Chicago Blackhawks: Brandon Bollig

Hawks practice as full team, arrange lines

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
3:01
PM CT
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks did something Tuesday they haven't been able to do for almost a month.

They practiced as a full team. All 15 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders were healthy and participated in the hour-long practice at Johnny's IceHouse West.

Toews
Kane
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews joined his teammates on the ice Tuesday for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury on March 30. Patrick Kane also participated in his first full team practice since his injury on March 19. He had participated in a team morning skate last week.

"I thought, at least for me being out there the first time, the pace was pretty high -- seems like everyone's excited about what's going to happen here going forward here in the playoffs," Kane said. "It was nice to get out there, skate with the team in a real practice, and even nicer to have one [Wednesday]."

With everyone on the ice, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville unveiled his probable lines to begin the playoffs, and there were some changes.

Quenneville placed Kris Versteeg, Toews and Brandon Saad together on the top line. Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus and Marian Hossa skated together on the second line. Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Kane comprised the third line. Quenneville stuck with his usual fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith.

Sharp, Toews and Hossa played together on a line for a bulk of the season, and Kane was mostly on the second line. Versteeg and Saad have bounced everywhere from the first to third lines this season.

Quenneville said he is looking for balance in the four lines.

"I thought all the lines have comparable ingredients with the ability to score and play without the puck, as well," Quenneville said. "We also had that continuity of at least a couple of guys who are familiar with one another. Whether you revert back or you like the matchup, even in the course of the game, you can always move one or two guys around without really rearranging too much; having that flexibility, and some guys can play both sides and go in the middle, as well. Every game would be different, but right now you like the balance."

Kane has played with Shaw and Bickell before. Kane and Bickell shared a line for much of the playoffs last season and were both essential to the team's Stanley Cup run.

Kane believes that even though Bickell and Shaw are physical players and could give him protection against the St. Louis Blues, they also need to stick to their games.

"To be honest with you, I think playing with them two guys, you want to make sure you're matching their work ethic because they're always going to be working hard," Kane said. "At the same time, we want to play smart, play good defensively, make sure we're not giving anything up.

"Sometimes you go into a series and you think a little too much about the physical play or what's going to happen and it throws you off. I think for us, we've just got to go out there, play hockey the way we know how to play, and not worry about all that other stuff, whether it happens after the whistle or during the play. I think in the past we've maybe gotten caught up in that a little bit."

Quenneville is optimistic that the line of Versteeg, Toews and Saad can be productive for the Blackhawks.

"We feel [Saad is] capable of playing against top guys," Quenneville said. "He's played with Jonny a lot the last couple years. [Versteeg] as well has played in some big situations. We'll see how that all works out -- certainly has the capability of working well together. [Versteeg] did play a little bit with [Toews and Saad] there recently. That line looked pretty good together."

Hawks have no regrets for not retaliating

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
2:35
PM CT
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks won't forget that Pittsburgh Penguins' Brooks Orpik injured their captain Jonathan Toews with a massive hit, but they don't regret not seeking retribution during the game Sunday.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Toews
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesBrooks Orpik's hit on Jonathan Toews will keep the Blackhawks captain out for the final six games of the regular season.
The Blackhawks have been criticized by fans, former players and hockey analysts for not retaliating immediately against Orpik or another Penguins player after Orpik hit Toews into the boards in the second period Sunday. Toews suffered an upper-body injury and will be kept out of the team's remaining six regular-season games.

"I think it's a matter of opinion," said Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig, who is considered one of the team's enforcers and has been in five fights this season. "I think Jonny's definitely going to be fine. He's day to day. It was a clean hit. Obviously, it's unfortunate for us. He's one of the best players in the world. It's tough to have him out of the lineup for one game, let alone a couple if that's what it may be.

"Like I said, it's not ideal [not to retaliate,] but that was a game we really need to have. Our focus was two points. If you kind of stray away from that, bad things tend to happen. Like I said, down the road is a different story. I don't think it was the right time to address it any other way than we did."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville called it a "tricky" situation with Orpik.

"I didn't like the hit," Quenneville said after practice Wednesday. "At that time, what could you have done differently? You can look at all the different options. There's probably no great option right at that time in a 2-1 hockey game later in the second period. Getting even was something that, how it's addressed is something you talk about. The options weren't great. Tricky. It was a tricky one. Not an easy one to say exactly what should have happened."

