Talk in the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room after their Friday morning practice revolved around two things: avoiding a three-game losing streak for the first time this season and the trade of Ilya Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers to the New Jersey Devils.
The former “problem” the Hawks can take care of Friday night is against the upstart Phoenix Coyotes. As for the latter issue, the players that spoke about it weren’t surprised Kovalchuk didn’t land in Chicago, and frankly, were just fine with it.
“I didn’t think he was going to come here to be honest,” Patrick Kane said. “For a team like the one we have its more of a depth team than a one- or two-man show … I know in Atlanta it was the Kovalchuk show and that was about it. We’d rather have our team in here I think, and the depth we have.”
“As of right now there is no need to change the team,” Troy Brouwer said. “If something does happen it happens, its part of the game and everyone will tell you that…There was a little bit of whisper he might be coming here but no one is that surprised and we’re real happy with the lineup that we have.”
Kris Versteeg has often been mentioned as a guy that could be on the move in a salary cap saving trade, so maybe he was talking about himself as much as anyone in regard to the Kovalchuk deal.
“Seeing him go to that team, maybe some guys can relax a little more and play but you never know what is going to happen,” Versteeg said. “It’s a game where you just have to go out there and play and let the off ice stuff take care of itself.”
On the ice, the Hawks realize they’re falling behind San Jose for the top spot in the West and a two-game losing streak is about all they can stand. The Sharks are five points ahead of Chicago entering play on Friday.
“They’re kind of pulling away a bit so we want to slow that down a bit here and make sure we don’t lose three in a row,” Kane said. “We’ve lost two in a row a couple times and bounced back pretty good. Hopefully we can do the same tonight.”
“Obviously there are no excuses. We’re at home, the road trip is over, and there shouldn’t be any reason we can’t do it [win].”
Phoenix doesn’t make for an easy opponent anymore. They are only five points behind the Hawks and have about 100 percent less publicity. Their goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov, ranks in the top 10 in every major goaltending category but coach Joel Quenneville is more concerned with his team. He reiterated the need for simple plays that will avoid turnovers but admits with the Hawks' style, the balance isn’t the easiest thing to find.
“It’s a fine line there,” Quenneville said. “We want the puck on our stick. We want a puck possession game … [You have to] recognize the balance where maybe safe plays, chip plays, simple plays ... is the situation to be in.”
Quenneville has elected to keep Patrick Sharp at center but move Dave Bolland up to play with Marian Hossa and Andrew Ladd. That means Sharp will be between Dustin Byfuglienand Versteeg. John Maddencenters the fourth line and Quenneville said Colin Fraser will be back in the lineup indicating he may play wing which would send Tomas Kopecky to the bench.
“I think Fraser’s awareness and positioning no matter where he is, is pretty astute,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a good awareness for the game. I don’t think it will be an issue.”
“[Assistant coach] Mike Haviland coached me in the minors for three years, and I played more wing than I did center,” Fraser said. “I’ve played wing many times before. It’s not an issue for me. I’ll play defense if I have to. Whatever gets me in the lineup.”
As always with new lines, they are subject to change. Only the top line of Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Brouwer remains intact. Cristobal Huet will start in goal with Antti Niemi returning from the flu to back-up.
Though he was fine with Kovalchuk not coming to Chicago, it doesn’t mean Patrick Kane doesn’t like him as a player.
“I think a player like that would definitely be fun to play with…He's probably my favorite player in the league just to watch, Kane said.”
The two “hung out” together at last year’s All-Star game. Kane said he especially likes his goal celebrations.
Colin Fraser didn’t love sitting out last game but understood the reasoning behind it.
“When you have a deep team, it has to be somebody,” Fraser said. “It happened to be me. Nothing you can do. Coach’s decision. Just when I do get my chance I just have to play well.”
He also got the “impression” that there would be a rotation of players that will be healthy scratches based on play and fatigue.
Versteeg is one of several Hawks not shocked by the Coyotes' record.
“It’s not a surprise with all the good players they have on their team,” Versteeg said. “I guess it's about time they had a good season with those guys.”