Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville held a particularly spirited practice Wednesday at Johnny’s Ice House, with all players accounted for (Marian Hossa back from a veteran’s day off) and a couple of unfamiliar twists — highlighted by a rare five-on-five scrimmage marked by defense and goaltending rather than what the Hawks are looking for most — goals.
Coach Joel Quenneville said he put the team through a hearty workout in part because the Hawks, who play the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz. on Thursday night, have playedjusttwo games in the last nine days. “We haven’t had many games or practices lately,” Quenneville said. The just gets the pace [going], the game simulated.”
Here’s a capsule look at where the Hawks stand after Wednesday’s practice.
1. Corey Crawford will start in goal against the Coyotes. In four starts since a 6-2 blood-letting against the Boston Bruins at the United Center on Feb. 22, Crawford has allowed four goals and stopped 128-of-132 shots (.970). And two of those goals came after the Hawks had built a 4-0 lead against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I think he’s been our best player as of late,” forward Andrew Shaw said. “.He’s keeping us in games that we haven’t deserved to be in. He’s making those big-time saves. We know he can. Most goalies wouldn’t be able to. But he always finds a way. He’s focused. He’s competitive. In practice he’s probably he most competitive guy. He doesn’t let anyone score on him. He tries, even on every single rebound I think it’s made him a better player. ”
2. Johnny Oduya, who has missed six games with an “upper-body” injury, is expected to play against the Coyotes, re-teamed with Niklas Hjalmarsson. Oduya has two goals, five points and is a minus-9 this season.
“I feel good,” Oduya said. “A lot of improvement from last week [when he returned to practice]. You don’t really know how you’ll respond after skating for a couple of days, but it feels good.”
3. Bryan Bickell, who has two goals in his last 19 games, will skate on the third line with Patrick Sharp (0 goals in his last 18 games) and Brad Richards (0 goals in his last 23 games). Asked if there was a method to his madness in putting three slumping goal-scorers on the same line — maybe he figures of them has to break out of it — Quenneville basically said it’s more because he has better top-6 forwards in Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen, who are with Brandon Saad on the No. 2 line.
But Quenneville did say he thinks Sharp, who has 10 goals this season, is ready to bust out.
“He’s coming out of it the last few games. He skated well here today,” Quenneville said. “The guys who haven’t scored in the stretch, it’s almost like I know it’s gotta be coming. You’ve got to make sure you stay with it and find a way. And when you get one, all of the sudden we expect a few guys to break out and all of the sudden it can really enhance our power play and our team game.”
4. Newcomer Kimmo Timonen said he has been feeling the effects of not having played this season. Timonen’s ice time has dropped from 17:29 against the Hurricanes to 14:49 against the Oilers to 10:35 against the speedy Rangers. But he expects to be up to speed by the beginning of the playoffs.
“I liked his progress the last two days,” Quenneville said. “What he was going through initially definitely limited a lot of his movement and he wasn’t as comfortable getting involved in the games. It just seems like night-and-day the last couple of days in practices.”
5. Forward Antoine Vermette, acquired from the Coyotes on Feb. 28, will face his former teammates just 12 days after playing for the Coyotes in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. Vermette played the last four seasons with the Coyotes.
“We were still actually on the plane [after the trade was finalized] and a couple of my teammates pointed out to me, ‘Hey, we’re going to face each other pretty soon,’ ” Vermette said. “But it’s always strange when you play your old teammates and you’re old team. But it’s nice to get it out of the way early, I guess.”
Vermette said he is quickly getting acclimated to Chicago. “I think it’s a nice place,” he said. “The team, the surroundings, the fans, the passion. There’s a lot to like and I’m just learning it every day.”