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Central: Madden gets his points across to Blackhawks

by Larry Wigge /
It was just a few moments after Patrick Kane slipped a perfect pass from behind the net out to Patrick Sharp for the winning goal in Chicago's 3-2 victory against Montreal on Oct. 30.

The offensively skilled Kane, 20, was seen at his locker at United Center next to John Madden, 36. A nod and a laugh could be seen before Madden walked away from one of the Blackhawks' young stars.

You can be sure the conversation wasn't Madden suggesting to Kane how to manage his stock portfolio or Kane telling Madden that he should give Miley Cyrus' music a try over his usual favorite, Bruce Springsteen.

Actually, the two sit next to one another in the Blackhawks' dressing room and they've had some interesting conversations in Madden's first season in Chicago. It's a big part of the learning curve for a skilled youngster like Kane, who's looking to soak up as much information as he can to improve.

"I actually played with his younger brother, Scott, in a summer league growing up," Kane chuckled. "It's just funny how things work out like that. It feels like yesterday I was playing with his little brother on a summer hockey team. And here I am sitting next to John in the NHL. It's actually pretty cool. His knowledge of the game is really helpful."

What all this means is that when you are a young and skilled team on the rise, like the Blackhawks, and you sign a two-time Stanley Cup champion as a free agent, there are certain things you expect: A winner, a leader, a player with an attention to detail.

GM Stan Bowman smiles when he says the Blackhawks got that and more when they signed center Madden to a one-year, $2.75 million deal.

"You look for all of the intangibles from a guy who has been an impact player for nine seasons with a well-structured team like the New Jersey Devils," Bowman said. "But you know something, I've watched John go out and check the opponent's best line for a lot of years, still I never realized what a great passer he is.

"He's already had some pretty impressive shifts with offensive players like a Patrick Kane or a Dustin Byfuglien."

Madden has had as many as 20 goals twice and twice he had more than 40 points with the Devils. He had 7 goals and 16 assists in New Jersey last season. This season? He already has 1 goal and 3 assists with the Hawks.

When a GM raves about something he didn't expect from a player, that's when he knows he's made a pretty good signing. And Madden's presence has been even more important than Bowman and the Blackhawks could have imagined considering the team has missed captain Jonathan Toews' presence up the middle the last four games coming into this week (Toews is expected back on Thursday, when the Hawks play in Phoenix).

All in all, Madden's transition from the defensive-minded Devils to coach Joel Quenneville's up-tempo system in Chicago has been seamless.

Madden has been a stopper throughout the years, winning the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward in 2001 and he was runner-up for the award in 2003, 2004 and 2008. He was also on the other side of the spectrum, a young player, full of energy, when, as a rookie, he helped the Devils win the 2000 Stanley Cup, that coming just four years after he was part of the University of Michigan's 1996 NCAA championship.

Madden acknowledge that some of that veteran advice he can impart on the young Hawks came in preparation for that Montreal game, following an unsettling 2-0 loss at Nashville the night before.

"One of the things I've continued to tell these guys is that teams are going to be ready for us," Madden explained, after that victory over Montreal that ran Chicago's Central Division-leading record to 8-4-1. "A lot of people are picking us to go far in the playoffs and have a great season. But you can't win without working your tails off. That said, there's a lot of talent here, a lot of character guys. They're young, but they have won at other levels and they want to win here, and that's what we're working to achieve.

"I really believe this team has a chance to win the Stanley Cup. When Marian Hossa (he has started to skate of late and is targeting a Nov. 25 game at San Jose as his first of the season after offseason shoulder surgery) gets back in the lineup, look out. This team has all the elements of making a run at it this year and for years to come. I had no problem taking a one-year contract here, giving up security, for a chance to win it all."

The snapshot of a shooter? -- 
The fact that Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk had put four shots on goal in as many as three games this season has been frustrating to Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who has always preached a shoot-now mentality to Datsyuk. But Babcock managed a smile after Datsyuk's four shots on goal, when he contributed 2 goals and 1 assist in a 5-4 victory at Vancouver on Oct. 27 and came right back two nights later with four more shots and added 2 assists to help the Wings rally from a four-goal deficit before they lost, 6-5, to Edmonton in a shootout.

