Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

January 2013 Archives

Michal Rozsival missed Tuesday's practice -- the Blackhawks' first actual practice of the regular season, which is one-eighth completed already -- with what coach Joel Quenneville called a "lower-body" injury. Rozsival, who wears a bulky knee brace on each leg, is "day to day," according to Quenneville, who expects him to return to the ice Wednesday at Minnesota.

Rozsival's injury explains why Sheldon Brookbank returned to the lineup for the last two games, at Columbus and home against Detroit. Rozsival had played the previous three games and looked sharp paired with Nick Leddy.

Brookbank, who started the season-opener at Los Angeles, was happy to be back on the ice.

"It's definitely good to get back out there, and start to feel a little more comfortable with the team on the ice," said the seventh-year pro, who spent the last four seasons with the Anaheim Ducks.

Rozsival and Brookbank were the only two new additions to the roster in the offseason, and they're competing for the sixth and final defensive spot freed up by Steve Montador's lingering concussion symptoms. Brookbank said he's not looking at Rozsival's injury as an opportunity to try to seize the role outright.

"I don't know, it's kind of why we have extra D-men there, for situations like this," Brookbank said. "I'm just going to do what I do and not think about it too much."

Last season, Blackhawks winger Viktor Stalberg scored eight goals in six games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, posting a plus-11 in those games. Four of those goals were game-winners, the most by an NHL player against a single opponent last season. In his other 73 appearances, he had 14 goals and was a minus-5.

Stalberg can't explain it. He's just hoping to continue it tonight in Columbus as the Hawks try to match the best start in franchise history (1971-72) at 5-0.

"I think it's more of a fluke than anything," he said at Saturday's morning skate. "But you get a little more confidence against certain teams and certain goalies. It seems like I had his number last year."

Steve Mason will be in goal tonight for the Blue Jackets, a guy Stalberg had a pair of two-goal games against last year (he also had a hat trick against Curtis Sanford, who's now in Russia's KHL).

"I had a couple of good games against them last year, and hopefully that'll continue and hopefully we can keep winning games," Stalberg said.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has no plans to put Stalberg on every line and double his ice time to take advantage of his mastery of the Blue Jackets. He also called it a "fluky stat," saying sometimes guys are just "charmed or lucky against certain opponents." But Quenneville's been quite pleased with Stalberg's performance so far on the Hawks' third line with Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell -- Quenneville was reluctant to call it a "checking line" -- and his effort as the net-front presence on the power play, a new role this season.

"Viktor's quick off the rush, he's got a dangerous and a sneaky shot, and he got some power play time this year based on how he performed last couple of years," Quenneville said. "He's learning the position and mentality of trying to be that net-front guy on the power play, but I think it 's a work in progress. So far, so good."

NOTE: Corey Crawford will start for the Hawks tonight, the first of back-to-back games. They come home to face the Red Wings Sunday evening.

Kari Lehtonen stood on his head for most of the first 55 minutes of the game. Corey Crawford stopped a penalty shot in the second period. But the biggest save of Thursday's 3-2 Blackhawks victory over Dallas was made by Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith.

As the final seconds of the second period ticked away, Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski fired a shot from the point. Crawford got a piece of the puck, but it trickled through his legs and towards the yawning goal, when Keith -- with less than a second left in the period -- lunged for it and swept it aside just as it was about to cross the goal line.

Keith's motivation was pretty simple.

"I don't want to be on [the ice] for a goal," he said. "Just saw it squeak through his legs, so quick I could, I got my stick on it, and luckily it didn't go in."

It would have been a gut-punch of a goal, considering the Stars' Loui Eriksson scored shorthanded with less than a second left in the first period.

"Back-to-back dying-second goals, those are tough to come back from," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, who was glad to see Keith get more active on offense, too.

Crawford was grateful for the bailout, and to head into the second intermission down 2-1 instead of 3-1.

"He's quick on everything," Crawford said of Keith. "Lucky for me, he was quick on that. I think maybe I owe him now for that. But Duncs does everything great, so it doesn't surprise me he makes a play like that."

Three games into the season, and Joel Quenneville already is scoreboard-watching. Heck, in a 48-game season, teams already are entering the stretch run and jockeying for playoff position. It's already a playoff race.

