Blackhawks searching for answers heading into stretch run
CHICAGO -- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville took a long look at his power play, then moved one goal to the corner of the ice and put his players through battle drills for a loose puck along the boards.
No one is pressing the panic button in Chicago, which won the Stanley Cup in 2013 and made it all the way to the conference finals a year ago. But the Blackhawks know they have to step up their play right now.
"The 'get attention' button is where I'm at. ... I got it pushed," Quenneville said after Monday's practice.
Chicago is just 10-10-3 in 2015 after losing three in a row for the first time since last March. It looked ready to pick up some momentum when it posted a couple of impressive wins at Winnipeg and St. Louis heading into an eight-game homestand, but it has been a rough couple of weeks for Quenneville's team.
Johnny Oduya left Sunday's ugly 6-2 loss to Boston with an upper-body injury that will keep him out for a couple weeks, hurting an already shaky group of defensemen beyond the top three, and the Jets and Minnesota Wild are turning up the pressure on Chicago in the crowded Central Division.
"We can be better in a lot of areas," veteran winger Patrick Sharp said. "Whether you want to say effort, desperation, you name it. I know everybody in this locker room cares. Everyone is carrying it with us. We want to break out of this funk that we're in."
Sharp had a team-high 34 goals and 78 points last season. But he has struggled this year, with 10 goals, 21 assists and minus-13 rating in 46 games.
Sharp was sidelined for a month with a right knee injury and has bounced around Chicago's lines for much of the season. But he skated with Patrick Kane and Brad Richards on the second line in practice on Monday, a combination that could help Sharp get untracked if Quenneville decides to stay with it for an extended period.
"I'm not too concerned right now with who I'm playing with when I go out there, what power play I'm on, you name it," said Sharp, who carries a 12-game scoring drought into Tuesday night's game against Florida. "I'm just concerned with myself getting back to playing as well as I can."
Chicago (35-20-5) made a couple of minor moves after the loss to Boston, promoting goaltender Scott Darling and forward Joakim Nordstrom from the minors and sending goalie Antti Raanta and forward Ryan Hartman back down to Rockford of the American Hockey League.
The Blackhawks also announced a two-year extension for Darling, who gets the start against the Panthers. Darling, who is from the Chicago suburb of Lemont, made his NHL debut on Oct. 26 against Ottawa and is 5-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average in seven games with the Blackhawks.
"I'm just super excited to be here," said Darling, a sixth-round selection by the Coyotes in the 2007 draft. "It's a huge honor to get a contract with a team like the Chicago Blackhawks. I couldn't be happier."
Corey Crawford allowed four goals on 14 shots before he was pulled in the second period of Sunday's loss. But Quenneville said he still has confidence in Crawford and made it sound as if he just wanted to give him a day off.
Quenneville also downplayed any role that Oduya's situation could play in Chicago's decision-making ahead of next Monday's trade deadline, saying he doesn't know if the injury is "part of the equation at all."
"We really don't have much confidence right now, the way we're playing," forward Bryan Bickell said. "It's more urgency. We need to do the little things to make the bigger picture work. Our work ethic and our passion and all those little things, we need to bring every shift every game to make this team get over that hump and be better."
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap