Monday, October 24, 2011
Blackhawks focus on improving shootouts
By Jesse Rogers
Patrick Kane can't get his penalty shot past Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov on Saturday.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks players couldn't remember for sure, but most thought Monday's shootout drill was the first time coach Joel Quenneville had began a practice in that manner.
And why not?
The Hawks have lost both their shootouts this season, including Saturday night to the Colorado Avalanche, and haven't dented the back of the opposing net even once in six tries over the two games. The Hawks were 6-5 in shootouts last season and 9-6 two years ago. Was there an obvious message in opening practice that way?
"I don't know if it's trying to make a point or trying to do it with good ice," Viktor Stalberg said. "Usually at the end of practice it's pretty chewed up."
Ok, so maybe Quenneville wanted to mimic the ice the teams get when the Zamboni gives the shootout lanes a quick cleaning after overtime. Still, starting practice in that manner for a first time must have meant something. Quenneville was asked what he was looking for.
"Production," he laughed. "Its something you want to talk about but at the same time you don't want the guys that are going [out there] to feel more pressure. We know we can be better."
On Saturday, Quenneville used Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Stalberg, but all three missed. Patrick Sharp also missed his chance against the Boston Bruins the week before, so did Toews and Kane. Toews is a given. He's scored 48.7 percent of the time in his career. It's the best percentage on the team. Kane seems entrenched as well, succeeding 37.8 percent of the time while Marian Hossa isn't far behind at 35 percent. But Hossa is just 2-for-7 over the last two years combined and hasn't tried one yet this season. Quenneville was asked if they are auditioning for a third shooter. Stalberg got his chance after going 3-for-3 in a recent practice.
"You're on the right track," Quenneville responded. "Those guys [Toews and Kane] and at the same time we're discussing orders, we're talking about candidates and shooting first or second. All phases we're visiting, and when things don't work we look at options."
Sharp has been a regular participants in shootouts but owns just a 21.9 career successful percentage. Other candidates like Dave Bolland (0-for-4), Michael Frolik (2-for-13) or Andrew Brunette (0-5) haven't inspired much confidence yet but might get their chance. Using a defenseman is a ploy coaches go with when everything else fails. Brent Seabrook is 1-for-1 in his career, winning a game two seasons ago.
"Bottom line? We have to find a way to win those shootouts," Stalberg said. "Simple as that."
The Hawks have earned at least a point in six consecutive games since an opening night regulation loss. The first time they achieved such a feat last season was January 7-22.
"I think we're playing with more confidence, overall," Stalberg stated. "A lot of times last year we got nervous. We just didn't have that swagger in the last 5 or 6 minutes of games. In the first 30 games [last year] we probably lost 10 points in the last minutes of games. We lost a point in the last game [Saturday] but we still found a way to get one. That's the big thing. Confidence."
"It took us a little bit to get going [last year]," Crawford said. "I can just tell the way we're playing offensively. It's nice to see when you're goalie, when your team looks that good in the other zone.
"I don't know how many slipped away last year. This year we're bearing down and getting wins or it's going to overtime so it's a huge swing in points from last year to this year."
Stalberg points to confidence, Crawford to offensive prowess. Quenneville summed it up.
"In-game for the majority of games we've been pleased with our play ... there is more balance, more consistency in our team game and we're getting contributions from everybody and all the lines and all the defensive pairings," Quenneville stated. "Its been a pretty balanced attack so far."
Quenneville said he didn't want to beat a dead horse but said everyone on the ice could have been better on the game tying goal scored by Colorado with under two minutes to play Saturday. Winger Andrew Brunette was in the middle of the action as Gabriel Landeskog got behind him and the defense for the tying tally.
"We were in really good position then we weren't," he explained. "It kind of ping ponged off of us. We all could have been a little bit better in our positioning from their end all the way out ... I had no idea he was there."
An angry Quenneville made his point Saturday after the game about that goal and the other three scored by the Avalanche.
"We have to be better defensively, especially in the hard areas and in front of our net," Dan Carcillo said. "That's something we'll be conscious of [Tuesday night]."
The Hawks host the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday, including 41 year-old Teemu Selanne. The game will feature two of the four 40-year-old players active in the league, Selanne and Hawks' defenseman Sean O'Donnell. They played together when O'Donnell skated for Anaheim from 2006-2008. They remain good friends.
"He doesn't skate like a 40-year-old," O'Donnell said Monday. "My hat's off. Anyone that knows him as a guy, he's a heck of a guy and player."
"They're fast but maybe because they're big they're not as quick as some of the guys," O'Donnell said. "You may have their body tied up but they can still do stuff with their stick because they are so strong. It's certainly a different animal than, say, Colorado. It's a good test."
Corey Crawford will start in goal on Tuesday.
The Hawks held their annual Halloween party Saturday night after the game. Some costumes were kept a secret but Andrew Brunette said he had a good time.
"I went as Top Gun," he said. "Kind of dated myself. Not sure many guys knew who top gun was. [Dan] Carcillo had a good one. Poncherello from Chips. Not sure they knew that one either."