"That's what it's like, it's basically what it feels like," the Blackhawks coach said at Thursday's morning skate in Dallas. "You're looking at the standings, your division, your conference, the upcoming games, their games, where they are before they play you. It's almost like we're at that point, the halfway point of the season, and we have the remainder to position yourself to get in. I'm sure everybody feels the same way that are involved in these games. It's going to be fun being a part of it."

Quenneville said he's been watching games at home on TV and on his computer, keeping track of the standings and sweating out every shootout, knowing every point will be crucial.

"Every game is meaningful," he said. "You watch the pace of these games, and it seems like it's a playoff race already. The intensity is amazing, the players seem to be very competitive, [they] seem to be conditioned, as well, there's not a lot of time between games, [and] the next game is just as big as the previous game. They just keep getting bigger as we go along here."

Three down, 45 to go. It's already the home stretch.

"It's a short season," Patrick Sharp said. "You want to gather as many points as you can, and so far, so good."

Blackhawks relish four-point swing against Blues

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In a 48-game season, every game is magnified, every two points more crucial than ever.

And every game against the St. Louis Blues -- a popular pick to win the Central Division, if not the Stanley Cup -- is as big as they come. So the Hawks were particularly pleased with Tuesday night's 3-2 victory over the Blues in the home-opener at the United Center.

"Yeah, we talked about that at the beginning of the game, the meaningful two-four point games when we play St. Louis, knowing we expect them to be a top team in our conference," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "And after watching them play early on and in this game, we definitely know they're going to be around when it counts. These are four-point games that could be the differential in being ahead of one another, so lets make sure we prioritize these points when we play St. Louis and it was played like that [Tuesday]."

The Hawks played Tuesday night with the same sense of urgency they had in the season-opening weekend at Los Angels and Phoenix. It's a mentality they'll need to maintain for the duration of the brief season, particularly during the first few weeks of the season, when the Hawks play 10 of 12 games on the road.

"It's one of those things where we talked about it, especially with all the road games," Patrick Kane said. "We had to get off to a good start, and what a good start means, who really knows as far as points? But for us to come out and have six points at this position, if you told us that at the beginning of the the season, obviously we'd take it."

The trick is to not let up. Last year, the Hawks raced out to the top of the Western Conference standings before a nine-game losing streak sent them tumbling to the sixth seed in the playoffs. With only 48 games to build up points, there's even less of a margin for error this season.

"It doesn't matter who we play out there, we've got to set that standard for how we're going to play every single night," said captain Jonathan Toews, who acknowledged that that standard slipped the last couple of years. "Sometimes we would play a handful of great games in a row. Sometimes you don't always win, but we always seem to kind of slip up and get away from that team game and lose our identity a little bit. This year that's one of those things we want to focus on early -- sticking to that checking mentality and that work ethic mentality, and we're going to have success." 
 
Contributing: Mark Potash

After putting 11 pucks past Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith, there was plenty of talk about how the Blackhawks' offense was clicking on all cylinders. But following the Hawks' 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Tuesday night's home-opener, captain Jonathan Toews credited the team's defensive mentality.

"We realize that off of our work ethic and our checking mentality, we're going to get offensive chances," Toews said. "But we don't get one without the other. I think we can attribute those three wins to that commitment right there.

"As forwards, we're trying our best to be responsible and come back with our sticks on the ice and moving our feet and taking away seams for other teams to go cross-ice on the rush. It helps our D-men step up a little bit and put pressure on the gap when they're coming in our zone and defensmen, too.vWe're all moving our feet. No one's caught watching the play. It's a five-man unit. We're really helping each out really well. You complement each other like that and have four lines clicking like they are, you're going to find a way to beat some good teams, and we have so far." 
 
That commitment to defense and backchecking makes coach Joel Quenneville's job a lot easier, too. Matchups are less of a concern when every line is playing responsible hockey.

"The defensive part of our game, the quickness, the transition," Quenneville said when asked where he's seen improvement from last season. "Rotating the four lines, where you've got a complement, anybody can play against anybody most nights and most shifts. That's a nice thing to have right now."

Contributing: Mark Potash

The St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks just might be the best two teams in the Central Division, if not the Western Conference. Tonight, the two teams rekindle their rivalry, which took on an added level of intensity with the Blues' resurgence last season.

When a television reporter was asking about the rivalry, he talked about how it was an intense rivalry, but how "nothing bad" tends to happen. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock disagreed.

