' depth on the back end is starting to take shape because of it.

O'Donnell, who just turned 40, is still in great shape and has proven to be a steady presence at both ends of the ice, while Montador's play has picked up considerably since the preseason ended.

"He's really progressed," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday's morning skate at United Center. "His training camp was ordinary and as soon as the regular season started his play picked up. Defensively, he's responsible and gives us some quickness coming out of our end. He's got a big shot off the point and looks to make plays as well. Overall that pair's been very steady for us, which is what we're looking for."

Montador has one assist and a plus-3 rating through Chicago's first six games, while O'Donnell has a pair of assists and is a plus-2.
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