Blackhawks, Blue Jackets rebounding from shaky starts

November, 11, 2008
11/11/08
4:14
PM ET
Today, I caught up with a couple of NHL coaches who have seen their teams get on a roll of late -- Ken Hitchcock in Columbus and Joel Quenneville in Chicago.

The Blackhawks are a super 6-1-2 since Coach Q took over from Denis Savard behind the bench. From my vantage point, it looks as though he brought more accountability and discipline to a talented, but very young, team. The results speak for themselves.

"It's a good group," Quenneville told ESPN.com. "I couldn't believe how young we were. But they're good kids. The fun part is they have a real willingness to improve and learn."

The Hawks had a five-day break last week, which I figured Quenneville would absolutely love since he didn't get the chance to have a training camp with these guys, and this might be a chance to implement more of his system in practice. But Quenneville said he hasn't changed that much of the system since taking over.

"Only thing we probably changed was our D-zone coverage," he said. "But we pretty much have the same system; we just want to reinforce habits. Our special teams have been good."

Quenneville also mentioned the fans. The Hawks lead the NHL -- I repeat -- the Hawks lead the NHL in average attendance (21,351) through eight home games. Chicago is also undefeated in regulation (6-0-2) this season.

"It's great for hockey that the building here is full and they're excited about our team," he said.

Meanwhile in Columbus, the Jackets are 4-0-2 in their last six games, rebounding from a 3-6-0 start.

"Even when we weren't winning, I said to myself, 'If we keep playing like this, we're going to start winning.' And that's what happened," Hitchcock told ESPN.com. "We're a very competitive team, and there are a lot of them out here in the West."

Take a look at the Western standings and you see what Hitchcock is talking about. Only four points separated third-seeded Vancouver from ninth-ranked Phoenix before Tuesday night's games. The parity has never been more obvious in the cap-era NHL.

So, despite the recent run, Hitchcock can't bear to look at the standings at this point.

"We have them in the dressing room, but I do the walk-by pretty quickly," he said with a laugh.

Hitchcock will soon have some options in goal. Pascal Leclaire should be activated from IR over the next few days, and the coach thinks he will play over the weekend. Rookie Steve Mason, outstanding during the current run, will also stay in the mix. That means Fredrik Norrena is now No. 3 on the depth chart.

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