The sight of Niklas Hjalmarsson starting for the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon in Detroit wasn't that surprising. The sight of him doing so alongside Duncan Keith was.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville shook up his defensive pairings for the first time all season, breaking up the long-standing duo of Keith and Seabrook, and the Swedish duo of Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya that played so well in the first half of the season they had taken over as starters for a stretch.
Seabrook skated with Nick Leddy, and Oduya was bumped down to the third pairing with Michal Rozsival.
"We don't mind the way they're playing, but I think over the course of the year we've probably had a different look with some of the pairs here," Quenneville said. "It's something we might try, see how it looks, just in case. You can never [have] enough options and usually you get a test of who can play with whom, how different pairs look."
Oduya has had a particularly rough stretch lately. In his previous four games, he was a whopping minus-8, with no points, one hit and three blocked shots.
"Everybody has stretches where things are going right, then some stretches where you're on for some goals against that maybe you weren't on for before," Quenneville said. "And everybody has those stretches over the course of the season. We're looking for consistency."
Quenneville said the Hawks' position in the standings gives him a little flexibility in terms of experimenting over the final four weeks of the season.
"You're trying things, hoping that it works," he said. "We've got some more options as we go forward."
The Blackhawks were deep into discussions about a trade with the New York Islanders for veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky before he agreed to a two-year, $9.5 million contract extension on Friday, according to a source.
The Hawks appear to be looking for blue-line help, as well as depth at center, as the April 3 trade deadline approaches.
The 36-year-old Visnovksy, an experienced power play quarterback, has three goals and six assists in 22 games since joining the Islanders, after initially refusing to report after a draft day trade with the Anaheim Ducks last year. Visnovsky initially tried to void the trade by claiming a no-trade clause, but an arbitrator ruled in favor of the Islanders.
Visnovsky was slated to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and would have been an ideal rental player for the Hawks.
Another defenseman, Jordan Leopold, was dealt from the Buffalo Sabres to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. Among the other blue-liners possibly on the market are the Islanders' Mark Streit, Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester, Buffalo's Robyn Regehr, and Edmonton's Ryan Whitney, though there's no word if the Hawks are currently pursuing any of them.
The Hawks also are taking a look at San Jose power forward Ryan Clowe, who would add some needed size to the lineup, according to a source.
As far as the Blackhawks are concerned, the Eastern Conference might as well be playing in the Eastern Bloc this season. But even with the NHL scheduling only intraconference matchups this season, the Hawks are well aware of what's happening in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins carry a 14-game win streak -- not a point streak, a win streak -- into Saturday's game against the New York Islanders, and they've made all the big moves so far as the April 3 trade deadline approaches, adding Calgary's Jarome Iginla, Dallas' Brenden Morrow and San Jose's Douglas Murray so far.
In fact, the Penguins took over the NHL points lead, a nearly unthinkable achievement just a few weeks ago when the Hawks were 21-0-3.
"Even though we haven't played against those teams, you see about it, you see it every day," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "Again, no one's going to have to play against those teams until the Stanley Cup Final, so it's not like you're as concerned about it. But all the trades, everything that happens, you're very aware of what's going on."
Patrick Sharp grew up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and has been paying closer attention to what's been going on in the Eastern Conference than most.
"It is a little different, it's almost like there's two leagues now," he said. "We don't see them until the Stanley Cup Final, hopefully. [But[ I like to watch the Eastern Conference on TV more than I like to watch the West. It seems like everyone in the West, you play them every night, you're more familiar with them. It's more fun to see [the East]. I like watching the Flyers and the Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs I grew up watching. You have to admire the way Pittsburgh's playing, and what they're doing to their lineup, trying to build up for a long playoff run."
Penguins star Sidney Crosby is starting to run away with the Hart Trophy, distancing himself from the Hawks' Patrick Kane and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos with a whopping 56 points (15 goals, 41 assists) in 35 games. Linemate Chris Kunitz is second in the league with 44 points (20 goals, 24 assists).
The 14-game point streak, and the incredible amount of star power on that roster -- the reigning MVP Evgeni Malkin, just returned Thursday after missing nearly three weeks -- has attracted all the attention of the national media. While the Hawks enjoyed their remarkable run, they're not sad to see them go.