Quenneville said similar scenarios are often difficult for coaches and players to deal with appropriately.

"It's just one of those things -- handling yourself," Quenneville said. "There's been some cases where nobody handles it properly or they handled it where it's probably ... now there's a price to pay, whether there's suspensions involved, or in a game where you're all of a sudden killing five minutes when you're looking to win the game.

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"All of a sudden, you've got some other issues that can happen on getting even. So it's always something that's a fine line, and even talking about it with an individual where the whole team finding the right balance on exactly what is the right thing to do at that moment, and it's an instinct. And I think that's why I say it's tricky, what is exactly the right way of dealing with it."

Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg said the hit on Toews was addressed with Orpik on the ice during the game.

"You always want to stick up for your teammates, especially a guy like [Toews]," Versteeg said. "Guys did go out and they did say stuff to Brooks. Obviously, nothing ended up escalating from it. It's not like guys didn't want to do something for him. It was a close game, too, and we are fighting for a playoff position, so there's a lot more that goes into than the retaliation."

Versteeg said he wasn't aware of much of the criticism, but he understands why it's there.

"You're going to find criticism on everything," Versteeg said. "I actually don't hear much because I don't read or listen too much. There's going to be criticism obviously over that play. If somebody did go in and take a bad penalty and they scored, there would have been criticism there, too.

"It is something where guys did go out there and did say something. They obviously offered some retaliation. But you've got to do it within the lines and within the rules, and also you got to find a way to win the game without putting yourself in too big of a hole."

Hossa close to returning for Hawks

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
12:13
PM CT
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Marian HossaBruce Bennett/Getty ImagesMarian Hossa expects to return against the Red Wings on Sunday or the Flyers on Tuesday.

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa will miss his fifth consecutive game with an upper-body injury against the Nashville Predators on Friday, but he said he expected to return against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday or the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.

Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig missed the team's moring skate Friday, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he was expected to play against the Predators.

Hossa did participate in the morning skate. It was his first practice with the team since suffering the injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 1.

“I actually feel better than yesterday,” Hossa said. “That’s a good sign.”

Hossa said his injury wasn’t related to the back injury he suffered in the Stanley Cup finals last season and forced him to sit out during the preseason this season.

“It’s nothing that I had the beginning of the season, so it’s something upper-body injury,” Hossa said. “That’s actually a good thing.”

Hossa has 24 goals, 26 assists and a plus-25 rating in 57 games this season.

Rapid Reaction: Hawks 6, Blue Jackets 1

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
9:36
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CHICAGO -- Here’s a quick look at the Chicago Blackhawks' 6-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center on Thursday.

How it happened: Searching for more offense heading into the game, the Blackhawks got plenty of it Thursday night. Chicago went off for six goals, including three in the second period, to win for the first time at the United Center since Jan. 19. Andrew Shaw broke out of a recent slump, scoring two goals. Jonathan Toews also scored twice and has five goals in the past three games. Brandon Bollig and Bryan Bickell scored the Blackhawks’ other goals. Marcus Kruger and Brent Seabrook each had two assists for the Blackhawks. Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled in the second period after allowing his fourth goal.

What it means: Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville made some line changes leading into the game after the team had scored just three goals total in its previous three indoor games. The Blackhawks scored five at Soldier Field on Saturday, but the conditions made that an unusual game. Quenneville’s moves paid off in a big way against Columbus. The Blackhawks improved to 37-13-14 with 88 points and remained in second place in the Central Division behind the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks extended their winning streak over the Blue Jackets to 12 games. The Blackhawks last lost to them in 2011.

Player of the game: Shaw snapped an 11-game goalless streak with his two goals. He had zero points and a minus-2 rating over his previous five games.

Stat of the game: Thirteen Blackhawks registered a point in the victory.

What’s next: The Blackhawks travel to Patrick Kane's hometown of Buffalo to face the Sabres on Sunday.

Smith not worrying about future with Hawks

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
1:53
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Ben Smith said Thursday he was happy linemate Brandon Bollig received a recent contract extension, but he hasn’t had any contract talks with the organization himself.

The 25-year-old Smith will be a restricted free agent after the season and is the team’s lone fourth-line player without a contract going forward. The Blackhawks announced a three-year extension for Bollig on Monday, and Marcus Kruger signed a two-year contract in the summer.

