No sign of Stanley Cup hangover for Hawks
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Blackhawks left wing Brandon Bollig (52) and the Hawks' fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith has been a pleasant surprise with their steady play.
Now that the Blackhawks have visited the White House and been officially honored by President Obama, they can turn the page and move on from their 2013 Stanley Cup championship.
"We've said that a few times already," Jonathan Toews told reporters at the White House. "We know this is a big part of our tradition and we look forward to that. Everyone's busy, especially guys who aren't with us. But to be together as a team, for a second, and remember what we accomplished last year, and enjoy this day, it's a lot of fun.
"I guess you could say we've turned the page officially," Toews said.
The Hawks are 15 games into the new season, sitting at 9-2-4, so there hasn't been any sign of the so-called Stanley Cup hangover that winning teams often encounter.
The offense has started coming around as the lines have become more settled. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has mixed and matched lines almost from the start of the season, and has appeared to have found combinations that work.
Toews working between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the top line has had great results, particularly the last handful of games.
Hossa is heating up with 6 goals after a slow start offensively. He's playing and looking like his old self.
"His strength and his first stride is quick and powerful," Quenneville said. "He protects pucks and gives himself more space -- that's what makes him a good player. In those tight areas, all of a sudden he can give himself some separation with that strength."
The second line of Brandon Pirri, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad has been getting better and better. The key remains Pirri and how his development continues.
The third line of Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Jeremy Morin is still a work in progress, but with Bickell back in his comfort zone after getting a look on the first line it looks promising.
The fourth line of Marcus Kruger, Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith has been a pleasant surprise, mostly because of the production the Hawks have been getting out of Bollig, who has 2 goals and 2 assists in 15 games and is plus-4.
"Last year he really improved his overall game," Quenneville said. "We have a lot of trust in him defensively. That line has been on a nice roll for us, and we're comfortable with them against anyone."
Bollig has proved he can do more than fight.
"Not just being a one-dimensional tough guy has added to his dimension and usefulness as a player," Quenneville said. "That line this year has been getting even more responsibility. Bolly has a nice shot, and his instincts are fine. You're comfortable with him out on the ice, particularly in your own end and on faceoffs."
The Hawks have scored 26 goals in the last six games.
"Pucks are going in and I think the balance in our lineup is what makes it work," Quenneville said. "We weren't scoring early on in the year, but it was a matter of time. My concern with our team is how we check not how we score, because there's enough scoring in there. The better we check the more we're going to have the puck.
"The last few games is probably representative of how we need to play to be successful. It starts with positioning without the puck and it leads to having the puck more."
•Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone.
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