"We had our streak there, but it's also nice to stay under the radar a little," Brandon Saad said. "There's other great teams out there with their streaks, and the media's always going to hype them up. I don't pay too much attention to it, but you have the NHL [Network] on, it's always going to be on there."
When the Hawks were riding high, everyone wanted to compare their streak to the Miami Heat's concurrent win streak. Now, people want to compare the Penguins' streak to the Hawks' magical run.
"Hey, to me, it's just as impressive," Sharp said. "I don't know what it is about the shortened season of a so-called lockout year, but you've see a lot of these streaks. They're winning games, with no sign of slowing down, and they've got some healthy guys back in their lineup. They're going to be a team that I'm sure everyone is looking at as tops in the league."
Patrick Kane has made no secret of the fact that he's a big LeBron James fan. But sitting courtside at the United Center on Thursday night for the Bulls' big win over the Miami Heat, Kane was definitely rooting for the home team.
"We were happy for the Bulls, for sure," he said. "First and foremost, we're obviously Chicago fans in here. But I've just been a big LeBron fan ever since he came into the league. Got a great respect for what he's done throughout his career. It was nice to meet him, get a quick pic and say hi. Nothing too crazy, but it was cool, for sure."
Kane sat with Patrick Sharp, and senior director of communications Brandon Faber arranged for the two to meet James before the game. And as big a star as Kane is, he was still a little starstruck.
"He was nervous," Sharp said. "He wasn't talking very much courtside there. He knew he was going to meet LeBron and get his picture taken. He was a little antsy. I know he looks up to him as one of his favorite athletes. I know Chicago fans probably don't want to hear that, but whether you like him or hate him, you've got to respect the talent he has and what kind of athlete he is. All I know is my boy Kirk Hinrich had a heck of a game."
During the first intermission of Tuesday night's games, Blackhawks beat writer Mark Lazerus asked Twitter if the Hawks should make a play for one of the bigger names on the block. The responses? You want a center more. But there's still lots of demand for Iginla:
Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa will not play tonight against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, and is "probably doubtful" for Tuesday's game against the Calgary Flames as he recovers from an apparent shoulder injury.
Hossa was injured last Monday in Colorado when the Avalanche's Ryan O'Byrne hit him along the boards. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said he hasn't skated the last couple of days, but insisted it's not a long-term injury. After the back-to-back set, the Hawks next play Friday at home against the Anaheim Ducks, then at Detroit on Sunday.
"Hopefully, by the weekend, he'll be playing," Quenneville said. "He'll be fine. We're not that far away from playing."
The Hawks did get some good news on Monday, as third-line center Andrew Shaw will play tonight after missing Sunday's practice and Monday's morning skate with an illness/
"Shawzie's going to be fine," Quenneville said. "He didn't skate this morning, but we gave him some rest and he's good to go."
The Hawks, coming off their only four-day break of the season, are entering a stretch of five games in eight days. But four of those games are at home. In fact, 11 of the final 18 games of the season will be played at the United Center.
"It's a fun place to play and we want to take advantage of the crowd and the noise and the support we get here at home," Quenneville said. "But we don't want to change the way we play and don't feel that we want to entertain in a different fashion. We want to make sure we bring our energy, pace and speed."
Michael Frolik still considers himself an offensive player. His back-to-back 21-goal seasons to open his career with the Florida Panthers are proof of it. But in 119 career games with the Blackhawks, he has just nine goals.
A year ago, his inability to put the puck in the net -- he had just five -- got to him. This year, he's scoring even less, his lone goal coming way back in the season opener against the Los Angeles Kings. But Frolik's frustration isn't boiling over this time.
"Last year, I was pretty hard on myself," the 25-year-old winger said. "I put too much pressure on [myself], and when it doesn't go in, you think about it and it's in your head. [Now] I just try to learn from it and don't worry about the points and goals, and just try to help the team."
His newfound prowess on the penalty-killing unit and the fourth line's recent strong road trip have made the lack of goals easier to swallow. But with Marian Hossa likely out Monday against the Kings -- Hossa's apparent shoulder injury has kept him off the ice since he was hurt in Colorado last week -- Frolik will get a shot on the Hawks' top line, alongside Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville hopes it sparks Frolik.
"He doesn't have the production to reflect how well he's been playing," Quenneville said. "The finish is the one area where it'd be nice to be a little more patient and comfortable. He's going to get some higher-quality opportunities. Don't force it, don't change too much. Just in the offensive areas, cash it in."
