Jonathan Toews

Toews’ injury changes Chicago’s ceiling, plan

For a significant chunk of this season, the Chicago Blackhawks’ path seemed to follow the dominant one blazed by the 2010 championship model rather than the desperately scrappy edition from last year. When the Hawks were really buzzing, it appeared that the Central Division crown was one big jump ball between three or maybe even four teams.

That’s simply not the case right now, though. As ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers details, the Blackhawks might as well cue MAD TV’s “Lowered Expectations.”

The Hawks aren’t making any declarations but let’s face it, the goals have changed. Winning divisions, and even gaining home ice advantage, has been replaced by getting healthy and maintaining a playoff position without exerting every ounce of energy between now and the end of the regular season on April 7.

For all practical purposes the Hawks are entrenched as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. If that holds they are on a collision course with the Pacific Division winner, which will be the easiest draw for them — by far. In fact, the Hawks currently have two more points (79 to 77) than division-leading Dallas. Chicago won’t have home-ice advantage — that goes to the division winner no matter the point totals — but no hockey observer would count them out in a playoff series against the Stars, Phoenix Coyotes or San Jose Sharks. In fact, the Hawks would probably be the favorite in at least a couple of those matchups.

In a way, it’s an interesting parallel to the East where the sixth seed is honestly probably a better draw than a fourth or fifth because of the weaker division representatives. (Of course, the gulf in talent and competence between the Pacific and Southeast is jarring, but still, it’s rather intriguing.)

Having a relatively favorable first round opponent is great and all, but as Rogers points out, the Blackhawks’ ceiling would be significantly limited without Toews.

With that in mind, you can’t blame Chicago fans for being more nervous about his health updates than day-to-day rumblings in the standings.

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    Preds still haven’t found their scoring touch

    Mike Fisher
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    The Nashville Predators got off to a relatively good start this season, but something seems to have happened to their offense over the last six games.

    Prior to Nov. 20, the Preds had only been shut out once in their first 17 games. Since then, they’ve been blanked three times and have just six goals in their last six contests.

    If you remove Mike Fisher from the equation, the numbers are even more dreadful.

    Fisher’s scored three of those six goals, while Filip Forsberg, Shea Weber, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro have none.

    After Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Buffalo , here’s what coach Peter Laviolette told the Tennessean: “I thought we could’ve had more gas, to be honest with you. The energy just wasn’t there; maybe the second period had something to do with that or the road trip, which was a long trip. I’m not making any excuses, but I think when we play at a higher tempo that’s when we’re at our best, and we had more to push in that area tonight.”

    The first game back home after a long road trip is typically a difficult one for most teams, so we’ll see how the Predators respond on Tuesday night when they host Arizona.

    A month to remember: Duchene lighting it up in November

    Matt Duchene, Nick Holden
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    It wasn’t too long ago that a report surfaced saying that the Avalanche were willing to listen to offers on forward Matt Duchene.

    When a player’s struggling and rumors start swirling, one of two things tends to happen.

    Either the player involved lets it affect his on-ice performance in a negative way or he’s motivated by the trade talk and turns his struggles around.

    Instead of pouting, the 24-year-old rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

    In October, Duchene scored a goal and an assist in 10 games, but things changed in a hurry when November rolled around.

    The Avs forward has picked up at least one point in 11 of 13 games this month.

    Duchene has 11 goals and nine assists in November and he still has a game to go before the calendar flips to December.

    “Obviously, things completely flip-flopped,” Duchene told the Denver Post. “That’s the coldest start I’ve ever had and things are good right now. Obviously, I know it could go right back, I could go cold again, that’s just the nature of the game. You just have to work every day to keep it going. The most important thing is to be able to provide offense and help the team win.”

    PHT Morning Skate: A bride can have her burger and eat it too

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    PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

    A woman in a wedding dress was caught eating a burger during Saturday’s game between the Stars and Wild. (Above)

    Team Europe has a number of quality goaltending options to chose from ahead of next fall’s World Cup of Hockey. (

    Watch as some players on Nashville’s roster try to guess the lyrics to different country songs:

    Former goaltender Eddie Johnston sits down for a Q & A with’s Shelly Anderson. (ESPN)

    Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher got into a “Twitter war” with former NHLer Jim Kyte. (Puck Daddy)

    Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference made a generous donation to a Syrian refugee fund. (Huffington Post)

    Julien explains comments about Lundqvist’s ‘acting’

    Claude Julien

    We’re now over two days removed from last Friday’s tilt between the Bruins and the Rangers, but the coaches from both teams seem unwilling to move on.

    Moments after that game, Claude Julien claimed that Henrik Lundqvist did some “acting” on the ice to sell a goalie interference call on Brad Marchand.

    On Saturday, Alain Vigneault fired back by saying that Julien needed to get his eyesight checked. Vigneault also compared Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton in the 2011 Stanley Cup final to Matt Beleskey’s hit on Derek Stepan in Friday’s game.

    Now it was Julien’s turn to address the “issue” at hand.

    Julien clarified his original comment about Lundqvist and he also tackled some of Vigneault’s comments.

    “I think it’s pretty obvious what I said . . . I thought Lundqvist sold it,” said Julien. “Not for a second did I ever question Henrik Lundqvist as a person, or a goaltender or any of that. We all know how good he is as a goaltender, and I know he’s a good person. I’ve met him at the All-Star games and all that stuff.

    Julien on his eyesight: “As far as my eyes, I’m not the one that compared Beleskey’s hit to Aaron Rome’s [hit]. We’ll just leave it at that.”

    It’s time for both sides to move on.