Hoge On The Hawks: Target Growing On Blackhawks’ Backs
By Adam Hoge-
CHICAGO (CBS) Any time a team or player is on a streak of some sort, it’s only natural to wonder when it will end.
With the Blackhawks having gained at least one point in all 19 games played this season, many are wondering which NHL team will be the first to beat the Hawks in regulation.
And you know every upcoming opponent wants to be the one to do it.
“Yeah, probably,” Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford said Wednesday when asked if it would be “a prestigious thing” around the league to knock off the Hawks. “Teams are probably geared up to play us, but that doesn’t change what we have to do. We’re still focused on our game.”
If the Blackhawks didn’t have the attention of the rest of the league when the season started, they sure have it now, as they’re rolling four lines deep and not slowing down, winning six straight games. At this point, it’s an accomplishment if you can take a lead on the Hawks at any point in a game.
“I feel like we have respect across the league,” Patrick Sharp said. “We respect our opponent every night and we feel like we give our best so I’m sure we’re getting the other teams’ best efforts as well.”
That’s a sentiment that head coach Joel Quenneville shares too and he’s turning it into motivation.
“I think there’s probably more awareness for our opponents right now in what they want to do,” Quenneville said. “So let’s expect it. Let’s expect that everyone is going to playing their best game. And let’s welcome the challenge.”
The next team that will have a chance to end the Blackhawks’ streak is the Blues, and after a loose, but spirited one-hour practice at Johnny’s Ice House West Wednesday, the Hawks boarded their charter to St. Louis where they’ll look to increase their point-streak to 20 games Thursday night. The Blues, who nearly erased a 3-0 third-period deficit to spoil the Blackhawks’ home opener back in January, will present a stiff challenge as Thursday will mark the Hawks’ first road game in 18 days.
“(The Scottrade Center) is a great building,” Quenneville, who coached in St. Louis for eight years, said. “They get riled up when Chicago comes to town. That rivalry is still in place. I’m sure they’re excited about playing us so we have a very dangerous opponent in that regard.”
The Blues have been very good at home in recent years, but are just 4-4-1 at the Scottrade Center this season.
Bolland Out, Montador Practicing
One player who did not board the plane to St. Louis is second-line center Dave Bolland who has been out with an undisclosed upper-body injury since last Friday.
“Bolly is progressing,” Quenneville said. “Hopefully he gets on the ice the next couple days. He’s improving every day.”
With that in mind, it appears unlikely Bolland would play Friday against the Blue Jackets either.
Meanwhile, defenseman Steve Montador continues to practice and was back out on the ice Wednesday. He has yet to play this season as he recovers from a concussion suffered last March.
Quenneville said Montador is “getting better”, but a lack of practice time and a lack of space on the roster also factor into his return.
“We like decisions like that,” Quenneville said. “We feel like we have some depth. He gives us another option on the back end, but we’ve been very pleased with how our defense has played to date. We’ll see.”
The shortened season has resulted in a lot less practices, which is not helping the situation. Montador has been skating on his own and will continue to do so while the Hawks are on the road, but the lack of work with his teammates is a factor.
Crow In Net
Corey Crawford will get the start in net Thursday when the Hawks face the Blues. After missing about a week and a half with an upper-body injury, Crawford pitched a shutout against the Blue Jackets Sunday before Ray Emery got the win against the Oilers Monday night.
“These guys are making it very easy on us to make a decision on who is playing in net,” Quenneville said. “When I say easy, I mean no matter who you’re going to put in there it’s the right decision.”
Indeed, both are playing very well, but with Crawford healthy again, it appears he’ll continue to get the majority of the starts. Quenneville said Wednesday the goaltender is having the “best stretch he’s had since he’s been here.”
“Corey, going into the season, we anticipated him getting a little bit more,” Quenneville said. “Now that he’s back playing, we’ll see how that plays out. But certainly, Ray, he’s earned the chance to get right back in there whenever we consider the next day. He’s done everything he can do to get more.”
The Blackhawks turn around and play Columbus at the United Center Friday night so it’s possible Emery starts the second game of the back-to-back.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.