Blackhawks need to secure points before all-star break
In an effort to mix things up -- as well as improve their skills, of course -- the Blackhawks held an optional pre-practice practice at Fifth Third Arena on Monday before departing for Ottawa.
Most of the players participated in the 20-minute session, which involved shooting, passing and puck-handling drills. When it was over, everyone retreated to the locker room and returned after the Zamboni cleaned up the ice.
"We're going to try to do it more going forward," said coach Jeremy Colliton. "It was optional and a lot of guys were out there, so that's good. But day off yesterday and ... we have to keep improving.
"That's how we're going to get where we want to go eventually. So keep doing that."
The Hawks (20-20-6) have five games remaining before the all-star break and their off week. After playing at Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, they return home to face Winnipeg on Jan. 19 and Joel Quenneville's Florida Panthers on Jan. 21.
"We know we've got to do some damage in those five games," goalie Robin Lehner said after a 4-2 victory over Anaheim on Saturday.
Gaining 7 or 8 standings points would go a long way toward proving the Hawks could be a team to reckon with down the line. So is this the most critical stretch of the season?
"They're all critical stages," Colliton said. "We're at a point where we need to put a consistent stretch of results together and we can't really afford to go the other way for any amount of time.
"We're definitely in that dressing room, understanding these last five games before the break (we need to) be great (and) get some points in the bank."
Brandon Saad and Dylan Strome, who are both rehabbing from ankle injuries, took part in the optional skills portion of practice at Fifth Third Arena. Saad took part in the entire session, while Strome left early.
Neither player took place in the official practice.
"They're getting better," said coach Jeremy Colliton. "Got them on the ice, they stayed for a while. So that's good."
Neither player went with the team to Ottawa, where the Hawks will begin a three-game road trip Tuesday.
With John Quenneville being reassigned to Rockford on Saturday, the Hawks are carrying only 12 healthy forwards. Colliton didn't know if someone would be called up.
Stuck in the middle with you:
Zack Smith has played on the wing almost all season for the Blackhawks, but coach Jeremy Colliton changed that up the last two games by asking the 31-year-old to center the fourth line.
Smith admitted making the move isn't like riding a bike.
"It always takes a little adjustment," he said. "But I've done that quite a bit, especially the last three years or so."
Smith won 9 of 15 faceoffs in those two games, but he wasn't happy about losing track of Anaheim's Rickard Rakell early in the third period of the Hawks' 4-2 victory Saturday. Rakell scored to make it 3-2.
"I made a couple of mistakes that cost (us), especially last game," Smith said. "Cost us one goal. For me it takes a couple games (to feel normal again)."
Smith played 612 games for the Senators from 2009-19 and will face Ottawa for the first time since being traded to the Hawks when the teams meet Tuesday.
"It'll be a little surreal," Smith said. "I'm excited to get back there and see some of the old teammates and staff I've worked with for a lot of years."
Blackhawks vs. Ottawa Senators, 6:30 tonight at Canadian Tire Center
TV: NBCSCH • Radio: WGN 720-AM
The skinny: Ottawa has lost seven in a row, three in overtime or a shootout. "We're going in the right direction, that's one thing I know," Ottawa center Jean-Gabriel Pageau said after a 2-1 OT loss to Montreal Saturday. ... Anthony Duclair, who played 23 games for the Hawks in 2017-18, is the Senators' leading scorer with 21 goals and 11 assists. He scored 11 times in nine games from Dec. 4-21 but hasn't scored in the last seven contests. Former Hawks forward Artem Anisimov has 8 goals and 2 assists. ... Ottawa has the worst power play in the league (11.4 percent). The Hawks rank 26th at 15.4 percent.
Next: Montreal Canadiens, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Centre Bell