Riding a 27-game goalless drought -- he has just three assists in that span, too -- Frolik welcomes the opportunity.
"I don't have that [many] points, but I think my game is kind of there, just the goals didn't go in," he said. "The team is playing great and I'm glad to be a part of it. And hopefully, I can have more chances now and do something."
-- Third-line center Andrew Shaw missed Sunday's practice with an illness, but Quenneville said he was "optimistic" that he'd play Monday. Marcus Kruger took his spot during practice, with Jamal Mayers centering the fourth line.
-- Corey Crawford will start Monday. Ray Emery will play Tuesday against the Flames. In Calgary on Feb. 2, Emery made 45 saves and stopped all three shootout attempts to steal a win for the Hawks.
Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa is "not likely" to play in Monday night's game against the Los Angeles Kings, coach Joel Quenneville said after Friday morning's practice.
"He's doing all right," Quenneville said. "Hopefully he'll get on the ice on Sunday. He's progressing."
Hossa suffered an apparent shoulder injury when he was sandwiched along the boards by Ryan O'Byrne during last Monday's victory at Colorado. In his absence, Patrick Kane double-shifted for the rest of the Colorado game and then virtually the entire game in Anaheim on Wednesday, which the Hawks lost 3-2.
Quenneville said that remains an option moving forward.
"At least you can probably go through that in games, see how the game's going," Quenneville said. "It's a great option to have. But I think maybe we'll put somebody up there to start."
Daniel Carcillo started in that spot alongside Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad in Anaheim, but skated only three shifts all game -- two in the first period, and one to open the second period. Kane took over from there. Carcillo was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the road trip.
Quenneville said Carcillo still has work to do to regain his form after suffering an ACL injury last January, then missing 15 of the first 16 games this season with a different leg injury.
"He hasn't played much hockey in the last little while," Quenneville said. "Getting him up to speed and quickness, playing the team game, to make sure he's contributing -- that's what we're going to work [toward]."
Anaheim defenseman Sheldon Souray learned one thing when the Ducks beat the Blackhawks 3-2 in a shootout at the United Center.
"Well, we learned they're beatable," Souray said. "They're not invincible."
No, neither the Hawks nor the Ducks are unbeatable. But they're about as close as they can be. And heading into Wednesday night's showdown of the Western Conference's top two teams, there's nothing but respect on both sides.
"We also learned we probably got a little lucky to beat them," Souray added. "They're a great hockey team. They're the best team we faced so far."
Both teams are looking at the game as a measuring stick for the home stretch, as the two teams -- separated by five points, though the Ducks have a game in hand -- jockey for the top seed in the West, with no other team within sniffing distance.
"It is kind of a measuring stick to see how close these teams are together, and where we compare to them," Hawks winger Patrick Kane said. "They've had a great season. They'd probably have a lot more attention if we haven't had the season w'eve had. It's a good measuring stick, but at the same time, we want to prove ourselves and show we're the best team in the West."
Both teams will have to do it without some star power. Anaheim's Corey Perry, its second-leading scorer, is out, serving the final game of his four-game suspension for a late hit to the head of MInnesota's Jason Zucker. And the Hawks will be without Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Hossa suffered an upper-body injury in the first period of Monday's game at Denver. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Hossa's injury was not serious, and that he's day-to-day. He said the fact that the Hawks have four days off following the Ducks game did not factor into his decision to keep him out.
"I don't think it has anything to do with the time away," Quenneville said. "Last game, someone asked me the same question, if the score wasn't like that, would Hossa have been out there. He wasn't ready to come back and he's not ready tonight."
With Hossa out, Daniel Carcillo returns to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last three games. Quenneville also said that Kane could double-shift again -- as he did at Colorado -- to help offset Hossa's absence.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said each team is deep enough and confident enough to handle their stars' absence.
"Both teams have won without their best players playing," he said. "I don't think it bothers either team that that's going to be happening."
Brandon Saad is still playing the same high-paced, aggressive, two-way style that entrenched him on the Blackhawks' top line early in the season. The only thing that's different lately is he's finally getting rewarded for his effort.
The 20-year-old rookie has a goal and seven assists in his last six games, and is tied for sixth in the NHL in rookie scoring with 13 points (four goals, nine assists).
