It might be pie-in-the-sky thinking, but to a man the Blackhawks believe they have the pieces necessary to win their second Stanley Cup in four years.
“I’m sure a lot of teams are thinking the same thing, but we have to have that belief in this locker room, and I think we do,” captain Jonathan Toews said.
The Hawks will open the season Saturday in Los Angeles confident that goalie Corey Crawford can rebound from a disastrous playoff, that Dave Bolland is the answer as second-line center, that Andrew Shaw can hold his own at center on the third line, that their special teams will be improved, and that the size and toughness issues they had on defense last season have been addressed.
“We can definitely learn a lot from the last two years, you know, exiting in the first round, maybe having the potential to go a lot further but not quite putting the pieces together the way you have to (do) to have success in the playoffs,” Toews said.
“It’s a daily thing from now until the playoffs to try and improve on our team game and come together as a team and make sure that you’re not necessarily overachieving but you’re basically achieving your full potential as a team. If we do that this year, we can make a heck of a run at it.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville wants to make the playoffs before discussing any Stanley Cup runs.
“We like our team,” Quenneville said. “We want to make the playoffs first. Once we get there we will be very happy with our team. We think we’ve got all the right ingredients, and we like the enthusiasm we’ve seen.”
Defensemen Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival are the only two players on the roster who weren’t around for last season’s first-round playoff loss to Phoenix. Rookie left wing Brandon Saad has also made the team.
In this wacky, shortened 48-game, 99-day season, the Hawks hope the fact they made so few changes will be an advantage.
“You’ve seen the last couple years we’ve had so many new faces, and this year it’s kind of nice to see so many of the same guys back,” Patrick Sharp said. “You can kind of build off of what we accomplished last year. I know that losing out early in the playoffs wasn’t any kind of accomplishment, but we had some big points in the season last year.
“We’ve been through the battles with each other so you can kind of build off that. I think the additions that were made are going to pay off big. I’ve skated with Sheldon since the lockout started and he has really impressed me. He’s got a lot more skill than I thought he had. He skates well, he moves the puck good, and we all know about his toughness.”
Sharp saw all he needed to see of Rozsival in the playoffs.
“I remember Jimmy Hayes hitting him to end the playoff series there, hit him from behind, and I didn’t feel too bad because he was a tough guy to play against,” Sharp said. “For six games he was all over me. He was all over a lot of guys and really made it difficult to play out there.
“Again, you look at what he can bring to the offensive side of the game. He’s got a great shot from the back end, he moves the puck well and he’s been around. I think he’ll be a great addition.”
The shortened season is the wild card in all this. A great start is imperative, and depth and goaltending will be keys.
“The unpredictability this year is going to be very high,” Quenneville said. “Every team feels like they have a chance to make the playoffs. A great example is after 40-something games last year, Minnesota was first in our conference and didn’t make it at the end of the year.
“Everybody feels things can happen and they can happen quickly and they can change quickly. You want to make sure the depth we have been mentioning organizationally will get us through some of those challenges. We’d like to play four lines as much as we can.”
Quenneville is optimistic special teams will be better. The Hawks finished 26th on the power play last season and were 27th in penalty killing.
On the power play, Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg will get the first crack at filling the void in front of the net that was such a big problem last season.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Shaw is not your classic net front guy, but he has the intangibles the Hawks like.
“Both guys are capable of being that disrupter or distractor in front of the net with a quick stick, not just to tip pucks but make it a challenge for the goalie to find it,” Quenneville said. “Shaw is capable of being there and being that annoyance that we’re looking for. Maybe not the big body, but he has a way to find the right spot.”
Ÿ Follow Tim Sassone’s hockey reports on Twitter@TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.