Chicago Blackhawks: Fernando Pisani
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How it happened: The Hawks didn’t let an early penalty discourage them, and after killing it off, they took control of the game. Goals by Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland set the tone in the first period, and Chicago never looked back. The pace Joel Quenneville has been looking for was evident throughout in the complete victory. It’s the second consecutive shutout for Corey Crawford who has a scoreless streak of 126:25. As has become the norm for him, he made some saves during scrums in front of his net with plenty of bodies around him. Fernando Pisani and Jack Skille tallied as well.
What it means: In the days leading up to the game the Hawks talked about playing 60 minutes against Colorado. In three previous contests they had failed to do so. They played 60 minutes on Wednesday for their third consecutive win. The Hawks also leapfrogged the Avalanche in the standings and got contributions from throughout their lineup in the victory. And they didn’t even need a goal from one of their true stars. On defense it was arguably Nick Leddy’s best game as a Hawk.
Extra time: After a pane of glass was broken behind the Colorado net toward the end of the second period, the referees decided to send the teams to their dressing rooms with 2:07 left so the glass could be fixed. They played the final 2:07 after the intermission and then played the full 20 minute third period.
What’s next: The Hawks have two more days off before a home and home set with the red hot Nashville Predators. They’ll play in Nashville on Saturday and then back at home on Sunday.
The league shuts down every year on Dec. 24 and 25. No practice, no games. The Chicago Blackhawks were lucky. They played their final contest Wednesday night. They’ll get an extra day to celebrate their three-game winning streak.
Since the lockout in 2005, an average of six of the top eight teams in the standings at Christmas went on to make the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Only once, in the 2006-2007 season, did less than six of the top eight teams at Christmas make the postseason. In the East that year, five of eight made it.
But never have the top eight teams at the break made the playoffs, so there is always a team or two dropping out and one or two taking their place. This year that trend might not hold up -- there might be more.
“Christmas, game 41, New Years, all-star games, you can look at all different [benchmarks],” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “To me, I look every day. Every day you’re looking at what it’s going to take and the three-point games. We are in the mix right now of a bunch of teams in a similar state. How that sorts itself out, I don’t know if there is going to be drop-off date at all.”
In other words, there are no benchmarks when the standings are so tight. Before Thursday's games, four points separated fifth to 12th in the Western Conference.
“You look at it now, and it’s just amazing how tight it is,” Fernando Pisani said. “How close everybody is in the standings. I don’t think I’ve seen it like this in a long time, you know from like second on down to 13th. Every point matters and every game matters. That’s why it’s exciting to play, and I’m sure it’s exciting for the fans to watch.”
Though the Hawks have played more games than every team in the conference save one, they sit in a much better position at 19-14-3 than they did a week ago. Two bad losses to the Colorado Avalanche began a new round of questioning in the direction of the defense.
But the ensuing three games proved the Avalanche letdown was more a blip than a major scare, though there have been more blips, obviously, this year, than a season ago. Colorado, with their speed, might simply be a bad matchup.
It doesn’t hurt the Hawks only gave the next three opponents a total of three power-play attempts in nine periods of hockey. That more than anything else has led to their current success, coming after several of those blips.
“I wouldn’t say it’s surprising,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “We knew we were going to have a tough season ahead of us. With what happened last year and every team wanting to prove themselves against us, we knew it would be a tough road. Early on, we didn’t help ourselves out. Last year we were a couple points ahead of the pack and right now we are in the middle of it so it’s tough.”
One reason to be optimistic is in net. Corey Crawford gets better and more confident with every passing day. He’s 10-1-1 over his past 12 starts. Take that in for a moment. Those are great numbers. Without acknowledging the variables -- like if he was ready from Day 1 -- it wouldn’t be a stretch to say if he was in net from the start of the season, the Hawks would have several more wins. Not seven or eight, but a few. A few makes a big difference.
The addition of veteran Ryan Johnson might prove to be a bigger pick-up than first thought. He has a defensive mind-set and doesn’t need much schooling, having played for Quenneville in St. Louis. His addition might allow Patrick Sharp to stay at wing for a lengthy period of time. The Hawks are 3-0 since he joined the team.
