Chicago Blackhawks: Jesse Rogers
“We saw what happened this year,” Quenneville said at the NHL draft on Friday. “I think the league has never been tighter, never been more competitive. The parity is evident. It’s amazing how tight it is.”
Besides potential roster changes this summer, he thinks his team needs to do one simple thing to advance further than the first round: compete.
Quenneville thinks the re-signing of Johnny Oduya will help the depth on defense. The Hawks have relied on their top guys to play heavy minutes for several years.
“We want three pairs you can roll out there and if you can roll them against all four lines than you’re in perfect shape,” he said. “Hopefully there is some balance and some more shared minutes. In a perfect world hopefully that happens.”
There’s little doubt finding more rest for workhorse Duncan Keith can only help the Hawks.
“Duncs does play more some nights than others,” Quenneville said. “If we did have a little more balance there that could be an objective or maybe we can cut him back a little bit.”
Quenneville addressed other pressing matters:
The Blackhawks took the day off on Sunday and soon enough our attention will be on the Phoenix Coyotes for Round 1 of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. But let’s take a moment to hand out some regular-season awards. Will there be enough success for a postseason award blog? We’ll find out soon enough.
Patrick Sharp: Jonathan Toews is excluded from the voting due to missing more than a quarter of the season with his concussion and Patrick Kane doesn’t win due to a very quiet stretch of games mid-season, though his play early and late was more than admirable. No, this award comes down to two people, Marian Hossa and Sharp. Sharp gets the nod for several reasons. His point-per-game average was about the same as Hossa’s, and he was slightly more consistent.
Hossa had some well documented long point streaks, but Sharp failed to earn at least a point in just one stretch that lasted more than three games. It’s Sharp who led the team in goals (33), despite missing eight contests. And it was Sharp who not only broke a bone in his hand, and didn’t miss a beat when he came back, but he also missed all of training camp due to an emergency appendectomy. Could you even tell by watching him he had been injured twice? On top of all that, he led all forwards in the NHL -- that aren’t on the Boston Bruins -- with a plus-28 rating, a career high. Criticizing Hossa is like finding fault with a perfect rainbow -- though he did take a few games off and seem to go through the motions killing penalties. Sharp also stepped up his playmaking. According to the Elias Sports Bureau 19 of his 36 helpers were primary assists. That's the second most of his career. He earned helpers off shots on net -- he was 12th in the league -- and off some nifty passing, which wasn’t necessarily part of his game in the past. Think of Game 82 in which he earned assists both ways. But at the end of the day Sharp is a sniper -- and one of the best at that. On the play that he broke a bone in his wrist, he still managed a pretty shot and goal. That’s quintessential Sharp. Score the goal then go get a cast put on. He turned 30, had a baby daughter mid-season and came back strong from those injuries. In some ways he’s the heart and soul of the Hawks, one of the rare holdovers from the previous regime, and he’s also the Hawks' 2011-2012 Most Valuable Player.
The Hawks took control of the game in the middle 20 minutes, scoring two goals 23 seconds apart midway through the period. After Viktor Stalberg’s speed drew a hooking call on Justin Falk the Hawks went to work on the power play.
Dave Bolland set up camp behind Josh Harding and found Jimmy Hayes in front for his third goal in less than seven games since being recalled from the minors. A few moments later Jonathan Toews muscled a Wild player off the puck as they entered the Minnesota zone then Toews found Viktor Stalberg in the middle of the ice for a score. It’s Stalberg’s 13th goal, setting a career high in just Game No. 44.
The Hawks added another power-play goal from their second unit when Bolland knocked in a rebound of a Steve Montador shot. That ended the night for starting goalie Josh Harding. Matt Hackett took over.
Here are some news, notes and opinions on the day off between Games 4 and 5 in the Chicago Blackhawks/Vancouver Canucks playoff series.
Dave Bolland’s story has become well documented. No less than five local and national columns were written about him in the aftermath of his four-point night in Game 4. That’s not counting anything the Vancouver press had to say about him as well. It wasn’t long ago he was feeling the terrible effects of his concussion but his hard work and perseverance paid off in the 7-2 win on Tuesday.
Moving back to his more comfortable position at wing, Michael Frolik excelled in Game 4 alongside Bolland. Frolik had a goal and two assists, getting his first taste of the NHL playoffs.
“It’s so different than it was in Florida,” Frolik said. “We said in the room we have to play for the fans and that’s what we did. We have nothing to lose now.”
When asked about Frolik’s big night on offense, Joel Quenneville went another direction, giving insight to why he’s next to Bolland on the third line.