"I don't know about nothing bad -- we usually get our ass kicked in this building, so I do't know about that," he said.

Indeed, the Hawks have won seven straight home games against the Blues, dating back to the 2009-10 season. Last year, the Hawks won all three meetings at the United Center, including two in shootouts. The year before that, they Hawks also won all three, including two in overtime. Games like that just feed into the longstanding rivalry.

"I just think it goes back to the old Norris [Division] and I think that was unbelievable hockey -- Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota," Hitchcock said. "Some of that hockey was incredible. I think it goes back and you build a reputation of going at each other hard. You see some of the best series being with those teams involved in it."

Playing at the United Center only makes it more intense, Hitchcock said.

"Probably in the Western Conference, this is THE building to come and play in," he said. "This is kind of the 'it' city to come and play in. I think everybody gets excited to come and play here."

Blackhawks welcome tonight's red-carpet fan festivities

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United Center workers were literally rolling out the red carpet during Tuesday's morning skate, preparing for tonight's home-opener festivities. Gates open at 4:30 p.m. for the annual red-carpet ceremony, which will take place in the 100-level to avoid the sub-zero temperatures.

Even with a big game tonight against the Blues -- co-favorites with the Blackhawks in the Central Division, if not the entire Western Conference -- the players welcomed the event.

"I think it's good," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "I think it's nice for the fans. Obviously, we haven't seen them in a while, and it's going to be nice to see them again. Any way to kind of get to know our fans a little better is always important, to meet the people that are behind [us] game in and game out."

Even Hawks coach Joel Quenneville was OK with the pregame distraction.

"A little hoopla never hurts ya," he said.

Tonight's game will be the 191st consecutive sellout for the Hawks, a fact not lost on the team.

"That just shows the passion they have for the Blackhawks and the game of hockey," Keith said. "It's an Original Six team, and there's a lot of passionate Blackhawks fans all over the continent and especially here in Chicago."

Said Quenneville: "We're fortunate, it' s a great place to play. When you hear that anthem, you're excited about just starting the games. We feel that it's a special place. As a visiting team or visiting player, it was like, 'Jeez, those guys got it over there.' So we're happy to be where we're at. We're lucky and fortunate in a lot of ways. Let's take advantage of the enthusiasm with the crowd and knowing it is a special place to play."

The Blackhawks bolstered their organizational goaltending depth on Monday by dealing a seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft for Flames goaltender Henrik Karlsson. The team sent Karlsson to Rockford of the AHL.

The 29-year-old Karlsson has played in 26 NHL games over the last two seasons, posting a 5-9-8 record, a 2.79 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. Last season he went 1-4-2 with a 3.17 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage in nine appearances with the Flames.

The Swedish goaltender was originally signed by the Sharks on Aug. 12, 2009, but was traded to Calgary on June 25, 2010. The pick that the Hawks sent to Calgary was originally obtained from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for winger Rob Klinkhammer on Dec. 2, 2011.

Daniel Carcillo waited a year to get back on the ice. After a little less than 11 minutes of ice time, he'll have to wait about another month to do it again.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Sunday's morning skate in Glendale, Ariz., that Carcillo will miss about a month, but won't require surgery, after suffering a "lower-body injury" in the third period of Saturday's victory over the Kings. Quenneville said it's not the same injury -- a torn ACL in his left knee -- that ended Carcillo's season last January, but declined to be more specific. He appeared to be favoring his right knee when being helped off the ice on Saturday.

Carcillo -- who is still with the team and is not on crutches -- was skating on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Rookie Brandon Saad is likely to slip into that slot tonight against the Coyotes.

"It's unfortunate," Quenneville said. "He finally gets back in, he had 10 great minutes of ice time, I thought he looked very good on that line. It was a very dangerous line for us. But keep your spirits up, work through it, get excited to get back again. He knows the process of working on that rehab, and the commitment that's needed to get his game back to where it was. It'll be a process, but we'll look forward to getting him back."

For Saad, it's a tremendous opportunity. Instead of being a healthy scratch as he was in Los Angeles, or starting on the fourth line like many rookies, he'll be starting with two of the best players in the world.

"It's exciting," Saad said. "It's never good to see a player go down, especially with the history he had with his knee. [But] it's going to be exciting to get a chance to play for sure."

