CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews hasn’t held back whenever he’s felt the Chicago Blackhawks have played poorly this season.
Toews had his chance to do the same after Friday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks, but he didn't believe it warranted that sort of reaction. While disappointed, Toews didn’t seem like he was going to lose too much sleep over squandering the additional point.
“You can’t win them all,” said Toews, whose team is 5-1-1 in its past seven games. “We’ll bounce back in a couple days. We’ll take advantage of the rest, but we know that after these couple days there has to be another level we need to get to that we didn’t get to tonight.”
It was an evening of taking the good with the bad for the Blackhawks.
The good was going 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, an area in which the Blackhawks haven’t been able to find much consistency in this season. They entered the game ranked 28th with a 74.6 penalty-kill percentage.
“[There’s some] better awareness of what they’re trying to do, against some pretty good power plays as well, slowed them down,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think there’s some progression here.”
The bad was not scoring on any of their own power-play chances. The Blackhawks were riding a 10-game streak of power-play goals and were held without one on four opportunities against the Canucks.
Even though the Canucks do possess the league’s top penalty kill, Toews thought the Blackhawks should have produced a goal.
“We had our chances on the power play, and we didn’t create enough,” Toews said. “We got to take advantage of those opportunities, and we didn’t quite do that tonight.”
Another positive was that rookie goaltender Antti Raanta continued to look sharp. He made 22 saves and seemed to be more comfortable during the shootout. The Canucks scored twice during eight shootout rounds.
The flipside was the Blackhawks found the net just once in those eight SO rounds. The Blackhawks are 4-4 in shootouts this season.
“[Raanta] gave us a chance,” Quenneville said. “We go that deep [and] we got to get some production there.”
The game played out with the good coming early for the Blackhawks, as they scored the first two goals. The bad followed with the Canucks scoring the next two goals.
Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane even provided his own ups and downs. The good was a goal and an assist, but the bad was he failed again to score in the shootout. He hasn’t converted on eight shootout chances this season. He scored six shootout goals on 11 chances last season.
“I obviously haven’t had a good record on the shootout this year,” Kane said. “I thought I had the guy beat, but maybe didn’t put the backhand where I wanted and the goalie made a nice save. It’s something when you don’t convert those the team loses points. I’ll try to get better at that.”
CHICAGO -- Here’s a quick look at the Vancouver Canucks’ 3-2 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on Friday.
How it happened: The Canucks won the shootout 2-1 in eight rounds. Ryan Kesler scored in the eighth round of the shootout. The Blackhawks built a 2-0 lead in the second period behind goals by Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane. Kane’s goal came at 4:57 of the second period. The Canucks pulled within a goal when Zack Kassian scored at 8:19 of the second period, and Daniel Sedin tied the game in the third period. Blackhawks rookie goaltender Antti Raanta made 22 saves, and Canucks goaltender Eddie Lack made 24 saves. Neither team scored a power-play goal. The Blackhawks killed off four penalties, and the Canucks killed off three.
What it means: The Blackhawks fell to 25-7-6, and the Canucks improved to 21-11-6. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 2-1 in Vancouver on Nov. 23. Kane extended his points streak to 11 games with an assist on Versteeg’s goal. Kane has recorded points in 23 of the past 24 games and is second in the league with 48 points. The Blackhawks went without a power-play goal for the first time in 11 games.
Player of the game: Kane has been playing at a different level over the past month. He’s had 37 points in the past 24 games and has had points streaks of 11 and 12 games.
Stat of the game: Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis played a game-high 29:15 of ice time, and Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith played a team-high 28:17.
What’s next: The Blackhawks host the New Jersey Devils on Monday before the NHL’s mandated three-day break from Dec. 24 to 26.
“I figured something would happen, but I didn’t know how, when, where, why, who,” LaBarbera said on Friday. “I had no idea. I knew something was going to happen. I just didn’t know how it was going to play out.