“His anticipation, his positioning, he seems like defensively he’s always around the puck,” Quenneville said. “He kept himself in the play and he does the smart thing. In the past he’s been known as a scorer and an offensive guy [but] I think eventually the defensive part, he’ll eventually get his turn on offense because he has that in his game.”
In other words, Frolik is turning defense into offense which is exactly Bolland’s game as well.
“I didn’t really notice it until I watched the game again last night,” Patrick Sharp said. “The speed that he had, he created a lot of those goals. A very under rated game from Frolik.”
Quenneville made more than a point of defending his decision to replace Brent Seabrook with John Scott on the blue line. The Hawks’ coach rarely acknowledges media or fan talk surrounding the team, but when it came to Scott, he jumped at the chance.
“I think a lot of people rolled their eyes yesterday morning when we announced he was likely on the back end but at the same time we played five big games down the stretch with John Scott on the back end and he played meaningful minutes,” Quenneville said.
Scott is under rated because he’s slow at everything he does, but that doesn’t mean he’s not doing it the right way.
“He’s got a purpose to his game,” Quenneville said. “He’s not just a one-dimensional player. His positioning and his thought process is good. I think defensively he puts himself in a good spot.”
Quenneville didn’t rule out Scott remaining in the lineup even if Seabrook returns.
Despite playing in just his first game of the series, Bolland’s four-point night in Game 4 tied him for the team lead in playoff points with Patrick Kane and Michael Frolik.
Brian Campbell was minus-4 in the first three games, he’s an even player after earning a plus-4 in Game 4. Three other Hawks, including Frolik, Bickell and Niklas Hjalmarsson moved from minus to plus ratings after Game 4.
10) The Run, Part II: The last 10-game assessment asked the question if the Hawks were finally on the run many have been waiting for all season. After that stretch, followed by a 7-1-2 record in this one, the answer is, it's definitely here and continuing.
More than anything, the run has been defined by a cliché: hard work.
After Stan Bowman talked so much about keeping the core this past offseason, some wondered if it was the right core to keep as the team struggled early. But when the games became important, that core stepped up its work ethic, and in turn, its skill and talent took over.
Game 70 was a great example. The key players earned power plays against San Jose because they worked and skated hard. For example, Jonathan Toews had a step on a defender when Chris Campoli fired the puck around the boards to him. Toews drew a penalty. They scored on the power play for the same reason. Patrick Sharp skated hard out of his own zone and received a pass while flying into the offensive zone to set up Marian Hossa for his second of the period.
Hard work plus skill equals a big night, and a big run, for the Hawks.
9) Optimism: As impressive as the victories have been, more interesting has been the point streak. At least one earned in 15 of the last 17 games, including at least one in nine of this latest 10-game segment.
It's important because the Hawks have seemingly turned a corner from earlier in the season when they couldn't manage to play good hockey in crunch time. Getting a late third-period goal to extend a game to overtime in the playoffs can be the difference between winning and losing a series. Same can be said with keeping a game tied when things are breaking down and looking bleak. An intermission and regrouping for the extra period can be the difference. They've re-learned how to play in the clutch, led by goalie Corey Crawford.
8) The Hoss: Marian Hossa is back, earning 13 points over the last 10 games, but his run goes further back than that. Healthy, in sync, and mostly playing with a true center has helped Hossa.
He'll have to make do while Dave Bolland is on the mend, but there's always the power play, as evidenced by Game 70 when he scored twice.
Hossa also revealed he wasn't happy with his sticks until recently. Players are nearly maniacal about their equipment, see Duncan Keith's skates for evidence. A deviation to length or curve to the blade can throw a player off. It's well known Hossa uses one of the longer sticks in the league, so it's already unique for that reason. Hopefully, for the Hawks' sake, he got a large batch of the "good" ones. They are 22-5-3 when Hossa gets at least a point and 14-0-1 when he gets two or more. Translation? Opponents can't stop both Toews' line and Hossa, so when he's going good, good things will happen for the Hawks.
7) Hammer Time: Niklas Hjalmarsson is coming off arguably his best game of the season, and he's returned to form despite not practicing lately. He admitted he tried to make up for a poor start by at least blocking some shots, which earned him praise and some bruises. Still hurting, he's backed off the shot blocking but turned up his game. His point total won't wow anyone this year, but in his case, his plus/minus rating tells the story of his play. Forget about just the last 10-game segment, he was a minus player just once over the last 17 games. After a plus-3 on Monday, he's plus-14 for the season. That's a far cry from a minus-9 in November.
