The Blackhawks have translated practice time into several impressive wins recently.
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SUNRISE, Fla. — The Blackhawks’ early-season schedule has been difficult (quality of opponents) yet forgiving (density of games).
The Hawks are in the middle of a stretch of three consecutive weeks with enough time to hold multiple practices.
They practiced twice before hosting the Panthers and Devils on Nov. 4 and 5 and practiced twice before visiting the Lightning on Thursday. They practiced again Saturday ahead of a Sunday matinee at the Panthers, and they’ll get to practice two more times this week before hosting the Lightning on Thursday.
That’s a ratio of seven practices to five games over a 16-day period (making up the first half of November), a rarity in recent franchise history, and that ratio has been helpful for this ultra-young Hawks squad.
“Those practices in particular, we worked on being a lot harder in battles and making sure we’re in the fight — and that we’re actually coming out on top of [the fights],” forward Jason Dickinson said Saturday. “It has been pretty evident in the games that we are doing those things.”
Even going back to coach Luke Richardson’s much-discussed “battle drill” practice Oct. 26 — which translated into a statement win the next day at the Golden Knights — the Hawks’ staff has made the most of its spare time this fall.
That adaptability will be tested again this weekend, though, because the Hawks had only Saturday’s practice to adjust to the new absences of Andreas Athanasiou, Taylor Hall and Jarred Tinordi. All three were injured Thursday and will miss the game Sunday at the least.
Tinordi (oblique) was put on injured reserve, but Athanasiou and Hall were not because, Richardson said, the Hawks don’t have definitive information on the forwards’ recovery timelines yet.
To cover for Tinordi on Thursday, Seth Jones handled 31:46 of ice time, his second-most minutes in a regulation regular-season game.
Although Richardson commended Jones for being a “horse out there,” he won’t want to give him another workload like that. Isaak Phillips has been called up from Rockford again.
Up front, three of the four forward lines were shuffled. The most notable change was Dickinson replacing Athanasiou as the second-line center next to Lukas Reichel. Only the first line, where Connor Bedard has created some unexpectedly strong chemistry with Philipp Kurashev and Nick Foligno, was left untouched.
Blackhawks forward lines in practice include Dickinson taking Athanasiou’s spot as 2C and lots of shuffling on the 3rd/4th lines:
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) November 11, 2023
Considering the number of lineup changes, the Hawks focused on passing and skating in unison during Saturday’s 50-minute session at Florida’s renamed Amerant Bank Arena. Afterward, Richardson mentioned how beneficial it has been to hold all these recent practices at Fifth Third Arena or at the Coyotes’ and Panthers’ NHL arenas.
For reference, during the Hawks’ season-opening five-game trip, the three practices they squeezed in were not at NHL venues but rather at suburban rinks outside Montreal, Toronto and Denver with choppier ice and bare-bones locker rooms.
“You really can’t do the same types of drills or work on the same kinds of things, and at the same type of intensity, [in those rinks],” Richardson said. “You can walk through some scenarios. But we don’t want to do that too much because sometimes that leaks into your routine, and you play a little bit [soft] like that.”
The schedule trends reverse starting this Thursday, however. The rematch against the Lightning begins a grueling stretch in which the Hawks will play 16 games in 29 days through Dec. 14.
That stretch should be much more manageable, however, in terms of opponent quality. Only seven of the 16 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, and four of those seven “playoff” matchups are against the Oilers, Kraken and Wild — teams that have struggled out of the gate.