“I’ve never seen this many goalies get hurt before. It’s been interesting. Every day you’re like, ‘Oh, man, maybe I’ll go here, maybe I’ll go there, maybe I’ll go here. I don’t know.’ It can be stressful at times, but it’s all part of the gig. You got to pretty much wait to see what happens and figure it out from there.”
LaBarbera finally got the news on Dec. 14 that he was heading from the last-place Oilers to the first-place Chicago Blackhawks. He was sent to the AHL after the trade, but he was recalled on Thursday and joined the team for a morning skate on Friday.
Crawford hasn’t played since he suffered a lower-body injury against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 9. He was expected to miss 2-3 weeks after the injury. He’s 17-6-3 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .907 save percentage this season.
“He skated again today,” Quenneville said after the team’s morning skate on Friday. “Both light days yesterday and today, and he’s progressing. We’re probably looking with him [to practice with the team] more so after the holidays.”
Blackhawks rookie goaltender Antti Raanta will make his sixth consecutive start in Crawford’s place against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday. Raanta is 7-1-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .920 save percentage this season.
Quenneville said Raanta’s quality play doesn’t affect Crawford’s timetable to return.
“When you’re ready to play, you’re ready to play, whether it’s goalies or up front,” Quenneville said. “You got to pass certain hurdles to get clearance. Once you’re there, let’s get ready, and they’re usually ready.”
What’s the best way for the Capitals to add a defenseman? What should the Kings do in goal? Are Michael Del Zotto's days in New York numbered? All this and more in this week's hockey mailbag. If you want to be featured in next week’s mailbag, send your questions, hockey ideas and observations here.
Not necessarily against ending fighting personally, but my concern is that if a hypothetical ban (whether through stronger penalties like a one-game auto suspension for the first fight and lengthier ones for multiple fights or an all-out ban) were put in place without a better and more strict job by the league in policing the game both in normal infractions and in embellishment, it would result in more cheap shots and more injuries than leaving fighting as it is. Are there any rumblings (on either side, given that it would probably need both league and PA approval to make that significant of changes) of willingness to go that far in penalty enforcement?
At the recent Board of Governors meeting, Gary Bettman said ownership was very pleased with the current performance of Brendan Shanahan and the department of player safety. There was no sense that they wanted him to increase the number of games being handed out through suspension. But you raise a good point. If fighting is ultimately banned in some form, then it’s almost completely on the league at that point to do the policing. If that becomes the case, I think that a ban on fighting would have to be accompanied by harsher penalties from Shanahan and company. And like you mentioned, Sean, it’s not a one-sided conversation. The NHLPA has a say in this and, considering the appeals we’ve seen for the longer suspensions, you get the sense that it is not too eager to sign off on the league hammering its players, even if it is for the ultimate protection of its members.
I'm surprised you're in favor of banning fighting. For me, fighting is something that, by rule, should be spontaneous. No "staged fights," but I definitely still want it to be a part of the sport. If there are no fights, how will players be held accountable for cheap hits? Don't you think things will get uglier without consequences if fighting is removed from the game? Not to mention that it's one of the more exciting things that happens if it happens during a game. I was at the Blues/Leafs game and Roman Polak and David Clarkson got into a spontaneous, spirited fight after the whistle, and it was great. I'd hate to see that go away. Thanks.
Jay, St. Louis
I’m in favor of banning fighting or making the punishment for fighting much more severe but it comes from a realistic place. I realize you’ll never get rid of fighting in hockey and I’m fine with that. There isn't a sport where fighting doesn't occasionally break out over the natural course of events that take place. If baseball players think a pitcher is taking liberties, they charge the mound. They still police extreme circumstances themselves and I’m OK with it in that context. The staged fights between two heavyweights have to go. It's well past time for harsher consequences for fighting in the NHL.
As a longtime Caps fan, I'm pretty frustrated with the lack of good defensemen signed and/or traded for over the last few years. Fans react to another team getting a player they like if the price seems right, myself included. What I'd like to know is how difficult is it really? Say GMGM wants a top-four defenseman, what does he have to do or is it even in his hands?
