So far, Blackhawks' special teams not so special
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Brent Seabrook tries to cheer up to Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford after Minnesota's Justin Fontaine scored during the third period of Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Wild at the United Center.
It's only 11 games into the season and the Blackhawks are a respectable 6-2-3.
But there are reasons to be concerned, especially on special teams, where the Hawks rank last in the league in penalty killing and 15th on the power play.
Penalty killing was a strength last season, but trading Michael Frolik to Winnipeg has proved to be a problem already, particularly when it comes to finding the right guy to pair with Marcus Kruger.
So far the Hawks have tried Joakim Nordstrom, Ben Smith, Brandon Saad and Craig Mills with nothing to show for it.
Mills got his chance Saturday against Minnesota and wasn't pleased with how he played.
"Tonight, I don't think I was necessarily on top of my game," Mills said. "I can definitely do better than that. I think going forward that's something I'm going to look to do (replace Frolik)."
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews was asked to evaluate the team at this point.
"There are some small problems that keep coming back in our game," he said. "We've got to find a way to get rid of those. There has been some improvement on our power play and at times with our penalty kill, but we know there's a lot of room for improvement there, even getting back to where we were last year."
Toews said the Hawks still are learning that they have a giant target on their back as defending Stanley Cup champs.
"It's not going to be easy," he said. "We're learning every team is really excited to play us and try to get off to a great start to the year, so we've got to try and find that same level of excitement and sustain it for 60 minutes. When we do that we're a pretty tough team to beat.
"Some of these games where maybe we don't play so well we've found a way to hang in there and get it to overtime, and you never know what can happen from there."
The Hawks have allowed 11 goals in the last two games, another cause for concern.
"We just need to be disciplined, know how much time is on the clock and every shift give what we need to do," Bryan Bickell said. "We haven't been doing that. You can look around the whole locker room and it's the whole team. We're frustrated right now after the last two games, but tomorrow is a new day and we get to play (Minnesota) again.
"For us, we need to turn it on to another level. We're not playing there yet and we've got to reach down and find it."
The Hawks are certainly going to need better goaltending than they've gotten in the last two games from Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin. Crawford was caught too deep in his net on two of Minnesota's goals in Saturday's 5-3 loss, while Khabibulin was big-time off in Thursday's 6-5 overtime loss at Tampa Bay.
The Wild can move ahead of the Hawks in the Central Division standings with another win Monday at home.
"We feel that we're a good team, and we welcome the opportunity to prove it," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Every game is a new challenge. We did a lot of really good things and obviously won a big game (Saturday).
"We get an opportunity to play these guys on Monday, and I think we're going to have to be even better than we were."
•Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.
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