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Blackhawks not ready for major overhaul

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks are still sifting through the parts of where things went wrong and still feeling the sting of a second straight early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

However, the Blackhawks do not sound like a team that feels it's far behind the rest of the League or one planning to do a major reworking of the roster. Despite losing to the Phoenix Coyotes in a six-game Western Conference Quarterfinal series, the Hawks' second such ouster in as many years, they aren't wasting time sulking.

Kane seeks answer for power outage

Patrick Kane used to routinely pick up points in bunches on Chicago's power play. This season, Kane tallied just four goals and eight assists on the power play. That lack of productivity is one reason his season point total of 66 (23 goals and 43 assists) was the lowest of his five-year NHL career.

"You look at my second and third years in the League, I probably had 30 to 35 points on the power play," Kane said. "That's a huge difference. I think this year I had like 12 or something like that. That's 20 points right there and could put me up at the 85- to 90-point range. It's a big difference. We've got to work on that. That's the biggest thing. It hurt us a little bit at the end of the season and playoffs and we'll try to improve there."

Kane said one big area to improve -- literally and figuratively -- is finding another big body to put in front of opposing goaltenders, like former Blackhawks Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Kopecky did with good success.

"The big thing [to] me on the power play, you know...  there wasn't really a netfront guy the whole year like with the power plays that have been successful in the past," Kane said. "Guys that stand in front ...  that's a huge part of the power play. At the same time, sometimes I don't know if we tended to relax on or take it for granted that we've got time and space to make plays, but personally it was a
huge downfall for me and something I definitely want to be better at next year."

Another area Kane might want to shore up is taking draws, as GM Stan Bowman talked glowingly about his play at center and might've tipped what the plan might be for second-line center. While fans and media point out the team didn't seem to have a true second-line middle man, Bowman wondered what all the hubbub was about.

"There's been a lot of talk about that position," Bowman said. "I'm not sure why there's been so much ... but if you look back on the season, our team's best record -- and it coincided with Patrick's best performance -- is when Patrick Kane was in the middle."

The Hawks also went through a rough patch in which Kane was moved back to his more familiar right wing after about 22 games at center to start the year. However, after Toews went down with his concussion starting the stretch run in February, it was right back to the middle for Kane -- who played pretty well to help the Hawks earn a playoff berth.

"When Jonathan got hurt, Patrick moved back into that spot and Patrick Kane carried our team the last month or five weeks of the season," Bowman said adamantly. "He kind of put us on his back and carried us into the playoffs when our captain was not here and it was tough times. We had gone through a prolonged [nine-game] losing streak and the pressure was on. He stepped up and became our No.1 center, really, for all those weeks. So, I think the notion that he can't play center and isn't good at center has been dispelled."

--Brian Hedger

Instead, they're taking a closer look at a few areas that need improvement -- beginning first and foremost with a stagnant power play that went 1-for-19 against the Coyotes. Improved goaltending from Corey Crawford and Ray Emery is also on the docket along with getting injured forwards Marian Hossa (upper body) and Daniel Carcillo (season-ending knee surgery) healthy again.

However, a major overhaul is probably not in the works heading into the offseason.

"Not everything's going to go your way and you've got to learn how to deal with adversity and deal with things you don't want to deal with," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who missed the last 22 games of the regular season with a concussion before returning for the Phoenix series. "That's just the way it goes. You move past it, you learn from those things and you try to be better because of it. We can't sit around and feel sorry for ourselves that we didn't get what we wanted this year. We've got to work even harder to try and get what we want next year."

There's no mistaking what they want. It's big, silver, shiny and has their name on it from 2010.

Like Chicago's chief rival in the Central Division, the Detroit Red Wings, competing for the Stanley Cup has become an every-season goal in the Windy City. Expectations have been raised, and that's why there will be no rebuilding, no tear-down and no roster "implosion" coming this summer.

Instead, there will likely be more subtle changes made by Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to help this team's core of star players drive the engine.

"When you don't reach your goal, which is to win the Stanley Cup, it's a big disappointment," Bowman said Wednesday before meeting with players on locker cleanout day at United Center. "I can speak for

myself as well as the organization that we set out every year to win the Stanley Cup and we didn't do that this year. So it's a disappointment ... clearly. [But] I think you have to look at the whole season, not just the ending."

