Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: How to Beat the Canucks

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Hawk Talk: How to Beat the Canucks

Friday, April 30, 2010
10:29 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Its the matchup that the Chicago Blackhawks are licking their chops over and rematch that the Vancouver Canucks have endeavored a year to experience. No matter how you flip the puck, Chicago-Vancouver Mach II is appears to be dead even. Here are 10 ways the Hawks can advance past the Canucks:
Make Roberto Reach for the Tissues: Last year, the Blackhawks dismantled Vancouver ace goalie Roberto Luongo, reducing him to tears after a 7-5 romp in Game 6 to clinch a conference finals berth. Life wont get any easier for the Olympic gold medalist this year: The Blackhawks have more offensive firepower, and the Orca blueliners in front of Lu are weaker. Willie Mitchell will miss the series, and Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Andrew Alberts might as well be taking tickets given how easily Chicagos forwards should slice past them. An attacking Hawks offense also could easily force the Couv D into even more reckless penalties than it usually takes. Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault could mitigate exposing Luongo by slowing the Canucks attack down, thereby compromising the already nervous play of his defenders a little less. But watch outthe Blackhawks have the potential to traipse through the Vancouver zone with regularity, which could spell disasterand an awful lot of tissuesfor Luongo.

Dont Believe the Hype: Youd think this was Vancouvers Stanley Cup Finals with the way the team is talking of grudge matches and revenge and waiting all year to return to Chicago. Doubtlessly the Canucks will come out in Game 1 firing at 150. The Hawks are a smart enough team to know how to manipulate that over-emotingdrawing penalties and exposing overplays by an anxious and ill-mannered Vancouver defenseand turn it into a two- or three-goal advantage and an easy first win.

Deep Thoughts: Both the Blackhawks and Canucks boast a bevy of sublimely-talented forwards. The key to a series win will have much less to do with how the Sedin Wonder Twins or Patrick KaneMarian Hossa score; scoring depth will be the key. Many players in both dressing rooms have talked this week about the similar makeup of the teamsboth to the rosters of a year ago, and when comparing this seasons direct roster strengths and weakness. So it shouldnt be a matter of stopping the Sedins but squelching everyone else; if Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows and Mikael Samuelsson (who was promoted to the top line and responded with 11 points in the quarters) are going ham on the Hawks, most likely the Hometown Heroes will be looking up at an ugly deficit in the series.

Puck Possession: There is no greater key to Chicagos domination of the 2009-10 regular season than its ability on both ends of the ice to simply strong arm and suffocate the game by never letting go of the puck. Chicagos shot differential of 9.0 the third-biggest of any team in the post-lockout era and is a distinct measure of playoff success. Against Nashville, Chicago stumbled in this aspect of their game, as the Blackhawks were drawn into some sloggy play and were missing their ace in the hole for puck possession, Brian Campbell. Chicagos shot differential for the series was a mere plus-2.3, but with Campbell back on the ice, the discrepancy between the Hawks and Preds was marked. The Blackhawks have good enough balance on both ends of the ice that they can go Globetrotter on teams even as talented as Vancouver, playing keep away until daylight to the goaltender breaks. Puck possession on Chicagos level is nothing short of a neck-snapper, and will be a key determinant in how easy the semis pass for the Hometown Heroes.

Antti-Dote: In anticipation of the quarterfinals, rookie netminder Antti Niemi was on an upswing despite having had just 42 games of NHL experience under his belt. He and the Blackhawks are constantly reminded that rookie netminders whove sipped from the Cup are few and far between. But Niemi proved just how bad, bad a Finn he was with some lights-out work in the regular seasonfinishing second in the NHL in points percentage (.757), third in shutouts (seven) and fourth in goals-against average (2.25)and authoring two shutouts and six strong performances overall in the Nashville series. Uh, hello, new Tony O.

If theres a key to Niemi, and something he can count on as an advantage even against the gilded Luongo, its his unflappable naturein coach Joel Quennevilles parlance, hes laid-backish. That quality makes him goalie-wise beyond his 26 years, which he proved with huge saves at key junctures vs. the Preds (killing four penalty minutes in playoff overtime, anyone?). Niemi is calm, competitive, and seemingly incapable of a giveaway game that would find Cristobal Huet skating back into the blue icein short, everything youre looking for in the net to help provide a deep playoff run.

One-Hundred Pound Weaklings: Lets break it right down, the Blackhawks ace penalty killhello, 26-of-27 vs. Nashvillewill face a stiff challenge from a Vancouver power play that busted L.A.s chops to the tune of a .250 success rate. But the real battle will be to see which of the weaker links will stand tall. The Blackhawks converted on just .174 of their advantage opportunities vs. Nashville, while the Canucks finished last in the NHL in PKs in the quarters, shutting the door on just .615 vs. the Kings.