“I haven’t heard anything about [my future,]” Smith said on Thursday. “It’s great for Bollig. I’m happy to hear he’s going to be back for three years. He’s a great player and a great teammate. As for me, I guess that stuff will wait for whenever that stuff gets sorted out. I’m more focused on what’s going on here the last 19 games, hopefully a long playoff run.”

Smith said his future has been in the back of his mind, but he wasn't worrying about it now.

“I think it always is when it’s your contract year for any player,” Smith said. “For me, focusing on what’s going on now and letting the future take care of itself.”

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Hawks aim to take advantage of break

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
10:11
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Waterfalls, surfing, lounging by the pool, scenic views -- by the looks of the Twitter accounts of the Chicago Blackhawks who aren't playing in the Olympics they're already enjoying their break.

While 10 Blackhawks are off in Sochi, Russia playing for their respective countries in the Olympics, 13 other Blackhawks have the time off and don't have to get back on the ice until Feb. 23.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was hopeful those 13 players would rest and return refreshed for the regular season's final 22 games.

"I don't think we've ever visited this extended time away," Quenneville said during the team's recent road trip. "I guess we're going to have to rely on the trust that these guys are going to be ready and rested. The rusty part, hopefully if they are, we'll have enough time to get it off them. I would expect these guys fresh, lead the charge when they come out of the Olympic break."

The Blackhawks appear to be listening to their coach. Andrew Shaw has tweeted out photos of him at a pool, hiking by a waterfall and surfing in Hawaii. Bryan Bickell and Brandon Bollig have also tweeted scenic photos from much warmer locations than frigid Chicago.



Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was also hopeful his teammates not in the Olympics would utilize their two weeks off.

"For us, we have the maturity to use this to our advantage," Toews said recently. "Guys are going to take advantage and maybe do some things and take some time off. I think that's good mentality and physically, so you come back in even better shape and are prepared to play your best hockey down the stretch."

Quenneville has said throughout the season he will be mindful of Olympic players' ice time when they return to Chicago. That could especially be the case for 36-year-old Michal Handzus and 35-year-olds Marian Hossa and Michal Rozsival, who are all playing in the Olympics. Some players could play as many as seven games between Wednesday and Feb. 23 in Russia.

Olympic teams began practicing in Russia on Monday, and games will begin on Wednesday. Sweden's Marcus Kruger, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson and the Czech Republic's Rozsival will be in action for the Blackhawks on Wednesday. Slovakia's Handzus and Hossa will face the United States' Patrick Kane, Canada's Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane will play on Thursday.

Quenneville wished all of his players a positive Olympic experience.

"I hope they play well," Quenneville said. "I hope they represent their country extremely well and make themselves and their countrymen proud of them. I hope somebody wins gold medals."

Notes: Hawks expect Sharks to be fired up

February, 1, 2014
Feb 1
3:57
PM CT
By Dave Fowkes | Special to ESPNChicago.com
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SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Chicago Blackhawks seven-game road trip continues Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks. The Blackhawks will try to build off their 5-2 win over Vancouver on Wednesday night that snapped a four-game losing streak.

After two days off, the Blackhawks hope to have a fresh attitude and fresh legs to attack a wounded Sharks team.

 Jonathan Toews
Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty ImagesHawks captain Jonathan Toews knows that the Sharks are always a dangerous team, especially at home.
San Jose has lost three straight and scored just one goal during the losing streak.

“They are a dangerous team coming off of two tough (road) losses,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “They have a lot of weapons on their team and they like to attack and have a good power play. We need to be ready to start and make sure our minds are in the right place knowing that the most important part of this game is going to be the first ten minutes.”

Captain Jonathan Toews also expects a fired up Sharks team tonight.

“They are always dangerous, especially at home,” said Toews. “So we will be ready for them to come out hard in the first period like they always do."

Handzus returns: Michal Handzus will make his return to San Jose for the first time since being traded from the Sharks to Chicago last year for a fourth-round draft choice.

Handzus has been around enough teams in the NHL that he can’t get the revenge factor going against every former team.

“Maybe there is a little bit extra because I played here last year. I have been in the league so long you just prepare for the game in a normal way but obviously you want to play well.”

Handzus has four goals and seven assists this year for Chicago.

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Rewind: Observations from Hawks-Canucks

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
11:43
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Corey CrawfordAnne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY SportsCorey Crawford and the Blackhawks battled their way to a win in Vancouver.
Here are four observations from the Chicago Blackhawks' 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.