Adding a top four defenseman through trade or free agency isn’t an easy proposition.
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CHICAGO -- If Patrick Kane seems quicker and slicker on the ice than usual, the reason might be more than the Chicago star's raw talent.
Kane, second in the NHL with 46 points, is of six top NHL players -- all likely Olympians -- transitioning into Bauer Hockey's futuristic OD1N skates and protective equipment.
Unveiled Thursday in Chicago, the OD1N gear shaves pounds from the bulky head-to-toe ensemble hockey players wear and, according to Bauer, improves mobility, speed and performance.
Bauer claims the equipment, which includes skates, a form-fitting body suit and pads, and goalie leg pads, also improves protection through the use of new materials and by staying in place better. Chicago's Jonathan Toews, Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and Philadelphia's Claude Giroux are other NHL skaters switching to the customized gear. The New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist has been wearing OD1N goalie pads.
"The (design) team set out to completely reinvent speed, to completely reinvent performance, to completely reinvent the safety of the game," Bauer President and CEO Kevin Davis said. "It's game-changing technology."
Bauer unveiled the new line, which is named OD1N, at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago on Thursday. The equipment line includes a hockey skate, a personalized protective body suit and a customized goal pad.
Bauer claims its new body suit eliminates over four pounds of weight without compromising protection, its new goal pad will allow goaltenders to get from their post to the top of the crease an inch faster and the new skate is more than half a pound lighter than any other model. Bauer CEO and president Kevin Davis described the line as game-changing.
“Today’s hockey equipment is already so good, that it’s tough to imagine that there is still another leap to make as far as technology, but that’s exactly what Bauer did,” Toews said in a statement. “As a hockey player, the last thing you want to do on the ice is worry about your equipment. With this new equipment, it’s not even an after-thought because you feel like you’re not wearing anything.”
The equipment will also be worn by the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin and Nic Backstrom, the Philadelphia Flyers’ Claude Giroux and the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist.
The Blackhawks acquired LaBarbera from the Edmonton Oilers for future considerations on Dec. 14. He was a 1-3-0 with a 3.28 goals-against average and .870 save percentage in seven games for the Oilers this season. He has a 60-73-19 record with a 2.86 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 182 career NHL games with five teams.
“He gives us some depth, I think,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said of LaBarbera on Thursday. “Having some experience, he’s played about 150 games in the NHL. That’s something we’re obviously light on right now, which is experience. Anytime you get the opportunity to bring somebody in that can give you that comfort that he’s been there, he’s done it.”
Simpson was recalled by the Blackhawks on Dec. 9. He appeared in relief against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 14 and made five saves on seven shots in 20 minutes of work.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews grabbed a stick and schooled a few young kids on faceoffs at the United Center on Thursday, but that was the extent of hockey the Blackhawks have played the last two days.
The Blackhawks took a break from the game Wednesday and Thursday after a stretch where they played 19 games, including 12 on the road, during a 34-day span. The Blackhawks held their annual holiday skate on Thursday, and the players took the ice with their girlfriends, wives and children at the United Center.
Toews joked he and the growing amount of his teammates’ children were in danger being on the ice together.
“I didn’t think there could be more than last year, but it’s getting worse every year,” Toews said. “You got to look out, especially when you have a history of running little kids over on a hockey rink. It’s not good for me. I got to keep my head up out here.”
The Blackhawks were able to share some laughs Thursday and thoroughly enjoy their two days off because of what they did during that 19-game period, going 13-5-1. They currently lead the league with 55 points.
“It’s great,” Toews said. “It’s been a great season so far. We’re having fun. I think it’s nice to enjoy moments like this because we have been playing so many games and working really hard to get to where we are. We got to take a few moments to catch your breath and spend some time with family, especially this time of year.”
