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|The Hawks certainly could use a superhero's effort from Patrick Kane these next few weeks.|
CHICAGO -- “We’ve got 18 games left,” Chicago Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers said after Tuesday’s practice. “We have to decide as a team how we want to play.”
And so the Hawks begin the stretch run, clinging to a playoff spot, knowing what their roster will look like with the NHL’s trade deadline in the rear-view mirror. Even for guys who weren’t going to be traded, the passing of Feb. 27 provides a sense of relief. Maybe this is the new beginning they need after going 4-10 since the All-Star break.
“You put a full lineup out there with our team, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Patrick Kane said. “Obviously that’s not where we are right now, so some guys are going need to step up and try to take over a little bit.”
Kane should be one of those guys, and he knows it. He said he has been in contact with injured captain Jonathan Toews on a daily basis but couldn’t provide any insight into his return. No one can. That’s how it goes with what is believed to be a head injury.
So, all eyes are now on newly acquired defenseman Johnny Oduya. He lined up with Brent Seabrook at practice after arriving to town early Tuesday morning.
“Anytime you have a team this good that wants to bring you in and see if you can help out, that’s something you have to appreciate it,” Oduya said. “I feel fortunate coming in.”
Oduya performed as advertised: a smooth player and good skater. How he reacts in the Hawks’ zone remains to be seen. But puck possession and movement alone should help the defense.
“I was pretty happy with this,” Kane said. “We picked up a guy like Oduya who will help out or defense a lot. He seems like he’s a good puck-moving D-man, and he’ll get us the puck.>"It’s a good team in here, a good bunch of guys. We feel like we have a chance to do some special things.”
And he’ll eat up some minutes.
“It’s always good to add a guy that can help you out in that way,” Seabrook said. “[Oduya] can play some big minutes, some tough minutes. It’s going to be good for us.”
The Hawks need all the help they can get. Toews is out, Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) is getting closer to returning and there is no progress with Steve Montador (concussion). Instead of adding more at the deadline -- though they tried -- the Hawks called up some reinforcements. Andrew Shaw is back and tough guy Brandon Bollig is set to make his NHL debut on Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Obviously John Scott was really good at his role,” Bollig said. “If I’m going to play that role, that’s some big shoes to fill. I’m looking forward to doing it.”
Bollig lined up with Jamal Mayers and Jimmy Hayes for a bruising fourth line. Dave Bolland centered Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. Joel Quenneville indicated Kane would be back in the middle on Wednesday, with Marian Hossa and Andrew Brunette on his wings. That leaves Marcus Kruger centering Viktor Stalberg and Patrick Sharp.
It’s a grittier lineup, but it’s a young one. The Hawks could employ five rookies on Wednesday as they try to survive without their captain and turn around a bad stretch.
“We just need to play smart and hard,” Mayers said. “We know we have the people in this room to do it.”
They better; this is the Hawks’ roster, for better or worse.
• Mayers and Hayes are now playing the important roles of providing traffic on the struggling power play.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the power play. I just want to be a net presence,” Mayers said. “Win face-offs and go to the net.”
• Players were sad to see Scott traded. Bickell was his former roommate.
“We’ve had a lot of good laughs,” Bickell said. “He ate for two people and I got stuck with the bill a lot. Maybe I’ll get Andre Shaw. He eats French fries and grilled cheese.”
• Wednesday’s game time is 7 p.m.
• “We've made our own bed. We have to fix it,”— Mayers, on the Hawks' recent struggles
• “Seems like every year there is a rumor of me going to play for the Buffalo Sabres. Anything can happen. Thankfully I’m still here,”— Kane on the passing off the trade deadline.
• “When I got that phone call a lot of things flash before your eyes. It’s a crazy feeling. You go numb a little bit,”— Bollig, on his call-up to the NHL.
• “I was cheating towards offense (before). Not playing solidly defensively. It feels great to get a second chance,”— Shaw, on being sent down and coming back up.
• “He has the [title] belt in this league. He hasn’t lost many fights,”— Bickell, on Scott.