Quenneville also said that Ray Emery will start in goal tonight for the Hawks. This is the first of 12 back-to-back sets for the team during the compressed 48-game season. Corey Crawford made 19 saves and looked sharp against the Kings, but Quenneville wants to keep both his goaltenders fresh and ready.

"Back-to-back games, you've got six games in nine days this week, and I want to get Ray in the game and [make] him part of the team right off the bat, get a game under his belt," Quenneville said. "He played well for us when he played last year."

Emery was 15-9-4 last season, with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.

Blackhawks roll 5-2 over Kings in season-opener

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LOS ANGELES -- It was absolutely deafening in Staples Center as the Los Angeles Kings showed highlights from last season's championship run, passed the Stanley Cup around the ice, and raised the team's first championship banner to the rafters.

It got awfully quiet after that.

The Blackhawks ruined the Kings' big day with a dominant 5-2 victory in the lockout-delayed season-opener on Saturday afternoon. And they wasted no time in doing it.

Patrick Kane scored the first goal of the NHL season at the 3:41 mark on a sharp-angle one-timer (off a Marian Hossa feed) on the Hawks' first power play, triangulating a shot just inside the post, just below Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick's glove, and just above his leg pad.

Hossa made it 2-0 at the 12:57 mark when his centering feed to Jonathan Toews -- who started and played his usual minutes despite missing Friday's skate with the flu -- deflected off Kings defender Drew Doughty and past Quick. Seventy-four seconds later, Michael Frolik made it 3-0 on a one-timer from Marcus Kruger.

Considering some of the Hawks' biggest concerns entering the shortened season were whether Kane could regain his scoring touch, whether the power play could get back on track, whether Hossa was healthy after his long concussion recovery, and whether they could get any scoring beyond the top two lines, it was a dream start for the Hawks.

Toews then made it 4-0 just 76 seconds into the second period when he cleaned up a rebound from a Kane breakaway attempt. Los Angeles finally got on the board on a Rob Scuderi goal -- a shot from the point that Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford never saw thanks to expert screening from Kyle Clifford -- with 1:23 left in the second period.

Los Angeles briefly injected some life into the sellout crowd on a Jordan Nolan goal midway through the third period -- scored while Crawford was still prone on the ice after being bumped by teammate Sheldon Brookbank. But Hossa scored his second of the game 15 seconds later to make it 5-2.

Agitator Daniel Carcillo, skating on the top line with Toews and Hossa, left the game late in the third period after getting crunched along the boards. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the game that Carcillo "will miss some time," and that he'll know more on Sunday. Brandon Saad is "likely" to take his place on the roster (if not necessarily the top line). Carcillo missed the second half of last season after tearing his ACL.

Jonathan Toews (flu) will play today against the Kings

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Jonathan Toews will be in the Blackhawks' lineup for today's season-opener against the Los Angeles Kings, coach Joel Quenneville said a couple hours before the puck dropped.

Toews was out on the ice for warmups a half hour before the Kings' Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony was set to begin.

Toews came down with the flu sometime between Thursday's flight to Los Angeles and Friday afternoon's practice, but Quenneville expressed optimism that the Hawks' captain would be able to play. Brandon Saad, who made the team out of camp, skated in Toews' spot on the top line between Marian Hossa and Daniel Carcillo at Friday's workout, but likely will be a healthy scratch with Toews playing.

Quenneville said he'll monitor Toews' minutes and fatigue level, but that he's hopeful the center will be able to handle his usual workload.

Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews has flu, status uncertain

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Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews came down with the flu overnight, according to coach Joel Quenneville, and did not participate in Friday afternoon's practice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif.

His status for Saturday's season-opener against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings is in doubt. But Quenneville was optimistic.

"There's good enough progress today that we anticipate him playing," he said.

Brandon Saad skated in Toews' place between Marian Hossa and Daniel Carcillo on the top line during Friday's skate, but Quenneville said not to read too much into that.

"That's something we haven't even talked about yet," he said. "We're hoping we don't have to go to Plan B."

Quenneville said Toews was "fine" on the flight Thursday night, but there's an obvious concern that if Toews had the flu bug on the plane that it could spread among the team. Marcus Kruger missed two days of the five-day training camp with the flu, as the Hawks took extra precaution to quarantine him from the rest of the team.

"Opening day [of camp] we mentioned what's going on this year around the country, so let's take care of that," Quenneville said. "I've been around it where it's devastated a team. It's something you've got to be careful about this year because there's so many games in not so many days. [It] could really be disruptive."