In the category of practice, practice, practice, these units should get quite a number of workouts, as the Canucks averaged more than 13 minutes of penalties vs. L.A. Figure on something giving way, and seeing as how Vancouver is due to raise their PK back to the middle-pack level it maintained during the regular season, count on Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Bickell crashing Luongo at every opportunity in an attempt to up Chicagos power numbers.
Defensive Domination: Vancouvers defense, with or without the concussed Willie Mitchell, is weaker and sloppier than Chicagos. In this series, where high-powered offense is pitted against high-octane attack, that extra level of protection could be an easy key to victory. With Campbell back and the Blackhawks blueliners clicking, life will be much tougher on the likes of the Sedins and Samuelssons than it will be on the Kanes, Toewses and Hossas. The fact that Chicagos D is a key to its terrific puck-possession game, and also provides ample scoring in support of the forward corps? Bonus.

Home Cooking: For sure, the Blackhawks took a bit of a step back in terms of home domination by losing third-period leads in two of three quarterfinal home games. But the fact remains that Chicago won the third-most (29) home games in the NHL in 2009-10 and in the United Center has an advantage like none other in the game. The UC has hosted the two dozen biggest indoor crowds of the entire NHL season, so no barn gets louder and less hospitable for opponents than Sweet Home Chicagos. Last year, the decibel level for the pregame national anthem alone was eardrum-bleeding. Its only going to get louder as the Hometown Heroes advance.

Be Cool: The Blackhawks have been the smooth-groove older brother in response to any and all of Vancouvers hijinks over this past regular season, from Mitchells blind shot on Toews in October to the season long soap opera between Kesler and Ladd. More of the sameturning the other cheek, or glancing back and laughingwill be a key element of Chicagos success in the semis.

Now, the Hawks showed off a surprising lack of heart and confidence early on vs. Nashville, and Vancouver has every right to be confident that it can cause some cracks in the Blackhawks veneer as well. But with a calm and logical mentor like Quenneville, there will be no excuse for Chicago losing the emotional and mental battle in this series.
Stay Cool, Q: That said, Cool Hand Q does tend to be a touch paranoid when it comes to his lineshes quick to toss his players into a Lotto Hopper of lines when the offense goes a touch stale. When he panics at the sight of stagnant offense mid-game or drops a key cog three lines because of a single brain cramp, theres the risk of confusing or demoralizing the troops. The good news is that Qs most significant shift of the quarterfinal series, inserting Bickell, Adam Burish and a healthy Campbell into the lineup for Game 4, worked like gangbustersthe Blackhawks are undefeated since.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 3 thoughts and takeaways

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 3 thoughts and takeaways

GM Stan Bowman and head coach Jeremy Colliton met with the media before Wednesday's on-ice session to discuss a variety of prospect-driven topics.

Here are some of the highlights from their availability, in addition to thoughts and takeaways from Day 3 of Blackhawks development camp at Fifth Third Arena:

1. What the Blackhawks are looking for this week

It's easy to get caught up in prospect camp and put stock into on-ice performances, but that's not what the Blackhawks are doing this week. In fact, the on-ice portion is just a fraction of what these players have on the agenda.

"The big thing for us is to watch these kids, how much they can absorb," Bowman said. "We're throwing a lot of information. These are long days for them to have. Seminars in the morning then they come over and do on-ice work, then they do off-ice work and at the beginning of the week we have a cooking demo for them to learn how to prepare food. So at the end of the day it's a full day for them."

Colliton also brought up a valid point about prospects being at different stages in their summer training. Some players are skating for the first time since their seasons ended and are shaking off some rust. Some have already been training for months. Some players had long years because of deep postseason runs. So yeah, this week is not about evaluation.

"We gotta be careful," Colliton said. "This is a snapshot. At training camp and Traverse City it’ll be a much easier job to evaluate how close anyone is."

2. Early impressions of Kirby Dach

The Blackhawks did extensive research on Dach before drafting him No. 3 overall. On the ice, off the ice, analytics, you name it. But they're finally able to spend some time with him under their own roof and see his habits, how he carries himself, etc. and the early impressions are strong from the coaching staff and management.

"It's hard not to notice his skill level," Bowman said. "He's a big guy but he's got really soft hands, he's got that long reach and he's got a quick stick. He's pretty tricky with the puck. He's got the ability to hold it out so that guys can't poke it away and if they try to get it he can pull it through. He's got quick hands. And I think that's what you notice. He skates well for a big guy.

"These are all things that we liked about him when we drafted him but when you get him here and put him up against guys that are a couple years older, he's able to do some special things with the puck. He's got all the excitement to be on the ice, he's a competitive kid, he's focused, but he's enjoying himself and he's got a combination of attributes that we wish everybody had."