"I think I've been playing the same way, it's just that the points are coming," Saad said. "With [Patrick Sharp] out, I've been getting some power play time, things like that, getting different looks. It's just been clicking a little bit. I don't think I've changed anything in my game, it's just coming along."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has been pleased with Saad's play fro his debut in the second game of the season -- even though he was pointless in his first eight games, and had just three goals and zero assists through his first 18 games -- and is glad to see him finally show up on the stat sheet on a regular basis.
"Early on in the season, he didn't have any production at all to show for what he was doing, [but] I thought that line was dangerous every night," Quenneville said. "Eventually, they start going in for you. ... He sees plays and protects well. He can do it himself, but he's got a couple of guys he can give it to that can finish, so it's been a real good line for us."
Those guys, of course, are Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Saad models his game after the two-way standouts, and playing alongside them has only hastened his development.
"I think I've always been a two-way player, but playing with those guys and seeing the type of player they are, it makes me work even harder," Saad said.
The trio has been red-hot lately, combining for nine goals in the last six games.
"You gain that chemistry as you go along," Toews said. "We want to keep building off that. We know we can be even better than we have been."
The parity in the NHL this season -- particularly in the Western Conference -- should make for an exciting, down-to-the-wire stretch run. It also should make for a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire trading season.
The NHL trade deadline is April 3, and while Blackhawks general manager said he's looking to make his league-leading roster even better, it's been tough to find eager trading partners.
"It doesn't seem like anybody's ready to make any trades, certainly not in the West," Bowman said. "All 15 teams probably are still in the race. In the East, there's a little bit more separation. Still, only maybe a couple of teams looking to trade players and look to the future. Everyone else is still trying to decide, 'Do I trade or do I try to acquire?' It's probably going to come right down to the end, like it always does, before teams decide they're looking to the future. So I've had tons of conversations but nothing's even close."
Bowman said he'd be interested in adding some depth at center, though he was quick to point out he's been pleased with the play of Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger on the third and fourth lines, respectively. Given the talent on his roster, and the depth he has in Rockford -- he singled out forwards Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin as NHL-ready players who can follow Brandon Saad and Jimmy Hayes to Chicago -- he won't make any moves unless the price is low enough.
Veteran Calgary center Jarome Iginla, who'll be an unrestricted free agent after this season, has been linked to the Hawks -- as well as the Penguins and Bruins, among others -- in trade rumors. But the Flames surely would like to get a lot in return.
"To get a top guy, you have to wonder what the price would be," he said. "We're not looking to change the mix we have. We're looking to add to it. We don't want to change the chemistry we've developed.
"If we don't end up making a trade, I would be comfortable with the group we have here."
On other topics:
-- Bowman said defenseman Steve Montador -- who debuted for Rockford on Friday night -- still has a place with the team, despite his hefty contract and concussion history, and the Hawks' depth on the blue line. "Things change quickly in terms of the health of our players," he said. "Steve's an NHL player, he's played a lot of years in the league, so we just need to get him back to game-readiness."
-- Bowman declined to talk about contract negotiations, but said Bryan Bickell -- an impending free agent -- is "coming into his own."
-- Bowman said he's glad to see Patrick Kane fulfilling his potential, and that drive comes "from within." When asked about Kane's maturation off the ice, Bowman said: "He's really the same kid. He hasn't changed an awful lot, truthfully. He's gone through some thing, he's lived his life."
The Blackhawks know they can't take the Columbus Blue Jackets lightly.
Even when the Hawks were hotter than hot and the Blue Jackets were floundering earlier this season, the Hawks struggled to keep their historic streak alive against Columbus. they won 3-2 in Columbus on Jan. 26, 1-0 at the United Center on Feb. 24 and 4-3 in overtime at the United Center on March 1.
Now, it's the Hawks who are struggling -- a relative term for a team that is 24-2-3 -- while the Blue Jackets (10-12-5) are heating up. They are 5-0-3 in their last eight games. They have not lost in regulation since Corey Crawford made Andrew Shaw's second-period goal stand up in a 1-0 Blackhawks victory on Feb. 24.
Last season, the Blackhawks were 6-0-0 against the Blue Jackets, winning all six games by three goals or more and outscoring Columbus 31-10.