With the NHL season finally set to begin on Saturday, the Sun-Times sat down with Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz on Wednesday for a discussion about the state of the team, the state of the league, and the state of the fanbase in the wake of the four-month NHL lockout.

Here's a transcript of that interview:

Sun-Times: It's been a rough few months for everybody involved in the lockout. How do you feel the Hawks are positioned now after everything that's transpired?

Rocky Wirtz: The Hawks are positioned well, because we never took any time off as an organization. Unfortunately, the fans did, but we as a company, as a sports team, didn't. So we chose not to lay anybody off. Any full-time employee kept their jobs, so there's plenty of things to do from the hockey ops to the front office to even the ticket folks. So when the e-mail came that a handshake deal had been done, John McDonough and Jay [Blunk] had a 9 o'clock meeting that Sunday morning. They were ready to go.

The Blackhawks announced their Fan Salute program as an "expression of gratitude to the fans" in the wake of the lockout.

The Blackhawks will give away 1,000 autographed jerseys over the course of the 99-day season, along with 250 autographed pucks and 100 autographed sticks. There will also be giveaways for tickets in the 200-level, glass seats, postgame meet-and-greets with players, and a pregame dinner with a "Blackhawks Ambassador" in the Stadium Club.

All season ticket-holders and partial-plan holders are entered to win, and will also be issuewd gift certificates for team stores and concession stands.

"The Blackhawks are proud to offer a gesture of appreciation to our loyal and passionate fanbase through this unique program," said Executive Vice President Jay Blunk. "The entire organization has mobilized to offer Blackhawks fans a chance at connecting with our players through once-in-a-lifetime experiences at the United Center."

Other fans who want to enter can fill out an entry form on chicagoblackhawks.com beginning today. Thirty winners per game (home and away) will be announced on the website every game day throughout the season at noon.

Team owner Rocky Wirtz told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that the team was being "deliberatel" in its fan initiatives, and that's why the Hawks took longer to roll out their plan than many other teams.

"Everything they're going to do is going to be well thought-out and be innovative," Wirtz said. "I don't want to see a 'me, too.' I'd like to have the Hawks do innovative thinking and not just follow what everyone else is doing. It's being deliberate and making sure we have all the pieces put together."

Blackhawks prepare for tonight's 'real game'

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There will be officials and penalties, three 20-minute periods, and yes, there'll be some hitting.

But tonight's Blackhawks' intrasquad scrimmage at the United Center -- featuring seven extra call-ups from the Rockford IceHogs -- won't be quite like a real game. There won't be any fans, and there won't be any crunching checks. At least, there had better not be.

"You've got to balance it," Hawks winger Patrick Kane said. "I don't think anyone's going to be running around. Guys will be finishing checks, but you're not going to take a guy's head off if he's coming across the middle with his head down. I think guys have enough respect for each other to know that in here. But you still want to feel that game experience and the game atmosphere, and I think for all of us, you want to get into that game shape."

Coach Joel Quenneville did everything he could to simulate a real game experience today, since the abbreviated training camp meant no preseason games before the season-opener in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon. The team showed up for a brief morning skate -- during which the power play was the focus for the first time in camp -- and then had the usual game day routine. That includes a nap, a team meal, and even showing up to the game in a suit and tie.

What about trash talk and facewashes and fights, and the like?

"Like hockey players are, we'll get more intense as the game goes on," Kane said. "At the start, we'll just be feeling it out. You want to take it like an exhibition game, not like it's Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final or anything like that. Just an exhibition game to get us ready for Saturday."

Patrick Sharp also was wary of trying to walk the fine line between physical and dangerous tonight. Even during the morning skate, firing pucks from the point made him a little uneasy.

"It's always tough playing against your own teammates," Sharp said. "You don't want to shoot pucks off their feet or shin pads and stuff like that. I thought both units moved the puck well."

But for tonight, the guys want to let loose and really play. A little bit, at least.

"That's the idea, to play physical and play like a real game," Sharp said. "Obviously, if you have a chance to really take advantage of someone, you might let up a little bit, you don't want to hurt anybody. But the whole idea is to get banged a few times and feel what it's like to play in a real game."