They’re also 3-0 with Brian Campbell leading them in minutes played in each of those games. Plenty of that has to do with the few penalties the Hawks have taken, and it’s allowed Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook a breather. And because of it, the two have played better. In fact, can you remember a 5-on-5 sequence in the last three games where Keith and Seabrook struggled? And that’s against three quality opponents. Against Colorado it seemed like all they did was struggle, but they played much bigger minutes.
It’s not about where you are at Christmas, more like Easter, especially for the defending champs.
“I don’t think we can be happy or satisfied,” Sharp said. “There are a lot of positives from what we’ve done so far this year, but we know we need to get better every week and every game.”
To that point, earlier in the season it seemed like the Hawks would take one step forward followed by two steps back. Now, it’s the other way around. And though Christmas is a benchmark, there is still plenty of time to keep improving.
How it happened: In the span of 0:14 in the third period, the Hawks went from a potential shutout for Corey Crawford to a regulation loss, giving up two goals as they were caught on their heels. First came a power-play tally, and then off the ensuing faceoff, an Oilers’ rush produced the game-winner as Sam Gagner tapped the puck in as he slid past his check in the goalmouth. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Marian Hossa were on the ice for both goals-against. The Hawks managed only a first-period tally by former Oiler Fernando Pisani.
What it means: A season-long trend of giving up late goals in tight games continued one night after the Hawks thought they may have solved the problem. The Hawks had the lead entering the third period, but didn’t get even a single point out of the night, dropping their record to 8-8-1, including just 4-6 at home. Already, they’ve lost both their home games to Edmonton this season.
Fight night: John Scott had his best fight as a Hawk when he pummeled Zack Stortini in the second period. Stortini ended up with his jersey over his head and the referees stepped in before more damage was done.
What’s next: The Hawks get a well deserved break in the schedule with only three games over the next seven days. They’ll face the Phoenix Coyotes for the first time this season on Wednesday before a back-to-back set of games next weekend.
Fernando Pisani, centering the Hawks’ fourth line, scored against his old team midway through the opening 20 minutes. Pisani brought the puck to the center of the ice before firing a wrist shot by Oilers’ goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Jack Skille was credited with an assist on the goal.
Pisani’s line, with John Scott on the other wing, had several good shifts in the offensive zone. It could have had more goals, but on two separate occasions Scott’s stick broke in half as he wound up to shoot.
Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford made nine saves, and his best one was on 2010 No. 1-overall draft pick Taylor Hall, who had a step on the defense.
Marian Hossa is playing for the first time in five games and Jeremy Morin also is in the game after leaving during Saturday night’s 5-4 win in Atlanta after blocking a shot.
CHICAGO -- Here's a quick look at the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Devils.
How it Happened: The Hawks fought back from a 2-0 deficit but the Devils took the lead for good at 3-2 with just 3:51 remaining in the game. The Blackhawks continued a trend of giving up scores around their net -- Bradley Mills was able to tap one in to give New Jersey the lead in the third period. An otherwise sleepy affair by the Blackhawks found some life when the power-plays started to pile up for the home team. Down 2-0 in the second, Brian Campbell scored just after a New Jersey penalty expired then early in the third Fernando Pisani put in a rebound of a Viktor Stalberg shot to tie the game. Both those tallies had the less star-laden, second power play unit on the ice. Three goals were scored in the game's final minute. New Jersey tallied a pair of empty-net goals. In between those two scores, Viktor Stalberg notched his fourth goal of the year and brought the Hawks back within one.
What it Means: The Hawks lose despite getting a break when all-world goaltender Martin Brodeur left the game in the second period with a hand injury. Its also another home loss to a team that was 3-9-1 coming into the contest having lost one of their top players -- Zach Parise -- just days before the game. The Hawks home record is 4-5 and their overall mark drops to 7-7-1.
What’s next: The Hawks finally get a breather with a couple days between games to prepare for the long awaited match-up with the Atlanta Thrashers. Four former Hawks, all who helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup, will face their former team for the only time this season.
