Hawks expect Niemi to get warm reception

The Hawks expect former mate Antti Niemi to get a warm reception Thursday night. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Though most Chicago Blackhawks think former teammate Antti Niemi will get a warm reception from the United Center crowd Thursday, once the puck drops against the San Jose Sharks, they are intent on beating Niemi and the Sharks for the first time this season.

"I don't think it's 0-2 against just Antti," Troy Brouwer said Thursday morning. "We're playing against a good hockey team, and the Sharks have a lot of weapons. Logan Coture leads them in goals. That tells you how dangerous they are."

Niemi has been in goal for both Sharks wins, beating Marty Turco once and then Corey Crawford. Turco gets the start in Game 3.

"We have to get pucks at him early," defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Pucks and bodies. The less he sees the puck, the better for us."

No Toews

No one thinks the Hawks will be able to replace Jonathan Toews -- not with as much as he contributes in so many phases of the game. Maybe the hardest tangible problem will be in the faceoff circle.

San Jose ranks second in the league, winning 53.4 percent of their draws. Toews ranks fifth in the NHL with a 59.6 percent winning percentage.

"We should assume we have faith in anyone," Joel Quenneville said. "We're playing a very good faceoff team tonight. We need everybody to at least think that .500 is at least the level."

Quenneville has set the bar at an average level because his remaining center men don't have a very good history in the circle. Patrick Sharp remains the best option. He's at 50 percent for the season. Surprisingly, their best defensive center, Dave Bolland, is winning only 45.9 percent of his draws, and Tomas Kopecky -- playing center at the moment -- is at a paltry 33 percent for the season. Kopecky won just two of 13 draws on Tuesday against St. Louis, which is the game during which Toews went down.

The Hawks' best option in the dot is newcomer Ryan Johnson. He ranked third -- right behind Toews -- last season in the playoffs, winning 58.6 percent. In three games this season for the Hawks, he's won 13 of 19 draws.


The line combinations were jumbled during Thursday morning's practice. One trio had Jake Dowell between Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. If he stays there, it's a huge spot for the young center.

"That's a possibility, those guys playing together," Quenneville said. "Jake plays well. You have to improvise a little bit with Johnny being out. Might be a shared responsibility."

Quenneville said he wasn't revealing the line combinations for the game until Thursday night.

The Moms

Most of the players and coaches' mothers are in town as they prepare for the Hawks first ever "moms trip." The Hawks leave for Southern California on Saturday for games Sunday and Monday, and are bringing their moms along to experience the road. Last season the Hawks did the same for their dads. The consensus in the dressing room is this will be a much more courteous trip.