Blackhawks want to keep focus on just playing well
|Photo by Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks|
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks have thought about setting a new mark for consecutive games to start a season with at least a point, but only because they're constantly asked about it now.
If the Blackhawks (13-0-3) can earn at least a point on Friday night at United Center against the San Jose Sharks (8-4-3) -- a team they've already beaten twice -- Chicago will break the current tie at 16 straight games with the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, who went on to win the Stanley Cup that season.
"We're not really downplaying it," Chicago star forward Patrick Sharp said after Thursday's practice. "It's just not an issue in here. It's pretty cool to be that close to an NHL record and we might talk about it [Friday] before the game, but we're just more focused on playing good."
That approach stems from last season, when the Blackhawks went on a long losing skid and dropped from the top of the Western Conference standings into a battle down the stretch just to get into the playoffs.
"We're a team that's been around the block a few times," Sharp said. "We know that if you take your foot off the gas at any point of the season, the League will catch up to you."
In that regard, Thursday's practice was a sigh of relief for the entire team.
Not only did star right winger Marian Hossa practice just two days after a blow to the back of his head knocked him out of a game on Tuesday, but the Blackhawks also had dinged-up defenseman Brent Seabrook and goalie Corey Crawford working out with the team.
Seabrook (lower-body injury) is expected to play against the Sharks after missing Tuesday's 4-3 shootout win against the rival Vancouver Canucks -- likely stemming from being hit in the mid-section by a hard slap shot last Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings.
Crawford has been out of the lineup with an undisclosed upper-body injury since Anaheim Ducks center Bobby Ryan collided with him last week in the crease. Crawford declined to reveal how exactly how he got hurt, but said he'd like to return soon. He's off to a strong start, posting a 7-0-3 record with a 1.65 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, and doesn't want to get rusty.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Ray Emery, who missed Thursday's practice for a family issue, will get the start against the Sharks -- which will be his fourth straight since Crawford got hurt, the first three all wins.
"I think they're just trying to see if my timing's on, but I felt really good [Thursday] in practice," Crawford said. "My timing was a little off, but I felt great. I'll just have good practices and wait for the call. I wish the decision was mine. Obviously the decision is [Quenneville's]. I'm cleared to go, though."
Quenneville and the Blackhawks medical staff will also have a decision to make about Hossa -- who was knocked from Tuesday's game at 1:10 of the third period by Canucks forward Jannik Hansen's forearm blow to the back of his head near the Chicago bench.
There was some concern initially that it might have re-aggravated the concussion symptoms Hossa got last spring from an illegal hit by Raffi Torres during a Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Phoenix Coyotes. That one required a stretcher to get Hossa off the ice and took him months to recover from.
This time, Hossa said the initial effects of feeling "shaky" wore off with an off-day on Wednesday and he felt much better prior to practice on Thursday morning. If Hossa is cleared for the San Jose game along with Seabrook, the Blackhawks will be very close to having the starting lineup back that started this impressive, record-tying run.
"It'd be nice to have, but it's not going to change the way we play," Sharp said of moving alone into the top spot for consecutive games with at least one point to start a season. "We learned our lesson last year, losing nine or 10 in a row in the middle of the season and getting into a dogfight for the playoffs. We're more cognizant of that fact, but obviously the streak is important. We want to get it and get home ice."