Scrimmage will showcase Hawks' new-look power play

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For the first three days of training camp, the Blackhawks haven't spent any time working on their beleaguered power play. That'll change on Wednesday, during a simulated game day that will revolve largely around special teams.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said seven more Rockford players will be coming to camp tomorrow for an evening intrasquad scrimmage. There also will be a morning skate to best simulate the game-day experience, since there are no preseason games during this abbreviated camp. The Hawks leave for Los Angeles Thursday night for Saturday's season-opener.

"It'll simulate a game day," Quenneville said. "And we get to scrimmage against one another, get to play real hockey and get a real chance to play on our power play and get some penalty killing situations, face-offs. And you get some bumps and get the feel of a real game since we don't have a real game to get into the start of the season."

The Hawks haven't announced whether the scrimmage will be open to the public, but the most interesting thing to watch for will be how Viktor Stalberg and Andrew Shaw fare in their new roles on the power play, stationed in front of the net. Quenneville cited their quick sticks for tip-ins, Stalberg's "big body" and the 5-10 Shaw's knack for positioning himself well in front of the net.

Stalberg has been angling for some power play time since last year, and fared well on the power play in Sweden and Russia during the lockout.

"I'm looking forward to getting that opportunity," Stalberg said. "It's something I looked for last year and it didn't happen. I was frustrated by that at times. If I do get the chance, it's up to me to prove I deserve that chance. I'm going to do everything I can to make a difference there."

The Pittsburgh Penguins are giving away free concessions at its first four games. The Dallas Stars are allowing kids under the age of 12 in for free through February. The Buffalo Sabres are cutting team store prices in half. The Florida Panthers are offering some seats for $7.

So what are the Blackhawks doing to win back fans after the four-month lockout wiped out nearly half the season? Well, we'll see.

"We try to do that 365 days a year," team president John McDonough said of winning over fans. "There are some fan initiatives that will be introduced later in the week. There are some things we're tying up."

McDonough said the Hawks "certainly weren't overwhelmed by" fan anger during the lockout, but he reiterated the points he and chairman Rocky Wirtz said in an open letter to fans -- thanking fans for their "patience" and "looking forward" to the 48-game season that begins Saturday in Los Angeles.

"To our fans, we don't take any of this or granted," he said. "It was a difficult period to all of us. But we certainly respect and understand it was particularly difficult for you."

McDonough didn't offer an apology for the lockout, but said the Hawks were committed to winning back fans. And the easiest way to do that is to win games.

"The message to our fans is very simple," he said. "We are going to have to earn our way back. We do not take any of this for granted. Our expectations here as always are very high. And we are totally committed to winning."

Lockout ends, Hawks open with 10 of 12 on the road

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Blackhawks players are no longer locked out by the NHL. But they're pretty much locked out of the United Center for a while.

The NHL and NHLPA once again went deep into the night to hammer out the details of the Memorandum of Understanding that made the new collective bargaining agreement -- ratified by the NHL Board of Governors on Wednesday and by the players Saturday morning -- official and ended the lockout a little after 9 p.m. That allowed teams to release their 48-game schedules, open training camp (the Hawks, as expected, begin Sunday and cancelled their camp festival) and make transactions as of 11 p.m. central time.

And thanks to the Bulls, Disney on Ice, and Lady Gaga, the Hawks will play 10 of their first 12 games on the road, starting on Jan. 19 in Los Angeles with a matinee against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings.

After playing the next night in Phoenix, the Hawks have their home opener on Jan. 22 against St. Louis before embarking on a stretch that includes eight road games out of nine -- the only home date on Jan. 27 against Detroit.

The risk, of course, there won't be much time to climb out of an early hole should the Hawks struggle early on. The Hawks were 27-8-6 at the United Center last season, and just 18-18-5 on the road. But the Hawks knew the United Center was pretty well booked this time of year, and were bracing for a schedule like this.

"I think it's an advantage," Bryan Bickell said on Friday. "Do some team bonding on the road. All the guys enjoy to be together, goof around and that kind of stuff. Just to get some chemistry and to get to know everybody. I haven't seen these guys in four months."

After the brutal road stretch, the Hawks will have seven straight home games, meaning they won't have to leave Chicago from Feb. 11 to Feb. 27. They close with three out of four on the road; the season finale is slated for April 27 at St. Louis.

"It could work both ways, I guess," goaltender Corey Crawford said. "Whatever you're thinking. If you're thinking negatively, it'll probably work negatively. If you're thinking positively, well, we'll have a lot of home games down the stretch."