6) Captain, my Captain: Dale Tallon was right years ago after drafting Jonathan Toews. He claimed he would go down as one of the great Blackhawk captains of all time. He's on his way, and now MVP of the league is starting to creep into the conversation. His point total has risen to where the talk can start to be serious.
He reached a career high in just 70 games. He has 71 points in 68 games played. It will be hard to beat Daniel Sedin of Vancouver, especially if he's the only player to reach 100 points. But if the season ended after 70 games, Sedin, Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay and Toews should be finalists for the Hart trophy. His plus-25 is tops among all candidates. No forward has won the MVP without finishing one or two in scoring since Mark Messier in 1992. Hart Trophy or not, the phrase "won't be denied" comes to mind when thinking of the center's play.
Chris Campoli is doing what the Hawks said he would with his style: Fit right in. The more games he's played the more comfortable he's looked. With the loss of Brian Campbell, he's been counted on even more, including on special teams. That's not something you could say about the man he replaced, Nick Boynton.
Michael Frolik has also looked better with games under his belt, and with the loss of Dave Bolland, his ability to play center has allowed Patrick Sharp to remain at wing. That's huge.
But the most important pick-up wasn't even a trade. Any team could have picked up Ryan Johnson. In fact, as he was rehabbing an injury this summer there were several interested. But he wanted a chance at a Cup after playing for playoff flameout Vancouver. As he put it, "If you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em." Since Johnson returned to the lineup after a bell ringing, the Hawks have gone 9-1-2. His 63.2 winning faceoff percentage jumps off the page and has been a major key.
4) Winning Ugly: It's not a phrase associated with the Hawks much this season. They'll undoubtedly be a time when they need to win one they don't deserve or one by getting dirty. Can they do it? Most of the victories in the recent stretch have been "pretty."
They've worked hard but how many have they grinded out? Without a banging third or fourth line it might be hard to do, and a playoff series against a team like Calgary might not come down to speed and skill. This is where Jake Dowell, Tomas Kopecky, Bryan Bickell and Troy Brouwer have to step up.
3) The Competition: It's starting to dwindle. The Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets have fallen further out of it over the last 10 games, which leaves eight spots for 10 teams. Plenty will sort itself out over the next 10 days. The Hawks take on Dallas, Phoenix and Anaheim during that span. All are fighting with them for a playoff spot, or seeding. In fact, a regulation win over the Stars on Thursday becomes important for tie-breaking purposes, though an overtime win still puts them in good position if the teams end up with the same amount of points. A loss would give the Stars an edge.
2) Tie-Breakers: In the ultra-competitive Western Conference, tie-breaking scenarios could come into play. There is a new twist to the tie-breaking system which eliminates the importance of shootout wins. If two teams are tied in points, the team with the most non-shootout wins, including overtime victories, will be the higher seed. If that win total is the same, then head-to-head points earned is examined next. If teams have earned the same amount of points against each other in their season series, than season goal differential is the final tie-breaker. The Hawks would easily win that one over anyone close to them in the standings. In fact, only top seeded Vancouver has scored more while giving up less than the Hawks.
1) Bolland Woozy: Though Tampa Bay's Pavel Kubina got the NHL's attention during Game 68 when it suspended him for three games for delivering a blow to the head of Dave Bolland, it still didn't get the national attention it deserved.
As the general managers convene for meetings, they need to get tougher with hits like these. Why not go to the extreme and dole out 10-20 game suspensions? Players will think twice before going high, and if it's accidental, replays will show it.
There was nothing accidental about Kubina's hit, and with no timetable for Bolland's return, it puts a serious hole in the middle of the ice as the playoffs near. Don't forget who did one of the great defensive jobs in recent playoff memory just a season ago. It was Bolland. Ask the Sedins and Thorntons about that. His loss come spring could be huge, though it's still too early to hit the panic button. Then again, Pittsburgh was probably thinking the same thing at one time about Sidney Crosby.
The Hawks were outshot 5-0 by the time the first television timeout occurred. But the period evened out after that, until Troy Brouwer took a bad interference penalty. Then the Blues took control.
On the ensuing power play, Corey Crawford couldn’t corral a shoulder high shot by Kris Stewart and Andy McDonald put in an easy rebound goal.
Just 1:45 later, the Hawks were caught scrambling in their own zone, and with Crawford down and out, Brad Boyes slapped one in a near empty net.
The Hawks had some close-in offensive chances, but goalie Ben Bishop, playing in just his second game of the season, made all the saves. The Hawks were outshot 15-9 in the opening 20 minutes.