"Pav only had four shots because he couldn't find anyone open to pass to," Babcock joked.

Datsyuk snatched an errant pass and set up Tomas Holmstrom for the winning goal in a 3-1 triumph at Calgary on Oct. 31 to give Detroit five points in the final three games of its five-game Western trip after getting just one point in the first two games on the road.

Said Datsyuk, "I always try to remember shoot more, be dangerous. But sometimes I forget just as quickly when I see an opportunity to pass."

What Datsyuk never forgets is how to win -- and when the Red Wings don't have him in the lineup they don't look like the same highly successful team they've been since he arrived in Detroit in 2001.

Check and checkmate --  After seeing David Perron account for 50 points on 15 goals and 35 assists last season, all the experts expected a breakout season offensively for the third-year pro.

Instead, he was blanked in his first seven games this season until coach Andy Murray surprisingly put him on the team's checking line with the hard-working duo of Jay McClement and B.J. Crombeen after speedy checker Alex Steen broke his wrist.

In his first game as an, ugh, checker, Perron assisted on the Blues' first goal against Minnesota on Oct. 23 and then scored the game-winning, shorthanded goal to give St. Louis a 3-1 victory. He added 2 goals and 2 assists in his next two games as well.

And production was finally checking in for him.

Murray reminded Perron that checking is not sitting back and waiting to make a defensive play that helps you win.

"Sometimes when you play hard and pressure the puck defensively against the other team's best offensive players you'll get great chances to score. It only makes sense that because the offensive players you're going head up against aren't quite so good defensively," Murray said of Perron's persistence defensively paying off on the offensive end of the score sheet. "I told David to play a simple game. Play a fast game."

"Jay Mac and Crommer told me to play my game, play defense, strip pucks and then go. In other words, don't sit back. Defend aggressively ... and then attack."
-- David Perron

Said Perron, "Jay Mac and Crommer told me to play my game, play defense, strip pucks and then go. In other words, don't sit back. Defend aggressively ... and then attack."

Maybe the rest of the Blues should heed that same philosophy as well after they were blanked 2-0 and 4-0 in their last two games against Phoenix and Florida, respectively, coming into this week.

Man advantage? You bet --
Getting a power-play goal has been a tonic for the Nashville Predators, who had PPGs in three consecutive games and a three-game winning streak resulted for the first time this season.

The Predators had just 2 power-play goals during a 1-6-1 stretch prior to that win streak. Coincidence? I think not.

Shea Weber's man-advantage tally started Nashville toward a 4-2 triumph against Dallas on Oct. 30. It was the defenseman's fifth goal of this young season.

"The goal for us of late has been to go hard to the net," said Weber. "Goals are hard to come by, so you have to go to the hard places. In front of the net there are chances to set screens, tip shots and get rebounds."

And suddenly the Predators offense seems to be dangerous.

By the numbers -- 
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun reminded the Blues why they should be happy he's playing in Florida and not Nashville any longer when he turned back 34 shots Oct. 31 in winning at St. Louis, 4-0. That extended Vokoun's record to 9-0 against the Blues since the lockout ended in 2005. He's allowed just 10 goals in those nine games. Before the NHL shut down for one season, Vokoun had a 4-10-3 record in 18 games against St. Louis. ... Another netminding number. This one in Nashville, where second-year goalie Pekka Rinne blanked Chicago, 2-0, Oct. 29, proving he's at his best in the close games. Last season, Rinne had seven shutouts and he won six of them by either a 1-0 or 2-0 score. ... When the Red Wings overcame a 4-0 deficit in Edmonton on Oct. 29 to gain a point in a 6-5 shootout loss, it was the first time Detroit got at least one point from a game in which it trailed by four goals since the Wings played in a 7-7 tie at Toronto in December 1989 -- a game they trailed 7-3 heading into the third period. Of course, when can you remember the Red Wings behind by as many as four goals in recent history?
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