In the larger scope, the Blackhawks did get back over the 100-point mark and got some big contributions from rookies like Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes -- not to mention another season of development for talented 21-year old defenseman Nick Leddy and a breakout 22-goal performance by 26-year old Viktor Stalberg.

"Ultimately, [the loss to Phoenix] is what we're focused on right now, because it's so fresh in our minds and we didn't reach our goal, but we did have a lot of good things that happened this year," Bowman said. "Getting 100 points in a very tough division, we saw some young players emerge and I think the future's very bright for our organization. Sitting here right now and not playing past the end of April is not an excitement, but I think if you look at the full season there's a lot of things to be hopeful for as we prepare for next year."

The power play, oddly enough, is right at the top of those things.

Chicago struggled almost all season with the man advantage and never quite found a solution -- and yet the Hawks were still one of the best offensive teams in the NHL because of their 5-on-5 scoring capability. That wouldn't be possible without a roster full of talent, which Bowman and the Hawks already know is in place.

Bowman said both special-teams units need to be better, but was emphatic about the power play -- which also finished the regular season ranked near the bottom of the League.

"The results speak for themselves," Bowman said. "They were a huge disappointment this year. The power play was unacceptable to have the caliber of players that we do and to not have it work. Ultimately we've got to improve that and that's really a question Joel's probably better able to answer. It's more of a coaching thing than anything. There's a lot of different ways to run a power play and to orchestrate it, and for whatever reason ours didn't work."

Just how important does Bowman view that particular aspect of the game? Important enough to spend several minutes talking about it and singling out how it can either lift a team or zap crucial momentum.

"We need to be better in that area," Bowman said. "There's no doubt about that. It was a season-long struggle for our team and I think more than anything you lose momentum. More than anything, you want to have it be a momentum-generator, as opposed to a momentum-killer within a game. That's one of the key things we need to be better at next year. There's no doubt about it."

For those who weren't counting, that was two "no doubt about it" comments in the same thought sequence by the Blackhawks GM -- who's fresh off watching his team drop three of the first five games against the Coyotes -- all in overtime. Just one or two more successful power plays in the 19 that Chicago was awarded during the series might've made a huge difference.

Assistant coach Mike Kitchen works with the unit, but the Hawks eventually called in player development director Barry Smith -- a longtime associate of Chicago's senior advisor and legendary former NHL coach Scotty Bowman -- to work with the power play during practices.

Bowman, who said his relationship with coach Joel Quenneville hasn't been strained by a turbulent season, basically said his coach has the power to decide whether a change needs to be made in his

staff. Quenneville didn't say that necessarily will happen, but also didn't go easy on the unit's production or the entire team's responsibility for it.

"The power play was unacceptable to have the caliber of players that we do and to not have it work. Ultimately we've got to improve that and that's really a question Joel's [Quenneville] probably better able to answer. It's more of a coaching thing than anything. There's a lot of different ways to run a power play and to orchestrate it, and for whatever reason ours didn't work." -- GM Stan Bowman on the Hawks' power play

"I'm going to absorb the responsibility for its ineffectiveness for the most part," Quenneville said. "I think going forward, as a staff, we've got to absorb some responsibility but players have to absorb

some responsibility as well. They're the ones that execute it. They're out there and they get the quality time."

Another item on Bowman's list is improved consistency from Crawford, whose play varied wildly during his second NHL season. Bowman and Quenneville said they'd get behind Crawford, but they also said he needs to be better overall.

Crawford agreed.

"There's a lot of stuff I learned throughout the year," he said. "I can definitely take away some positive stuff from some good hockey out of this year, too. I don't think the whole year was negative.

Obviously a disappointing finish ... but I'm just going to use everything to get ready for next year."

It's pretty much the same outlook for the entire team, which is forced again to watch eight other teams chase the Stanley Cup on television in the conference semifinals. Other offensively-gifted teams are in the same situation in Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Detroit, but that's not making the sting go away any faster for the Hawks.

"I don't think there's any consolation that those teams are out," star defenseman Duncan Keith said. "They're all good teams, but you know, we're not taking any comfort in the fact that any other teams are out. We think about ourselves and worry about ourselves and what we need to do to win ... and it wasn't good enough. For that, we're not happy about it and we know we have work to do to get better, to improve and get [back] on top."

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