After sending down two forwards to the minors on Tuesday, it was about their only option. The Hawks only have 20 players on their roster. John Scott and Jordan Hendry will start at forward with Fernando Pisani as their center, but it sounds as if coach Joel Quenneville may not give the natural defensemen a regular shift every time out.
“We can fit forwards and play them a little bit more in those roles, too,” Quenneville said. “It gives you a lot of options and flexibility as well. It gives you an extra D-man or two if you need them at the other end, too. I’ve been in lineups where you have more than eight on defense more than once. It can work.”
Scott has played some games at forward already while Hendry had a handful at that position last season.
“It’s a little different look for me, but I’m excited about it,” Hendry said. “It should be fun. I played forward growing up, too, so it’s not completely different to me.”
Bickell returns: After being a healthy scratch the past two games, Bryan Bickell is back in the lineup. Quenneville wants the big body to be hard to play against. Bickell says he got the message. Which was? “To be more focused,” Bickell said Wednesday. “I started off well, but my focus wasn’t there. That’s why he took me out of the lineup, to put a little fire underneath me. I need to be physical. I’m a big guy.”
No excuses: To the Hawks credit they haven’t complained about the run of injuries that have occurred in the first month of the season. Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa are on the shelf, but other teams have had it worse. New Jersey announced on Tuesday they would miss their captain, Zach Parise, for three months. The Hawks played Los Angeles without Drew Doughty and Minnesota was missing two of their top six forwards when Chicago was there on Saturday.
“Timing is important, too,” the recently healed Brian Campbell said. “If you have a lot of injuries it’s tough to win a Stanley Cup, but if you get them early you can get them out of the way.”
So does Campbell expect a demoralized Devils team?
“Actually, they’re dangerous, right now,” Campbell said. “But if we take care of what we do and play our style, we’ll win. We want to control the game.”
Troy Brouwer/Tomas Kopecky/Marian Hossa
Viktor Stalberg/Dave Bolland/Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell/Jake Dowell/Fernando Pisani
When the media members saw how the Chicago Blackhawks were lining up for practice on Tuesday, we couldn’t get to our twitter (@espnchihawks) accounts fast enough.
Four new lines. Wings at center. Centers at wing. Fourth liners were first liners and so on and so forth. The sky was falling. And judging from the reaction of the hockey public, you didn’t disagree.
While very dramatic, it’s not all that unusual. By the Hawks’ own admission they have two players -- Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp -- carrying the load and even Hossa has slowed down, not appearing on the score sheet in the last three games.
So with 10 games under their belt, five-on-five scoring slowing down and -- maybe most important -- two days to think about it, coach Joel Quenneville went a dramatic route and turned things over.
Does he do this more than most coaches? Probably not. This team allows him to do it, since not many rosters employ fourth-line players that can move up to play first line. The Hawks have used the word interchangeable regarding their forwards over the last couple years.
I don’t think there is any doubt Patrick Kane would not be playing with Dave Bolland if he was off to a hot start. He hasn’t been awful but he knows he can be better than two goals, five assists, and a minus-7 rating.
“For most of us, especially myself, you want to take it upon yourself to start helping those guys [Hossa and Sharp] out,” Kane said after practice on Tuesday. “And start producing here. Enough is enough.”
It’s simple. Kane has to play better without the puck so he can have it more. When he’s had it, he’s been as good as ever.
A smaller message may have been sent to Fernando Pisani, though it might not be needed. He knows zero points and a minus-3 isn’t going to cut it, so he’ll have to earn his way off the fourth line.
“Obviously, it’s not the start that I wanted,” Pisani said. “I just have to continue to work hard and get better every day… [I need] to get more shots on net. And try to get an ugly goal there.”
On the other side, a positive message was sent to Kopecky. He’s done all that’s been asked of him and now he’ll have to play a more complete and bigger role as a center. Quenneville isn’t married to the idea of him there but said “it’s something to try.”
Skille moving up with Sharp and Toews seems more like the chemistry experiment part of the equation. Skille has been fine but does he deserve top-line minutes over Stalberg or Kane? This is where the balance comes in. Again, something to try.
