- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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CHICAGO -- If the Chicago Blackhawks can extend their point streak to 10 games it will be quite an accomplishment.
With points already in seven consecutive contests, and a 5-1-2 overall record, they’ll begin a three-games-in-four-night stretch on Friday in North Carolina against the Hurricanes. Saturday and Monday they play their first divisional games of the season as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators visit the United Center.
It might be a chance to get their struggling power play going as the Hurricanes have given up nine goals on 39 chances. That ranks in the bottom third of the NHL while the Jackets rank dead last in penalty killing and even the normally defensively sound Predators are 15th in the early going.
There doesn’t seem to be a Hawks fan who doesn’t have an opinion on the Hawks’ 25th-ranked power play. It’s been that hard to watch at times.
Joel Quenneville made some changes in practice before the team left for Carolina. The only personnel move was replacing Andrew Brunette with Marian Hossa on the first unit and dropping Brunette down. It’s an interesting change considering Brunette has scored half (two) of the Hawks’ power-play goals through eight games. And many think it’s the thing Brunette has done best -- planting himself in front of the net with the man advantage and keeping plays alive.
But Hossa has mostly looked like a beast in the early going, so getting him with the most skilled guys on the team can’t be a bad thing. In fact, how they set up on the power play and what they do with the puck is more important than who is on what unit. There is enough talent to go around; execution is what’s lacking.
If you’re a diehard fan you’ll notice changes on Friday starting with seeing Hossa more on the point -- and moving down the wall -- with Sharp floating in the middle more. Previously, it was Sharp’s role to be that back-door guy for one-timers coming from the opposite side. But teams have sniffed that out and not once have we seen Patrick Kane feed Sharp cleanly on the power play for that look.
Hossa scored from the point on a 5-on-3 already this season and getting him the puck more the way he’s playing right now can only help matters.
Jonathan Toews didn’t agree with using the word “stale” to describe the power play to this point, but considering the changes and urgency the Hawks are showing, isn’t stale exactly what it’s been?
’Eric the natural’: There was high praise and respect in the Hawks dressing room for Hurricanes’ captain Eric Staal.
“He’s a mix of a Joe Thornton or a Ryan Getzlaf,” Toews said. “There are no easy shifts against a guy like that so everything from draws to playing defense in your own corner, you have to be aware of him and be as hard as you can on him.”
It’s simple. Staal can do it all. And there aren’t many players you can say that about in the NHL.
“He’s the natural,” Sharp said. “Eric, the natural. He works hard in the offseason but he really doesn’t have to. He’s 6-4, he can skate better than anyone on both sides. He does everything well. He’s a good young captain who goes unnoticed in Carolina.”
Despite all that praise, Staal is off to an ordinary start with three goals and two assists in nine games. And he’s a league-worst minus-9. With those numbers it was suggested to Toews making him play in his own might be Friday’s best strategy.
“Yeah, exactly,” he said. “Great idea.”
Quenneville indicated backup goalie Ray Emery would play in one of the next three games but chose Corey Crawford for Friday’s contest against Carolina. Emery is a perfect 5-0, including two shutouts, and a 0.73 GAA in five career games against Carolina.
The Hawks last won in Carolina in January of 1998. It’s the only road win against the Hurricanes since they relocated from Hartford. The Hawks have never won at the RBC Center.
Chicago's current 5-1-2 mark (12 points) is the organization's best record through the season's first eight games since 1971-72 (7-1-0).
A win or overtime loss and the Hawks will match the longest point streak of last season when they won eight consecutive games in late February and early March.