Why Blackhawks hope changing up practice habits pays off
Blackhawks practices over the years have always had a rhythm and purpose to them.
Players are almost always in motion and there's very little downtime.
Get on the ice. Warm up. Work your tail off. And get off.
From that standpoint, nothing has changed under Jeremy Colliton's leadership, but one noticeable difference has to do with an emphasis on 1-on-1, 2-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills. That was all the Hawks did for the first 30 minutes of Wednesday's practice -- forwards charging at the defensemen, and D-men doing everything they could to prevent high quality shots.
"It's kind of like in college football -- they want to get more and more contact practices in to get ready for the weekend," said captain Jonathan Toews. "If you're practicing under pressure and you're trying to make decisions when guys are all over you instead of floating around in open space, it gets your ready … and you get a little more relaxed in those tight areas."
Said defenseman Connor Murphy: "If in practice all you do is shoot and stickhandle, you're going to get in a game and when you start to defend it's going to be a shock to your system."
Some observations from the cheap seats include:
• Murphy constantly keeps forwards off balance with impressive, puck-poking stick work.
• Brandon Saad -- channeling his inner Marian Hossa -- is always using his off hand to keep defenders at bay. It's a tactic he seems to be using more in games as well.
• Alexander Nylander loves stickhandling until the last possible moment in an effort to get the goalie out of position.
• Ryan Carpenter isn't all about defense and penalty killing. The 28-year-old forward scored on a breakaway Wednesday and is an impressive passer.
• Brendan Perlini is happy to fire bullets from about 30 feet away in hopes of hitting the target.
• David Kampf continues to have a difficult time finishing, although he did convert a one-timer Thursday and also earned a hearty round of stick taps after fighting for control of the puck while skating 1-on-3.
"He's a horse," Colliton said. "He's a guy who can drag people up the ice (and) protect it in both ends."
Murphy said when defensemen have to start off flat-footed the speed guys like Alex DeBrincat, Nylander and Saad are most difficult to defend. Murphy then paused and gave a nod to the crafty Toews.
"He's really deceptive," Murphy said. "He'll try to skate really fast in a straight line and then he'll cut to the middle."
In the bigger picture it will be interesting to see if these drills make the Hawks tougher to play against as the season progresses.
"Compete offensively, compete defensively, be on the puck," Colliton said. "It's hard to defend, it's hard to create offense.
"Practice should be hard. So it's something we're focused on."
Dominik Kubalik practiced on the top power-play unit in place of Dylan Strome as the Hawks practiced 5-on-3. Coach Jeremy Colliton, though, said there are no plans to replace Strome in regular power-play situations. … Duncan Keith returned to practice Thursday, but Zack Smith took a second straight maintenance day.
• Twitter: @johndietzdh
Scouting reportBlackhawks vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at United Center, 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBC SportsChicago • Radio: WGN 720-AM
The skinny: Columbus, which lost goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, forwards Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene in the off-season, is off to a 3-3-0 start. Two of those victories came over Buffalo (5-1-1) and Carolina (6-2-0). ... Goalie Joonas Korpisalo is 3-1-0 with a 2.25 goals-against average in his last four appearances. ... Brandon Dubinsky is out long-term with a right wrist injury. ... The Hawks split their two games against the Blue Jackets last season, losing the second game 5-2. Panarin had 2 goals and an assist.
Next: Washington Capitals at United Center, 6 p.m. Sunday
-- John Dietz