In the middle of a grueling road trip, the Blackhawks got a rare practice on home ice Monday. In the middle of an eight-game winless streak, both players and coaches underscored the need to play a total team game on Tuesday night, when the Hawks visit their division rivals in Nashville.
“Top guys have to play like top guys, checkers have to check,” winger Patrick Sharp said. “Everybody has to play their own role. You don’t win games because of a small number of players; you win because the entire team was on the same page from top to bottom. We’ve seen that in the past and this season, and we want to get back to it tomorrow.”
“We certainly need our top guys to be special players here; I think they complement our special teams as well,” said Head Coach Joel Quenneville. “I think everybody has got to have some responsibility here, from the coaches, to the players and how we play in all zones. We’ll get that one win we need so desperately right now and build off of it.”
Among the changes put in place on Monday was a shuffling of the top line, which featured Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The trio skated together in the latter portion of Saturday’s game against Phoenix, and have generated points and chances offensively in the past.
“We were put together at this same time [last season] and we had an unbelievable month,” recalled Kane. “We were scoring a lot and making a lot of plays – it was fun hockey. I think last game we had some chemistry together, played a lot of minutes, had some chances. Hopefully it’s a jump-start for the team. We’ve got to start winning some games.”
Another focus on of the afternoon was the special teams units, which also saw some changes in personnel. The team has not recorded a power play goal in the first six games of their season-long nine-game trip.
“Special teams are always important; putting pucks in the net on the power play and keeping them out of the net on the PK,” Sharp said. “It’s about generating momentum; you don’t always have to score, but you can sometimes swing the momentum of the game on special teams. If you go out and have a bad power play and just kick [the puck] around, the other team can build off of that.”
While the first six games have not gone the way they would have liked, the Blackhawks’ locker room sees the final three games of the trip as both a challenge and an opportunity; in a very tight Western Conference playoff race, getting two points against a divisional opponent would be a great step in the right direction.
“I think we control what we can control, and that’s winning tomorrow’s game,” said Quenneville. “Up to game 48, we did a really good job. We’ll try to recapture some of that feeling.”
“It’s a big opportunity for us; Nashville is playing great, they’re a tough team to play against, and you look at these games as four-point games,” Kane said. “Hopefully we can get going.”
No change for injured defensemen: Quenneville told the media Monday that there has been no change in the status of injured defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador, and it appears both will be considered doubtful for Tuesday’s matchup with the Predators.
With two defensive mainstays out of the lineup, Quenneville said that the blueline corps has had to adapt the style of play, but the bottom line is that defensive awareness, patience and good decision-making are still the top priorities.
“Prior to them being out of the lineup, we were trying to be tighter and more aware defensively in all zones; more detail-oriented,” he said. “I think there was some progress. But with both these guys being absent, I think our group defense has to be aware and our patience around the ice has got to be [increased]. I think there are times and places around the ice where we can be more creative with the puck, but there are certain areas where we have to make safer plays.”
News and notes: Ray Emery will start in net for the Blackhawks Tuesday night… Duncan Keith did not practice Monday, but Quenneville said the absence was for a “maintenance day” and he expects the defenseman to be in the lineup at Nashville.