Because of the compressed nature of the schedule, the Hawks have 10 instances of back-to-back games, and nine stretches of three games in four days. At only three points in the season will they have more than two days off in a row, including a four-day stretch between a March 20 game at Anaheim and a March 25 home game against the Kings.

"Every game's going to be important," Bickell said. "It's going to be good to have the home games late, because it might come down to that.

The last time the league faced a schedule like this was in 1995, following that season's lockout. Hawks winger Patrick Kane was just 6 years old then, but he's heard stories about that 48-game season -- which began on Jan. 20 and ended May 3, with the Stanley Cup being won by New Jersey on June 24 -- and how wild it was.

"I hear the 94-95 season was very intense," Kane said. "I think you can expect the same thing out here. To start, maybe it'll be a little more wide open because guys aren't familiar with systems and different things, and have been away from the game for so long. As time goes on, it's definitely going to get very intense because of the short season. It's going to be interesting.


Blackhawks' Corey Crawford eager to get back in action

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Midseason form? No, Corey Crawford is not in midseason form yet. As the Blackhawks goaltender astutely pointed out after an informal skate at Johnny's IceHouse West on Friday, "We haven't played a game yet."

But with an abbreviated 48-game season starting a week from Saturday in Los Angeles, those players who didn't spend the past few months playing in Europe -- that includes Crawford -- will have precious little time to get up to speed.

"The beginning of the season's going to come quick, so you've got to be ready for it," Crawford said. "For guys that have been around here and haven't gone to Europe, we're trying to use practice to get into game shape. Game speed's a little different than practice. We're just trying to mimic it and to get ready."

Crawford's been champing at the bit to get back on the ice since the Hawks lost a six-game first-round playoff series to Phoenix, including three overtime losses, two of which (Games 3 and 4) ended on soft goals allowed by Crawford.

Crawford, entering his third full season with the Hawks, took a slight step back last season. His goals-against average climbed from 2.30 in his full rookie season to 2.72, and his save percentage dropped from .917 to .903. He also failed to record a shutout last season. The Hawks' defense shoulders some of that blame, but Crawford knows the pressure's on him this season, saying "this year is huge for me."

So focus and motivation won't be a problem for Crawford in the every-game-counts shortened season. Not that it ever should be.

"A game's a game," he said. "You approach it the same way. It doesn't matter if it's a 10-game schedule or an 80-game schedule, Just because you play more games doesn't mean you're going to blow off games. It doesn't work that way."

Power play likely to be a camp focus for Blackhawks

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The lockout isn't even officially over yet, and already the Blackhawks are answering questions about the power play. Chicago scored on just 15.2 percent of its chances with the man-advantage, 26th in the league. In 2010-11, the Hawks were fourth in the league at 23.1 percent

Winger Patrick Kane, who returned from Switzerland on Sunday and rejoined his teammates for Thursday morning's informal skate, said the power play will be a big focus during an abbreviated training camp, expected to start this Sunday, less than a week before the Jan. 19 opener in Los Angeles.

Kane said he can do more to boost the power play percentage.

"Even just looking at a couple years ago on the Stanley Cup [run], my point production was pretty much the same 5-on-5 as it was last year, but the power play was about 20 more points," he said. "It's a huge part of our offense, and obviously last year it wasn't very good. It's probably one of the reasons we didn't do as well throughout our season. It's something we'll have to fix a little bit."

Another key, Kane said, will be changing the mentality on special teams, to find that aggression the Hawks had in recent seasons.

"One of the biggest things is, we didn't have a guy who would really stand in front of the net last year, where a couple of years ago you had the [Troy] Brouwers and the [Dustin] Byfugliens, guys like that," Kane said. "But then you also have to take responsibility for yourself. Just watching film from a couple of years ago, you can really see how much we moved, not only the puck but also our feet. All five of our players were always moving. That's one of the biggest things. As long as every player can stay dangerous, you're going to have success on the power play. That's the biggest thing for this year. Just keep moving, and we have enough talent where plays will be made."

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About the blogger

Mark Lazerus was honored nationally by the Associated Press Sports Editors for three straight years at the Post-Tribune, was named one of the top three columnists in Indiana for three straight years and has won more than 20 statewide writing awards. He has covered Notre Dame for Sun-Times Media, and now covers the Blackhawks.

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