Blackhawks haven’t had much time between games until now

SHARE Blackhawks haven’t had much time between games until now

“When you have a few days, it’s nice to get out there and practice and get the feel for the puck again,” Andrew Shaw said of the Blackhawks’ recent schedule relief. | Nam Y. Huh/AP


For the Sun-Times

The Blackhawks filed onto the ice Monday at Johnny’s IceHouse West for something that was nearly nonexistent in January. They skated through a 40-minute practice — all 22 players — on a day off. They went through line rushes, odd-man-rush drills, special teams and even a little five-on-five.

It might not seem like a big deal, but practicing between games has become noteworthy for the Hawks. This was their third such workout since returning from the All-Star break, but they’ve had only four since the calendar flipped to 2016.

They’ve had the busiest schedule in the NHL, so energy was prioritized over repetition.

‘‘You look at our schedule [in January], it was every other day a game, with some back-to-backs in there, so it was nice to get the rest,’’ forward Andrew Shaw said. ‘‘But when you have a few days, it’s nice to get out there and practice and get the feel for the puck again.’’

Including December, the Hawks played 29 games in 57 days. That works out to about a game every other day.

Trying to squeeze practices in between seemed counterproductive to players and coaches. It’s a philosophy that coach Joel Quenneville adopted in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, when 48 games were crammed into a small window before the playoffs.

Coaches, however, still want to coach outside of games. Ken Hitchcock confirmed that much when his St. Louis Blues were in town in late January. The Blues, who’ve played one fewer game than the Hawks, also eschewed practice during their packed schedule.

‘‘It concerns you as a coach,’’ Hitchcock said. ‘‘We’re supposed to be teachers, and it’s hard to teach with just video. What would a football team look like that never got to practice? What would a basketball team look like that never had to practice? You’ve got to do one-on-ones, you’ve got to do two-on-twos, you’ve got to do three-on-threes, just to bring up the competitive part of your team so that you’ve got an edge to your game. That’s what you miss.’’

It could make the Hawks even better heading toward the playoffs.

Between Christmas and the All-Star break, a stretch of 17 games in 31 days, they had back-to-back days off once and went 13-4-0. That included the franchise-record 12-game winning streak, but Corey Crawford stole a couple of those wins with great goaltending. Puck-possession issues cropped up on multiple occasions, but there wasn’t time to work on it in practice.

‘‘When you’re playing so many games, sometimes maybe you develop some bad habits, but there’s really not much you can do except maybe talk about it before a game,’’ defenseman Rob Scuderi said. ‘‘It really helps to work on it in practice, so when you have these days and you can kind of put something together and work on some things, I think it helps the group.’’

Quenneville will continue to base his practice schedule on energy levels, even when the game schedule eases, but he’s also aware there are benefits to a solid practice now and then.

‘‘You can get some work done not going on the ice, as far as the technical part of the game and positioning [awareness],’’ he said. ‘‘But it’s always good to reinforce things when you do have time.’’

Follow me on Twitter @BrianHedger.

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