''They're a better team [this season],'' Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. ''They're playing really well lately.it's a dangerous team this year. It's not like in year's past, where you think it would be like -- I don't want to say automatic win -- but you'd have a good feeling going in that you were going to come out on top.
''Now it's a little tougher test. Every game's been a one-goal game. With the last one going into overtime. And they've had injuries in that span. It seems like they're getting better as time goes on. We just have to take it like any other team, try to play our game and dictate and get back to the way we were playing earlier in the year.''
The Blackhawks likely will face a new challenge in Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who has wrested the No. 1 job from Steve Mason. The Blackhawks beat Mason in each of their victories over the Blue Jackets. Bobrovsky, though, is 6-1-2 with a 1.55 goals-against-average and .946 save percentage in his last nine games. In the Blue Jackets' current point streak, Bobrovsky has stopped 161 of 166 shots, a sparkling .970 percentage.
''They're playing well and we saw every time we played them how tough the games were and how close they were,'' Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ''They've improved their team game this year. They work hard. It'll be a real challenging game for us. We should be excited about having a few days off here and looking forward to the game.''
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said injured forward Patrick Sharp is getting better. Sharp suffered an apparent separated shoulder against the Colorado Avalanche on March 6 and was expected to miss three to four weeks.
The Hawks are 0-2 without Sharp, though the flurry of seven games in 11 days likely has more to do with the Hawks' first two losses in regulation this season. The Hawks play the Columbus Blue Jackets at 6 p.m. Thursday night at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
''Sharpie's progressing,'' Quenneville said. ''He was hoping to hit the ice [in Chicago] either [Thursday or Friday].''
Jimmy Hayes, the 6-5, 210-pound forward who has 22 goals and 17 assists in 58 games with the Rockford IceHogs, will play for the Hawks for the first time since being called up Tuesday, with Steven Montador assigned to Rockford. He's expected to replace Sharp on the No. 2 line with Kane and center Dave Bolland.
''Obviously with Sharpie out someone has to fill his void. Hopefully it's Jimmy,'' Kane said. ''He's very big and he's got good speed, too. The big thing with Jimmy is for him to play the same way he's been playing at Rockford and the way he played at the end of last year [with the Blackhawks].
''He's a guy that can be a difference-maker because he's so big and he can create space for you and hopefully clog up some room in front of the net. I think he's had some confidence in Rockford. He's been playing really well lately. It's a good test to come in and hopefully he brings us a lot of energy. I'm sure he's excited to play. It's good to have him back up.''
Jonathan Toews somehow had never heard of the famed Sports Illustrated cover jinx.
So he's not terribly concerned about it, either.
"It's not too often a hockey team makes it on there, so it can't be that bad, right?" he said.
The Blackhawks are on the national cover of this week's SI, their first national cover in more than four decades, and the first hockey national cover since 2010. Even when they won the Stanley Cup in 2010, all the Hawks got was a regional cover.
The cover anoints the Hawks as "The franchise that brought hockey back," crediting their 24-game point streak with giving the NHL a desperately needed boost in the wake of its third lockout in 18 years.
"It's pretty cool," Toews said. "It's definitely high praise for our team, and [after] what was tough times for our sport a few months ago, it's cool to see where it is right now, and at least how our team is going here in Chicago. The fans have come back full force and we've put everything on the line so far to try and play some exciting hockey for our fans, and it's great that it's being noticed. We want to keep that going. Our fans deserve to show up to the United Center every night and see an exciting brand of hockey. We've got a good team here and a lot of potential. Who knows where it's going to go?"
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville was glad for the recognition, too, but wants to move on from the streak -- particularly after two straight losses. The Hawks begin a four-game road trip Thursday against red-hot Columbus, a team that's given the Hawks fits this season.
"It's been a wonderful start, we've had a lot of fun with it," Quenneville said. "Now that the streak is over, I think we're kind of fine-tuning where we're at. We all had a lot of fun, game in, game out, and gathered a lot of attention as we went along, I think the guys handled it very well through that process. But now we have to get back to taking care of business."
As for the jinx?
"I think that's why we got beat," Quenneville said with a laugh.
Jimmy Hayes, a call-up from Rockford, will take Patrick Sharp's spot on the second line, alongside center Dave Bolland and right wing Patrick Kane. That allows the very effective third line of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg to reunite. Bickell and Stalberg each had a crack at that spot during the last two games.