Bottom line, it’s doubtful Kopecky will play the next 72 games at center. It’s also doubtful Skille will play with Toews and Sharp for that long, but strange combinations sometimes make for the best lines. Two seasons ago, who thought Marty Havlat, Dave Bolland, and Andrew Ladd would turn out to be arguably the Hawks best line? Not a Toews or Kane to be found there. And last season, I had huge doubts when Kris Vertseeg was teamed up with Bolland and Ladd but that worked out as well.
The best and most important part of these new lines -- for now -- is Sharp’s landing at wing instead of center. He played most of Saturday’s game against Columbus there and scored his eighth goal of the season. It simply frees him up and conserves his energy for offense. And with the way he’s finishing scoring chances, that can’t be a bad thing.
Is Quenneville a mad scientist or just mad? Tune in Wednesday night when the Los Angeles Kings pay a visit and we’ll all start to figure out the answer.
What it Means: The Hawks win for the first time since hoisting the Stanley Cup in Philadelphia in early June. The victory came with most of their star players in the lineup and in front of 20,553 fans. It’s the largest crowd to attend a Blackhawks preseason game in franchise history. They are 1-2 in the preseason with four games remaining.
What’s Next: The Hawks will continue with training camp. Their next preseason game is Tuesday, when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins in the new Console Energy Center.
The teams exchanged goals in the second period. Duncan Keith scored his first of the preseason on the power play at 4:48, but the Red Wings responded at the 14:49 mark. Valtteri Filppula split two defenders and scored on Marty Turco.
Keith’s power-play goal was assisted by Fernando Pisani and Patrick Kane. The sequence began on a long pass from Turco to one of his forwards standing at the opposing blue line. Pisani has assists on both Hawks goals.
The announced crowd of 20, 553 is the largest in franchise history to attend a preseason game.
Between now and training camp, we’ll take a look at the Hawks roster. This entry examines the fourth line. The newly acquired Ryan Potunly figures in the picture for the third and fourth line but isn’t included in this breakdown:
Jake Dowell, Center
Experience: 23 games for the Blackhawks over the course of the last three seasons. The bulk of his time has been in the AHL.
Contract Status: Last year of a two-way deal that pays him $550,000 if he plays for the Hawks. He’ll be a restricted free agent at year’s end.
Jesse’s take: Another one whose time has come with all the recent departures. No one is guaranteed a spot when it comes to the fourth line, but Dowell is as good as entrenched for a newcomer. At least he was until Potunly was signed. Hawks brass has singled Dowell out several times over the summer as a tough nosed player who could fill that role. Last preseason, he dropped the gloves with his teammates about as much as anyone, and the Hawks will enjoy that toughness as they lost some of it this offseason via trades. He’s had a total of 35 fights the last three seasons in the AHL and three in the NHL (including preseason) in limited time. When Marty Reasoner was dealt it further solidified Dowell’s spot on the roster.
Bryan Bickell, Left wing
Experience: 23 games for the Blackhawks over the course of three seasons. The bulk of his time has been in the AHL
Contract Status: Re-signed with the Hawks this offseason for three years at an average of about $540,000.
Jesse’s take: He’s spent the same amount of time with the Blackhawks as Dowell, but he’s been much more noticeable. No more so then when he lined up in last year’s playoffs next to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. People remember that Dustin Byfuglien starred in that spot in later rounds, but early on Joel Quenneville called upon Bickell to play with his young stars and he helped the Hawks turn the tide in the Nashville series. He’s a big body with decent hands who “gets it.” He rarely embarrasses himself on the ice, and now he should have the confidence to grow into a larger role. Could easily be a player who sees time on any of the four lines. Quenneville praised him, in particular, at the end of the regular season last year.
Fernando Pisani, Right wing
Experience: A seven year veteran of the NHL, all with the Edmonton Oilers.
Contract Status: Signed a one year deal for $500,000 this offseason.
Jesse’s take: A hero in Edmonton during their great playoff run in 2006, he’s been an oft-injured winger over the last few seasons. When healthy he adds experience and some depth for the Hawks penalty killing units. That’s his specialty these days. He’s currently fighting a back ailment that could slow him at the beginning of training camp, but he’s a solid veteran who just needs to stay on the ice.