Said Colliton: "It’s tough not to notice him out there. Big, big kid who skates really well, got a lot of skill, makes a lot of things happen out there and seems to have a great work ethic and be a great kid. ... He’s been impressive, for sure."

3. Adam Boqvist turning pro?

When we talked to him on Monday, Boqvist made it known that he wanted to turn pro as quickly as possible and felt ready for it after one season in the OHL with the London Knights. And it seems like the management group is ready for that to happen, also.

"We're probably leaning towards that," Bowman said. "I don't know that we've made any declarations that's what he's going to do. In talking to Adam I think he wants to take that next step. It's probably looking like that, but nothing's been determined for sure."

4. Blackhawks accepting of Ian Mitchell's decision

After his sophomore season at Denver, Mitchell had a decision to make: turn pro or return to college for another year? 

The Blackhawks felt like he was ready to take the next step. Perhaps Mitchell felt so too, but returning to school for one more season, in his eyes, allows him to hone his craft even more and become a better all-around, consistent player before making the jump. That's why he made the decision to go back for one more season, and the Blackhawks are accepting of that.

"You got to give him credit," Bowman said. "He feels like there's unfinished business and I think he's committed to the team and committed to his teammates. He wants to lead that team and he wants to be, in his words, a difference-maker every night. I thought he had a great season last year and selfishly we think he's ready to be a pro. On the other side of it, you got to be where you are. So if he feels the right place for him is Denver then you want to be committed to that and you want him to lead that team and you want him to continue to improve.

"I think what we're looking for him to do is build on that and become a dominant player like he wants to be. Yeah, we would love to have him as a pro right now but I think he's going to be a pro pretty soon. So let him focus on his path. He has to believe in what he's doing and it's not for us to try to talk him in and out of things. Wherever he is, we're going to support him. But he's ready to be a pro right now. With a year in college as a dominant player he'll be even more ready to be a pro."

5. Looking for the next Collin Delia?

The Blackhawks brought six goalies to development camp. Two of them are draft picks — Dominic Basse and Alexis Gravel. The other four are here on invites: Devin Cooley, Stefanos Lekkas, Mareks Mitens and Zackarias Skog. They don't have to look far to see that an impressive showing could turn into a contract.

This is exactly how Delia caught the attention of the Blackhawks.

"We did this a couple years ago with Collin Delia and now look where Collin is," Bowman said. "I think that's the message to these players is you're here for a reason because we think you've got skill and potential as a goalie, and we want to see how you perform this week, how do you take feedback, what's your work ethic like and then we're going to follow them.

"It's not out of the realm that a couple years from now these guys could become Blackhawks. They're not all going to fall into that category but if they show well and they impress us, I think Collin came back two years in a row and then we signed him so these guys are here to try to impress us and show us that they could become Blackhawks."

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Jeremy Colliton on Blackhawks offseason additions and how he plans to handle Crawford-Lehner workload

Jeremy Colliton on Blackhawks offseason additions and how he plans to handle Crawford-Lehner workload

It's mid-July and the Blackhawks' roster looks very different from when it ended the 2018-19 season. GM Stan Bowman has added an influx of new faces this summer, whether that's been in the form of trades or free-agent signings.

Now it's up to Jeremy Colliton and his coaching staff to decide how they want to map out the lineup. They might have an idea of how they want to utilize specific players, but the real competition starts in training camp and that's exactly what the organization wants.

"Yeah, we’ve done a lot," Colliton said before Wednesday's on-ice session at development camp. "We’ve really increased the depth in our group, everywhere. In goal, on defense, up front, we have competition throughout the roster for roster spots, for roles. I think we have more versatility to our team, we have defenders who can play either side, we have guys who want to kill penalties and defend and take that role, we have forwards who can play different positions, kill penalties, play against good players. So we feel that’s what we were missing to our team."

"We’ve added a little bit of physicality and an edge, which we need to have that dimension. We have to win games in different ways, and I think if you compare the roster now to the one we ended with or the one we had when I first came in November, I think we can win in different ways and we’re prepared to have an excellent season, hopefully."

One of the main storylines to follow during the 2019-20 season will be how the goaltending workload is divided between Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. You have a two-time Stanley Cup winner and Vezina Trophy finalist to share the starts with, and Colliton expects it to be a healthy battle among the two veteran netminders.

"There's going to be competition, certainly," Colliton said. "But I think you look at the teams that have had success, there has been a share — some sort of split. It's not 60, 70 games one guy's taking. Those games that maybe traditionally the backup is playing, we need to win those too. So now whoever is in the net, we're going to get an extremely high level of performance. And if we happen to be unlucky with injuries, we have some protection there too."

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