"Just watching them today in practice, it's nice to see them back together," Quenneville said. "When you look at it, it's like which line is going to be our best line, and they're capable on a given night being as good as anybody. Seems like they had a lot of jump in practice, as well. [With] the lines being more familiar than the last couple games, hopefully we can recapture that enthusiasm we had when we started."
As for Hayes, the 6-6, 221-pounder has been red hot in Rockford, and just posted his first career hat trick. He had 22 goals and 17 assists with Rockford. He's walking into a golden opportunity, playing alongside Kane.
"He's a really good player, so I've just got to stick to my game," Hayes said. "Just be big, physical, use my speed. He does all the puck work, he's a magician with it, so I just have to read off of him."
The Blackhawks put defenseman Steve Montador on waivers on Monday, according to multiple reports. Montador, who has played just one game (March 27 of last year) since suffering a concussion last February, has been skating with the team for the last couple of weeks and is getting close to returning.
The move could be to simply get Montador a conditioning stint with the team's AHL affiliate in Rockford. But the Hawks didn't need to put him on waivers to do that -- a 14-day loan to an AHL team for a conditioning assignment is allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. So the Hawks could be hoping to keep Montador in the minors beyond two weeks. If Montador is claimed, the Hawks are off the hook for his contract. He's currently in the second year of a four-year deal worth $2.75 million a year.
Montador said on Friday that he was open to the idea of a stint in Rockford, but that he was ready and willing to play for the Hawks when called upon.
"The competitor in me would say for sure," Montador said. "The toughest thing is we've all heard everyone say, you can't get into game shape until you play in games. And you know our practice schedule this season, it's tough really to do that. While I would say yes, I doubt he'd want to put me in there, anyway. But if he came in right now I'd say [hell] yeah."
On Sunday, Joel Quenneville said "we'll see" when asked if Montador could be sent down. Offseason additions Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank have fared well in the sixth defenseman spot in Montador's absence.
"We've got eight defensemen here and everybody's played pretty well," he said. "Right now he's waiting his turn to get into the lineup."
Following Friday's streak-busting 6-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford -- who was pulled after yielding four second-period goals -- talked about putting the loss in the past.
"It's over," he said. "Just move on to the next game."
Well, Crawford will have to wait a little longer than his teammates to do so. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville started Ray Emery in net Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers.
Emery made 17 saves on 19 shots against the Oilers on Feb. 25.
"Both goalies have been very good, so I think there's a good argument for either guy," Quenneville said before Sunday's game. "Ray played well against these guys the other day. The consistency of our goaltending has been very important to where we're at today. [Crawford] is going to get back in there soon. We won't see him sitting too long."
The Hawks' next game isn't until Thursday in Columbus, meaning Crawford will have nearly a full week to stew on the Avalanche loss. It was hardly all Crawford''s fault -- from defense to face-offs to goaltending, everyone can shoulder some of the blame for that one -- but Crawford, who has been so good all season, briefly leading the league in goals-against average, pointed the finger at himself after the game.
"Giving up five goals, six goals, it's definitely hard to win when you give up that much," he said. "I just didn't have it. I didn't give our guys a chance. I've got to be better than that."
Crawford is 11-1-3 with a 1.81 GAA and a .930 save percentage. Emery entered the Oilers game an NHL-record 10-0-0 (not counting his two-period "save" in a combined shutout with Crawford in St. Louis) with a 2.05 GAA and .924 save percentage.
"Both guys got good consideration to play tonight," Quenneville said. "That's all part of it. I thought Ray came in and did a nice job later in that [Colorado] game. I'm very comfortable no matter who's in the net."
Daniel Carcillo, 13, of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates his game-winning goal with teammates Niklas Hjalmarsson, 4, and Johnny Oduya, 27, against the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on March 6, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Avalanche 3-2. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
LeBron James is impressed by the Blackhawks' NHL-record, season-opening 24-game point streak. He tweeted as much.
In his column, Kiszla calls the Hawks' run "the most bogus 'winning' streak in the history of American sports."
"[L]et's keep it real: The Miami Heat winning 16 straight NBA games is without doubt a greater achievement than the Blackhawks' bogus streak," Kiszla writes. "Why? Well, for starters, the Heat's streak isn't the result of creative accounting. Miami plays, gets a W, moves on."
