Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: How to beat the Sharks

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Hawk Talk: How to beat the Sharks

Saturday, May 15, 2010
2:15 PM
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Contrary to that clown-car clash going on in the Eastern Conference, in its final the West boasts a battle of the best, top-dogged San Jose Sharks and second-seeded Chicago Blackhawks. Its a shot at redemption for the Tiburones and a shot at destiny for the Redshirts. Both teams are worthy of a Stanley Cup Final, and either would be a prodigious favorite to win the Cup once there. So, ladies and gentlemen, the true fight to raise the greatest trophy in sports starts Sunday, in San Jose. Heres how the Blackhawks can topple the Sharks:

Knock Off Nabokov: The Blackhawks have essentially owned ace netminder Evgeni Nabokov this season, driving him from the Nov. 25 romp in San Jose and nearly doing the same two months later, again at the Shark Tank. Chicagos propensity to pepper shots on net clearly frustrates the veteran, and honestly, the Blackhawks offense ripped the Sharks to shreds -- and quickly -- in both California meetings this season. Theres a clear aim for the Blackhawks early in Game 1, and thats to create those same blank expressions and overall disarray in San Jose as they have all season.

Deep Thoughts: As it is against nearly every team in the NHL, Chicagos depth is a major advantage in this series. The teams enter play essentially with equal rest, with San Jose playing 11 playoff games so far to the Redshirts 12. The key to this series might well have less to do with how San Joses superpower line of Patrick Marleau-Dany Heatley-Joe Thornton or the Patrick Kanes, Jonathan Toewses and Marian Hossas score than overall scoring depth. Many players in both dressing rooms have talked about the similar makeup of the teams -- both 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 top liners but squelching everyone else; if Joe Pavelski and his second line continues to reign like he has all playoffs (particularly in the first round), 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 strongarm and suffocate the game by never letting go of the puck. Chicagos shot differential of plus-9.0, the third-biggest of any team in the post-lockout era, 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 boasted good enough balance on both ends of the ice to have gone Globetrotter on the Vancouver Canucks, and was the single-most important aspect of their relatively easy semis win. When Chicago puts itself in position to play keepaway until daylight to the goaltender breaks, teams fold. Its a crucial aspect of not only the Blackhawks offense, but its defense -- and positively essential to the continued strong mental health of rookie netminder Antti Niemi. Puck possession on Chicagos level is nothing short of a neck-snapper, and will be a key determinant in how easy the conference finals pass for the Hometown Heroes.
Antti-Dote: In anticipation of the quarterfinals, 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 season -- finishing 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. He might not have been quite so spectacular vs. Vancouver, but he managed to reduce his rebounds and pretty much locked down the Canucks in Game 6 particularly, a sign that bodes well for the Blackhawks.

If theres a key to Niemi, and something he can count on as an advantage even against the gilded Nabokov, its his unflappable nature -- in 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 and Orcas. Niemi is calm, competitive, and seemingly incapable of a giveaway game that would find Cristobal Huet skating back into the blue ice -- in short, everything youre looking for in the net to help provide a deep playoff run.
Make Away Your Home: The Blackhawks have been brilliant on the road in the playoffs in 2010, winning five of six so far. Combine that with the fact that the club twice has clubbed San Jose in the Shark Tank and youve got a recipe for instantaneous snatching of home-ice advantage

Home Cooking: which, actually, might not be the best thing, as Chicago is just 3-3 in the United Center so far in the playoffs. If ever there was a time not to have home-ice for a series, eh?

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, as well as dropping two of three at the UC to the Canucks in the semis. But the fact remains that Chicago won the third-most home games (29) 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.

Stay Cool, Q The season has been a study in contrasts. Few coaches have the pulse of their teams measured as accurately as Blackhawks mentor Joel Quenneville and that calm leadership is rewarded with faith and confidence from his players. However, as is human nature, Cool Hand Q does tend to be a touch paranoid when it comes to his lines -- hes 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 gangbusters -- spurring the Blackhawks to three straight wins. In the semis, Q shifted Dustin Byfuglien from the blue line to the top line -- the Blackhawks flourished. And perhaps the biggest test of Cool Hand Q -- Troy Brouwer, recently reactivated after three healthy scratches, had was whistled on a bonehead high-stick in the first period of Game 6 in Vancouver, Q stuck by his beleaguered forward and the faith reaped the first goal of the game in the very next period.

But Not Too Cool: The Blackhawks played the smooth-groove older brother in response to all of Vancouvers motivational hijinks ramping up to the semifinals, and ultimately held firm and steady in an unnerving, 14-seconds-from-life-support quarterfinals vs. Nashville. But Chicago has shown a propensity for dispassion in the playoffs; the Hawks showed off a surprising lack of heart and confidence early on vs. Nashville, and San Jose 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. The club handled itself extremely well in slicing through the semis, so emotionally the club seems to be in just the right spot.

I Hart Toews: He might not boast the incendiary moves of a Kane or Hossa, but Toews is hands-down the Hart Trophy frontrunner for playoff MVP through two rounds. Quennevilles pearly whites practically blink when discussing his captain, tracing an arc of greatness from being named the top forward in the 2010 Olympics to his recent runs roughshod over Vancouver. When his team needs him, Toews mans up and gets the job done, with scoring, steely leadership or puck-hawking defense.

To the latter, Toews will draw time against big, bad, revitalized Thornton in the series and will not back down. The Big Red Cheese has never looked more active defensively than against Vancouver, forechecking like a whirling dervish. Thornton had better be prepared to face 19 nightmares all series long.

Stay Special: The Blackhawks special teams have been a light-and-dark affair since the Olympics. The penalty kill has always s been steady, a league fourth-best .857 in the regular season upped to a second-best .887 so far in the postseason. The power play, however, has shown signs of fading completely away, a middling .177 in the regular season thankfully revitalized by the stunning impotency of the Canucks kill. For weeks, the Chicago power play has looked to be a five-on-five affair, and the success generated in Vancouver (thanks for the hat trick of PP tallies, Captain Marvel) absolutely must be built on vs. San Jose, which held the Hawks to zero power-play goals in 11 tries during the regular season.

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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