1. The Blackhawks seemed to have all four lines rolling for the first time in awhile. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville gave everyone except Michal Handzus 10-plus minutes of even-strength ice time. All four lines created offensive chances, and they were mostly defensively responsible. The second line and third lines weren’t always great, but contributed to the win. Kris Versteeg had a few bad turnovers, and the Canucks outshot the second and third lines. You could see Brandon Pirri having a positive effect on the offensive side, and the chances are growing for Patrick Kane and Versteeg on the second line. Remember, Pirri is still just coming back from a lower-body injury that kept him out nearly a month. He played in his first three games last weekend for the Rockford IceHogs and now two more for the Blackhawks. He should be more comfortable later this trip.

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Hawks' 'best game next game' strategy pays

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
3:00
AM CT
By Monte Stewart
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Chicago Blackhawks aced a character test Wednesday night in a city that has never been kind to them.

The Hawks also made ending their longest losing streak of the season -- a four-game skid -- look easy as they overcame a two-goal deficit to thump the struggling Vancouver Canucks 5-2.

[+] EnlargeBlackhawks
Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY SportsBlackhawks forward Brandon Saad celebrates his second-period score Wednesday at Rogers Arena.
“The confidence is always there,” said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the second period. “We know what we are capable of as a team. Tonight we found a way to overcome some of those tough moments we’ve had of late.”

The tough moments continued early in Wednesday’s action. In fact, they came 16 seconds into the game, when Chris Higgins gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead.

The Blackhawks responded by controlling most of the first period, despite trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes and 2-0 early in the second period. They clinched the win with four unanswered goals in the second and Brandon Saad’s second goal of the game -- an empty-netter -- late in the third.

“Getting scored on the first shift is never a good feeling, but we knew that wasn’t going to be the difference,” Toews said. “We had a great momentum swing in the second, scoring four goals like that. It was huge for us.

“The biggest thing we’ve had trouble with lately is not having those moments when we are playing well and then not be able to hang onto leads and play the right way late in games. We made an effort to change that tonight.”

In the process, the Hawks propelled coach Joel Quenneville into third place all time in NHL wins.

“It means a lot to the players,” goaltender Corey Crawford said of Quenneville’s milestone. “He’s a good leader for us. He understands the game and he understands everything that goes around us.

“He’s just a guy that really gets it all and knows how to control his team -- and gets the best out of us.”

The Blackhawks also avoided a tailspin with a long Olympic break approaching -- for players other than the 10 Blackhawks scheduled to head to Sochi -- and made discussion of a possible Stanley Cup repeat more plausible.

By gaining their second win in three meetings with the Canucks this season, the Blackhawks also showed they can play with discipline at critical times.

In recent years, these teams have waged an often bitter and emotional rivalry that has seen them eliminate each other from the playoffs.

But on this night, the Blackhawks took only four minor penalties. Just one -- a roughing penalty on Andrew Shaw for a tussle with Ryan Kesler late in the third period with the outcome not in doubt -- was for extracurricular shenanigans. Kesler received the same penalty.

Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa declined to fight Brandon Bollig in the first period after he chased the Canuck for running and nailing Niklas Hjalmarsson. Otherwise, it might have been a different story.

Instead, it was a familiar story as the Blackhawks received steady goaltending from Crawford, who finished with 29 saves on 31 shots following his early shortcomings.

“I was able to shake it off, but not right away, and just get into the game,” Crawford said. “When that happens sometimes there’s nothing I can do about it right away. I’ve just got to focus on the next shot and stop the next one.”

“Losing streak? I didn’t even know that,” said Crawford. “We take it game by game, and we play as if we should win every game. And we have the confidence to win every game.

“Whatever happened, we make sure we work hard and have the best game next game.”

Rewind: 5 observations from Hawks-Wings

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
11:21
AM CT
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Here are five observations from the Chicago Blackhawks' 5-4 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday:

1. That was certainly an entertaining game, but one the Blackhawks are going to be disappointed in. They had the game under control with a 2-0 early lead and allowed the Red Wings back in it. The Red Wings simply outworked them for much of the game. The Red Wings often won the loose pucks and made the hustle plays. The Blackhawks were careless with the puck at times, too. A play like the one in the second period where Brent Seabrook had the puck taken off of him in the defensive zone and led to a goal doesn’t often occur to the Blackhawks. None of the goals Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford allowed seemed too soft, but four goals is still a lot to give up. He had been better than that recently.