Nobody loves a good meaningless debate more than ESPN, and the folks in Bristol, Conn., have been fueling the debate between the concurrent streaks by having the likes of Stephen A. Smith -- who appeared proud of the fact that he didn't know Columbus had a hockey team, and who thinks the NHL still has ties -- bloviate on television about it.
Some say the Hawks' run -- which does include a current 11-game outright win streak -- is more impressive because there are so few bottom-feeding teams in the NHL, compared with the NBA. Some say the Heat's run wins because the Hawks did actually lose three games in the run, albeit all in gimmicky shootouts.
Patrick Sharp will miss three to four weeks with the upper-body injury he suffered Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville confirmed Friday. Sharp, who was sandwiched along the boards by Ryan O'Byrne and left the ice clutching his left shoulder, will not need surgery, Quenneville said.
The rest of the injury news was good for the Hawks: Marian Hossa, Andrew Shaw and Michael Frolik all will play tonight in the rematch against Colorado at the Pepsi Center.
Hossa was a last-minute scratch Wednesday night. He said Friday that he was neither sick nor dealing with any after-effects from last April's concussion or last month's hit to the head from Vancouver's Jannik Hansen.
"This is something different," he said. "Nothing at all with what happened last time."
If the Blackhawks are going to keep their NHL record season-opening point streak alive, they're going to have to do it without star winger Patrick Sharp.
Sharp, who left Wednesday's game at the United Center after being sandwiched along the boards by Colorado's Ryan O'Byrne, suffered a severe shoulder separation, according to a report by Canada's TSN. He'll miss at least three weeks and up to a month.
Sharp has five goals and 13 assists in 24 games, tied with Marian Hossa for third on the team in points. The Hawks recalled forward Brandon Bollig from Rockford on Thursday. Bollig had just been sent down on Wednesday to make room for defenseman Steve Montador.
The rest of the injury news was positive for the Hawks. Marian Hossa, a late scratch on Wednesday, was on the team charter to Denver for Friday's rematch against the Avalanche, as was Andrew Shaw, who was elbowed in the head by Paul Stastny in the second period Wednesday and didn't return. Michael Frolik, who's missed two games with an illness, will join the team in Denver separately, likely a precautionary measure to prevent his teammates from getting sick.
Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa was a last-minute scratch for Wednesday's game against the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center. The team announced he had an "upper-body injury."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville gave no indication that anything was wrong with Hossa when he spoke two hours before gametime, and Hossa was listed as playing as recently as 10 minutes before the puck dropped. There was no immediate word on his situation.
In his absence, Jamal Mayers was taken off the scratch list, and Daniel Carcillo moved up to the top line in Hossa's spot alongside Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad.
The stingiest defense in the NHL just got even deeper.
The Blackhawks activated defenseman Steve Montador on Wednesday, adding an eighth blue-liner to the roster. Montador hasn't played since suffering a concussion on March 27 last season.
Forward Brandon Bollig was sent down to Rockford to clear the room.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville couldn't be much happier with his defense -- entering Wednesday's game, the Hawks have yielded a league-low 44 goals through 23 games. But when it came down to it, an extra defenseman is likely to be more valuable than an extra forward down the stretch.
"Never have enough D," Quenneville said. "I know that's one area and one position where your depth is going to get challenges over the course of the season."
Montador was not in the lineup for Wednesday's game against the Colorado Avalanche, and Quenneville hadn't decided yet if he'll accompany the team to Denver on Thursday for Friday's back-end of the home-and-home. But whenever Montador plays, Quenneville knows it'll be a hard decision. Offseason additions Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank have been splitting time at the No. 6 defenseman spot alongside Nick Leddy, and each has played well. Rozsival has seven assists and is a plus-11.
"The first seven we're playing to date were playing extremely well," Quenneville said. "When I have to sit one out right now, it's always a tough decision. They're all deserving of playing and we'll see with Monty working his way in. Certainly the group that's been playing right now, we've been very happy with. We'll see how it progresses."
The Hawks have been fortunate to have had a healthy defense this season, which reached the halfway mark Wednesday. Brent Seabrook has missed one game -- the only game lost to injury on the Hawks' blue line all season. But Quenneville knows how quickly an injury can change things.