Luke lived up to his end. He put in the time and effort to become a skilled goaltender from when he was in fourth grade into his high school years. As Luke improved and started to get noticed for his ability, his opportunities to play for better teams increased. More competitive teams also meant more travel and expenses, and it became harder for Kathy, a single mother raising three children in Chicago, to meet those financial demands.
Kathy was still searching for a way to pay for the school when her phone rang one day. It was Eddie Olczyk calling, and he was about to change their situation. Olczyk told her Luke was being awarded the Eddie Olczyk Award and would be given the financial assistance needed to pay for Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep.
“It provided an opportunity of a lifetime for my son,” Kathy said in a recent phone interview. “He worked so many years to get to a certain level. At that point to have the opportunity to move on and utilize that talent, he couldn’t have had that opportunity without that grant. To see him able to do that, that’s what every parent hopes for.”
The Chicago Blackhawks and Olczyk created the award specifically for people like Kathy and Luke. They’ve awarded $55,000 in the last two years to 25 applicants, which have included players and organizations, in Illinois who couldn’t afford the financial requirements of playing competitive hockey.
Adam Clendening, defenseman, Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Clendening leads the IceHogs and is third among the AHL’s defensemen with 23 points. He has four goals, 19 assists and a plus-three rating on the season. He’s currently on a four-game points streak and has five points during that span.
Dillon Fournier, defenseman, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Fournier has one goal and three assists over his last three games. He has 10 goals, 17 assists and a plus-17 rating in 32 games this season. He leads the Huskies’ defensemen and seventh in the league among defensemen with 27 points.
Terry Broadhurst, forward, Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Broadhurst has moved into second place on the IceHogs with 19 points. He has points in three of his last four games.
Brandon Pirri, forward, Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Pirri has accumulated one goal and four assists in five games since being reassigned from the Blackhawks. He’s had two games of two assists.
No team survives that sinister of a schedule quirk without a few performances in the style of what the Blackhawks turned in Tuesday against the Nashville Predators: an opportunistic effort up and down the lineup scattered with isolated moments of individual brilliance.
They now sit alone at the top of the league with a 25-7-5 record through 37 games.
"I think we’re scoring different ways," Quenneville said. "You get an individual play out of a rush entry, and Kane makes a great shot, and the puck’s at the net -- rebound -- and a guy’s at the back door to bury it with another nice shot. So there’s different looks and different options.
"The patience level and play recognition from guys is high end, but it’s all because we’re shooting the puck and things happen."
The Predators supplied the bulk of the game’s early scoring chances, throwing 17 first-period shots at goaltender Antti Raanta, who was making his seventh consecutive start due to injuries to Chicago’s top two netminders.
But the Blackhawks allowed just 11 shots in the final two periods as they iced away a two-goal lead. After Nashville defenseman Shea Weber drove home a power-play goal at the 3:03 mark of the first period, Chicago’s penalty kill units turned away the Predators’ final six opportunities with a man advantage, including a high-sticking double minor on Patrick Sharp late in the second period.
"Obviously, we gave up one early in the game. And I thought we did a great job of bearing down after that on the penalty kill, so it was good to see," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "The penalty kill has kind of struggled throughout the year, but over the last four or five games, it’s been a little bit better."
"We didn’t get setups, and we didn’t let them do what they wanted to do," Quenneville said. "I don’t think we’ve had a game with seven [penalties] all year, so when you win those kind of games, you have to give the [penalty kill] some credit as well."
The Blackhawks exit a brutal stretch of 19 games in 34 days with a three-game homestand starting Friday that leads into a more agreeable slate in the coming weeks.
Although Kane is riding a hot streak of points in 22 of 23 games and Raanta is proving himself in his first chance at extended playing time, there’s little concern in the Chicago locker room about the dangers of cooling off when given the rare chance to decompress during their recent grind.
"It starts to wear on you after a while," Sharp said. "I know last year it suited us well with the truncated schedule. It seems like this year with the travel, it’s been even more busy, so it’ll be nice to kind of relax a little bit.
"But, having said that, we have to get our work in on the off days."