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Hawks by the numbers: Breaking down ice time

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
3:36
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Ice time was something often discussed last year with the shortened season and has again been a topic this season with the compact schedule due to the Olympics.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville found a rotation he liked last season and stuck with it most of the time. The players’ ice times didn’t fluctuate that often during the regular season.

Quenneville liked his rotation so much last season that he’s used his most of his roster in nearly the same amount this season. Some players are within seconds of playing the same amount this regular season.

Here’s a look at the Blackhawks’ average ice times last season compared to this season:

Duncan Keith -- 24:07 last season, 24:35 this season
Brent Seabrook -- 22:00 last season, 21:56 this season
Niklas Hjalmarsson -- 20:54 last season, 21:13 this season
Jonathan Toews -- 19:21 last season, 20:33 this season
Johnny Oduya -- 20:31 last season, 20:16 this season
Patrick Kane -- 20:03 last season, 19:51 this season
Patrick Sharp -- 18:50 last season, 18:53 this season
Marian Hossa -- 18:02 last season, 18:27 this season
Brandon Saad -- 16:28 last season, 16:27 this season
Nick Leddy -- 17:25 last season, 16:26 this season
Michal Rozsival -- 18:07 last season, 15:55 this season
Andrew Shaw -- 15:03 last season, 15:19 this season
Marcus Kruger -- 14:10 last season, 13:51 this season
Bryan Bickell -- 12:48 last season, 11:39 this season
Sheldon Brookbank -- 12:45 last season, 11:32 this season
Brandon Bollig -- 8:01 last season, 10:02 this season

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Kane, Hawks hope changes provide spark

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
4:47
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CHICAGO -- Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane didn't have to put too much thought into his game while he collected points over the past few months.

Kane went through a stretch between Nov. 3 and Dec. 28 where he registered points in 26 of 27 games. He didn't always feel like he was playing to his standards, but his stick was magic and the points still came.

Over the past week and a half, that magic has apparently abandoned Kane. He has recorded one point, an assist, in the last five games.

From a team standpoint, the Blackhawks have missed Kane's production as they have dropped three one-goal games in January.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville unveiled his plan Friday to spark Kane and the entire team. Quenneville made his most drastic line changes of the season and altered the second, third and fourth lines during practice at Johnny's IceHouse West on Friday.

Quenneville placed Kane with left winger Bryan Bickell and center Marcus Kruger on the second line. Bickell had been on the third line, and Kruger had been on the fourth line.

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Rapid Reaction: Rangers 3, Blackhawks 2

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
9:44
PM CT
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CHICAGO -- Here's a quick look at the New York Rangers' 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on Wednesday.

How it happened: The Rangers broke a 2-2 tie with 5:56 left in the third period, when Carl Hagelin knocked in a rebound off a shot by Marc Staal. The Rangers jumped out a 2-0 lead behind goals by Brad Richards at 5:06 and Mats Zuccarello at 9:29 of the first period. The Blackhawks evened the game in the second period, when they scored two goals within two minutes. Jonathan Toews scored a power-play goal at 6:17 and Brandon Bollig fired in a shot from the left circle at 8:05. Bollig hadn't scored since Nov. 30. Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves in the win, and Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford had 29 saves.

What it means: The Blackhawks' offense has slowed down recently, having been held to two goals or fewer in four of their last five games. They came into Wednesday's game averaging a league-best 3.62 goals a game. Patrick Kane, who is second in the league with 54 points, has been held to one point over the last five games. The Blackhawks fell to 29-8-9 on the season, and the Rangers improved to 22-20-3.

Player of the game: Richards was the only player with two points in the game. He had a goal and an assist.

Stat of the game: Blackhawks had nine shots in the third period.

What's next: The Blackhawks have a set of back-to-back games this weekend. They travel to play the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday and host the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.

Blackhawks at the midway point

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
6:27
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Here’s a look at some positives and negatives for the Chicago Blackhawks after 41 games, the regular season’s midway point.

Positives

[+] EnlargePatrick Kane
Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune/MCTKane's excellent first half has shown him to be among the NHL's best scorers.
Patrick Kane: Kane would be many people’s pick for the Hart Memorial Trophy at the midway point of the season. He has 23 goals and 30 assists and is just two points behind Sidney Crosby for the league lead in points. Kane is currently on a career-best 13-game point streak and previously had a 12-game streak this season. He’s recorded points in 25 of his past 26 games.