"Defense is a position where you love depth," he said. "This year we've utilized all six that are in the lineup over the course of the game, where everybody gets more minutes than maybe in the past, a little more shared minutes. ... Over the course of the season, sometimes the decisions are made for you, who's in the lineup and how much they play. But so far nobody deserves to be out of the lineup.
Bollig, usually splitting games with Jamal Mayers on the fourth line until Daniel Carcillo returned from a leg injury on Feb. 22, played in 11 games, with no points and 40 penalty minutes as the Hawks' primary enforcer. Quenneville's not worried about a lack of toughness without Bollig, singling out Carcillo, Mayers and Brookbank as guys who can fill that role.
"We have some toughness," he said. "We have some internal toughness, as well. We've got a competitive group. We want to be harder to play against -- not necessarily being a fighter, but just playing hard on the puck and being resilient in that area."
Like countless others, Dave Bolland spent his Sunday afternoon at home, on his "big comfy couch," watching the Blackhawks play the Detroit Red Wings in a thrilling, end-to-end battle between longtime rivals. And like everybody else, Bolland had a tough time getting through it.
"A little nervous," he said.
Of course, the Hawks pulled out the shootout victory in dramatic fashion, extending their season-opening point streak to 22 games. And Bolland couldn't wait to get back on the ice Tuesday night and help out after missing the last five games with an upper-body injury.
"It's never fun when you're sitting out games and seeing all the fun that's going on on the ice," Bolland said Tuesday morning. "It's always disappointing watching it on TV and seeing what's going on. I'm just glad I'm back and ready."
Bolland was injured late in the second period against San Jose on Feb. 22. Bolland has had back problems and a concussion in the past, but neither he nor the team specified what the injury was. Bolland said Tuesday that it was not a concussion.
"I don't think it was anything from my history," he said. "I think it was something else. This game's a hard-hitting game, and you never know what's going to happen. But I don't think it was anything coming back from my history."
When asked if there was a defining blow, Bolland smiled and said: "Probably, I don't know. I can't remember, really. I don't know. I forget."
Bolland, moved up from the checking line to the second line this season, had five goals and two assists in 16 games before the injury. During his absence, Marcus Kruger moved from the fourth line to the second line, centering Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. Kruger moved back to his usual spot for Tuesday night's game. Kruger, who has carved out a nice role for himself as a penalty-killer this season, enjoyed the stint on the scoring line.
"Of course, it's great to play with those kinds of players, like Kaner and Sharpie, that's exciting," he said. "But for me it doesn't change a thing, really. I have to try to play the same game as I did. That's the key to being successful -- play that two-way game."
Bolland gained a little extra appreciation for the Hawks' record streak by being on the outside looking in, but was happy to be off the couch and on the ice.
"It's been great, even watching them on TV, keeping this streak alive," he said. "Coming back and helping them out is a big thing. [Let's] keep this thing going."
Corey Crawford will be back in goal this afternoon as the Blackhawks play the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Crawford left Thursday night's game in St. Louis after the first period, as he stumbled out of the crease and skated to the tunnel hunched over. But Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Crawford was "fine," and he skated Friday morning and backed up Ray Emery in the Hawks' 4-3 overtime victory against Columbus.
Second-line center Dave Bolland will not play today, his fifth straight missed game. But Quenneville said it's likely that Bolland will return from his upper-body injury Tuesday at home against the Minnesota Wild.
Corey Crawford gave his teammates and Blackhawks fans quite a scare when he stumbled out of the crease and skated to the tunnel hunched over following the first period Thursday night in St. Louis. Ray Emery came in and completed the 3-0 shutout of the Blues, but Crawford's status was clearly cause for concern.
But Crawford was back on the ice at the United Center on Friday morning, and will be dressed as Emery's backup tonight as the Hawks host the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"Corey's fine," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Quenneville declined to specify what was ailing Crawford -- he did say it wasn't related to the upper-body injury that sidelined him for four games in February. But whatever it was, it didn't last long.
"He got through it," Quenneville said. "He didn't seem too bad after the game. He was fine this morning. He's good."
Emery made 14 stops in Crawford's place, though Crawford got credited with the win. Emery is 8-0-0 on the season, and earned the NHL's third star of the month for going 7-0-0 with a 1.66 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.
"Congratulations to Ray," Quenneville said. "Nice job. He had some consecutive starts here and he's doing the job. The guys have confidence with him."
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.