The Blackhawks have been working a lot of late nights in recent games, but all of that overtime is paying off.
Out of the team’s six games this month, five have gone past the end of regulation, including Wednesday night's 4-3 win against the first-place Minnesota Wild. However, the team has taken 11 of a possible 12 points, and is becoming more used to playing with the game on the line.
“We’ve definitely grown accustomed to playing in those situations,” Patrick Kane said after Thursday’s practice. “Sometimes practice makes perfect. It seems like every game is going to be like that, whether it’s really close, if it’s overtime or a shootout. I don’t know how many we’ve played this season, but it’s quite a high number. We’re used to it now, and it probably bodes well for tighter games down the stretch.”Click here to read the full post >>
|2011 Blackhawks first-round draft pick Philip Danault (Photo by Getty Images)
Throughout the month of December, the Blackhawks Blog will track the team's prospects as they battle for a chance to make their countries'' IIHF World Junior Championship squads.
Philip Danault (Canada): Danault was left off of Team Canada's World Junior final roster on Wednesday, one of the last cuts from the original 41-man evaluation camp roster. The 18-year-old center tallied twice in Canda's 7-4 win over the CIS All-Stars in their exhibition game on Tuesday night. Danault will return to the QMJHL's Victoriaville Tigres for the remainder of their season, where he has recorded 6 goals and 25 assists in 28 games so far this year.
Mark McNeill (Canada): McNeill was cut from Canada's camp roster on Tuesday after being held scoreless in two intrasquad scrimmages. The 18-year-old center will return to Prince Albert of the WHL. On the season, McNeill has recorded 14 goals and 19 assists in 33 games with the Raiders.
Adam Clendening (U.S.): USA Hockey's WJC Camp will open on Dec. 17 in Camrose, Alta.
Stephen Johns (U.S.): USA Hockey's WJC Camp will open on Dec. 17 in Camrose, Alta.
Brandon Saad (U.S.): USA Hockey's WJC Camp will open on Dec. 17 in Camrose, Alta.
Johan Mattsson (Sweden): Sweden's WJC Camp will open on Dec. 17 in Olds, Alta.
Joakim Nordstrom (Sweden): Sweden's WJC Camp will open on Dec. 17 in Olds, Alta.
Ludvig Rensfeldt (Sweden): Sweden's WJC Camp will open on Dec. 17 in Olds, Alta.
The 29-year-old netminder has gone 6-1-2 in 10 appearances with the Blackhawks this season, while giving up 2.69 goals-against per game. Emery was most recently in net during Sunday's overtime win against San Jose, when he made a season-high 35 saves.
Wednesday's game will pit the top two teams in the Western Conference against one another for the first time all season, as Minnesota leads the Blackhawks by just three points for the top spot in the standings. The game will be can seen on Versus in Chicago, with radio coverage on WGN Radio, starting at 6:30 p.m. CT.
“He just seems to progress in games,” Quenneville told the media at practice. “He’s excited, especially when games are on the line. He’s very solid, he finds pucks and his concentration level is in the right place. He moves well, seems big and looks comfortable and confident in the net.”
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There’s a new-and-improved piece of equipment in the Blackhawks dressing room this season: a championship belt featuring Hawks-themed pendants that goes to the team’s top player after every win.
The original belt was acquired in the spring of the Blackhawks’ Cup-winning season. During a road trip to Phoenix, defenseman Brent Seabrook discovered a WWE event going on outside the rink.
“Seabs saw a bunch of people walking around with these belts, and he thought it’d be a good idea to pass it around to the MVPs,” said Sharp. “He went and offered a guy some money for it, bought it and brought it to the rink the next day.”
The original belt had the chosen player’s name affixed to it in masking tape, while the new belt has magnetic nameplates for each winner.
“It’s just a thing we started to get guys fired up and have some fun,” added Seabrook. “I think the guys like it, and it’s been good.”
The Blackhawks’ top six featured some changes at practice on Thursday, and could mean a new look to the lineup when the team faces the New York Islanders on home ice tomorrow.
The biggest move saw Patrick Kane – who has been at center since the season began – reunited with Jonathan Toews on the top line at right wing, opposite Viktor Stalberg. Moving Kane off the second line frees up space for Marcus Kruger, who got time between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa at practice.
“Kane at center has been a good option for us,” Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville said. “Kruger is playing well. We like two of Sharp, Kane, Hossa and Toews playing together. That gives us a different look and something we get to try.”
Though Kane said he was comfortable with the move back to his familiar position, he was quick to add that this may not be the last Blackhawks see of No. 88 in the middle, where he has scored 7 goals, 17 assists and recorded a plus-9 rating in 24 games this year.
"Sometimes you just have to keep things exciting and switch it up,” he said. “I'm familiar with [right wing]. I have to get used to it a little bit but it shouldn’t take long. I'll still try to do some things I did at center where you're trying to get the puck a lot down low, moving up ice. I don't think [playing at center] is totally out of the books; it's something they could go back to if they need it.”
While new linemate Toews was quick to dismiss the importance of the move, he did say that having Kane back on his line will give both of them more opportunities on offense.
“Back to old ways, I guess,” he said. “Kaner’s proven he can play at center, and going back to wing, he’ll be as comfortable as ever. We’ll just go back and make plays – both guys want the puck, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The good thing with Kaner is that sometimes you can shy away from the puck and get away from all of the attention on the ice and sneak back door. He can back opponents off and buy some time. It’s nice to play with a guy like that and I think he’ll fit in with [Stalberg] and me.”
The move also signals a significant promotion for the 21-year-old Kruger, who has just 36 NHL games under his belt, but has caught the coaching staff’s and players’ attention with his impressive play early this season. Playing in between two All-Star caliber players in Sharp and Hossa could give Kruger enough talent around him to prove that he belongs in the top six.
"Marcus gives us an option based on his performance, and we'll see how he handles it with the top guys," said Quenneville. "It's more of an experiment that way as well. Knowing you always have Kane in the middle in your back pocket is a nice option to have."
“We’ll let it play out,” Sharp said. “I don’t think [the line change] is as big of a deal as it seems from the outside. Lines change all the time. The three of us have been together before. We’re excited to try a new line and see how things go.”
News and notes: Corey Crawford will get the start in net against the Islanders… Brent Seabrook, Dave Bolland and Steve Montador all sat out of practice Thursday for maintenance, and all are expected to play Friday.
Michael Jordan had his North Carolina shorts. Jim McMahon had his headbands. Patrick Kane has his mouthguards.
“They get beat up pretty quick obviously because I chew on them,” said Kane. “Even if it’s beat up though, if I’m playing good at the time, I’ll stick with that mouthpiece because I think it’s good luck. But I usually change them up every six or seven games, out of necessity. It’s always nice when you get a fresh one in there.”Click here to read the full post >>