Patrick Sharp: Sharp has been in a scoring zone for much of December. He has 12 of his 22 goals this month. He’s scored six goals over the past three games. He’s tied for fourth in the league in goals and tied for fifth with 41 points.

Duncan Keith: Keith has said he’s felt great this season, and that’s shown in his numbers. He’s first among the league’s defensemen with 35 assists and 38 points. He’s also averaging a team-high 24:24 of ice time and has a plus-15 rating.

The overall offense: The Blackhawks lead the league with a 3.73 goals per game average. They have scored five or more goals 18 times this season. They have six players with at least 10 goals and four players in the league’s top 20 in points.

Power play: The Blackhawks’ power play has a lot to do with the team’s offensive success. It ranks second in the league with a 24.8 power-play percentage. The unit was 19th last season with a 16.7 percentage.

Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa: The Blackhawks’ top line of Sharp, Toews and Hossa has often been behind the Blackhawks’ offensive output. All three players have 10-plus goals and 30-plus points. They’ve combined for a plus-53 rating.

Depth: The Blackhawks are winning again because of their depth. All four lines have been contributing. Kane and Kris Versteeg have developed some chemistry on the second line. The third line of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad has been solid on both ends of the ice. The fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith has often been given the responsibility of playing the opposition’s top line and has held its own. Kruger has also especially improved his faceoffs this season.

Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson: The defensive pairing of Oduya and Hjalmarsson has often been given the assignment of the opponent's top lines. They have combined for a plus-28 rating and both rank in the top 26 among the league’s defensemen in Corsi percentage. The pairing could represent Sweden in the Olympics as well.

No Cup hangover: The Blackhawks had a feeling they were going to overcome a Stanley Cup hangover with all the personnel they had returning, but you never know with such a short offseason. The Blackhawks avoided that by gaining early success and building a 13-3-4 record through 20 games. They had a 9-9-2 record after 20 games during the 2010-11 season. The Blackhawks are currently 27-7-7 and are tied for a league-best 51 points.

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Job security improves Bollig's play

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
11:39
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Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig stuck to a specific role whenever he was given a chance to play last season.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bollig
Scott Strazzante/Getty ImagesBrandon Bollig has expanded his role to be more than just an enforcer.
Bollig knew Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wanted him to utilize his 6-foot-2, 223-pound frame to knock people around and protect his teammates however needed. In 25 regular-season games, Bollig had 41 hits, five fights, 51 penalty minutes and zero points.

Bollig rarely abandoned his role. He was afraid of losing more ice time, so he did exactly what was asked of him. Even sticking to orders, Bollig’s job was never secure last season. He was often a healthy scratch, was reassigned to the AHL for a two-day period in April and played in only five of the team’s 24 playoff games.

What a difference a season can make, as Bollig can attest. The 24-year-old has found a permanent place in the Blackhawks’ lineup this season, has already appeared in more games this season (29) than last season and has even gotten comfortable being more than an enforcer.

Bollig hasn’t forgotten what last season felt like, but he’d like to never go through that again.

"It’s definitely a learning process when you’re in and out of the lineup and kind of learning what keeps you in and kind of what keeps you out," Bollig said after a recent practice. "It’s nice to have that, and hopefully that’s behind me."

Bollig has maintained his general role this season. He still tries to lay massive checks and will be the first to jump in to defend a teammate, but he also has expanded what he's willing to attempt on the ice. He has tried to handle the puck and shoot more than in the past.

Bollig has found positive results in that, too. He came into the season without having registered a point in 43 career NHL regular-season games. He put an end to that streak with a goal in the season opener and has since added six more points. His goal and assist during the Blackhawks' recent circus trip raised $700 in donations from AM Sports Marketing Group, which pledged $500 for any goal and $200 for any assist to Bollig, for the team’s Movember fundraising campaign.

Bollig isn’t sure any of that would have happened a season ago.

"Any time you’re kind of scared of being in and out of the lineup or making mistakes, you're obviously not going to play as well," Bollig said. "This year I've felt more comfortable and definitely with the way our line is going right now and the confidence that Q has in our line is great. It kind of lets you go out there and not think too much."

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
78 34 44 13
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 34
AssistsD. Keith 55
+/-M. Hossa 28
GAAC. Crawford 2.26