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Blackhawks’ biggest problem — Third-period penalties

Daniel Carcillo is “type player thwe need” assistant GM Marc Bergevsaid. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Daniel Carcillo is “the type of player that we need,” assistant GM Marc Bergevin said. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 1, 2013 11:59AM

Michael Frolik has been seeing an awful lot of ice time in the third period lately. That’s good for Frolik but not necessarily good for the Blackhawks. It usually means somebody else is in the penalty box. Again.

“The last few games, we’re taking too many penalties, more than we had in the beginning,” said Frolik, a fourth-line winger and penalty-killer extraordinaire. “We’re still finding a way to win the games, but we’re making it hard.”

If you’re looking for a nit to pick during the Hawks’ staggering 16-0-3 start, their penchant for taking penalties is worth a glance. With 82 minor penalties through 19 games, the Hawks are right in the middle of the pack (14th in the league), averaging 12.6 penalty minutes per game. But the Hawks have found themselves killing off an inordinate amount of penalties in the third period — usually while clinging to a narrow lead and trying to stave off an opponent’s comeback bid.

Before the 3-2 home win Monday against Edmonton in which the Hawks handed the Oilers four straight power plays but only one in the third period, they had to kill off 16 penalties in the previous four games — 14 of them in the third period.

The fact that the Hawks have won all of those games — six in a row, actually — is a testament to just how well the penalty-killing unit, led by Frolik and Marcus Kruger, has performed. At 63-for-71 (88.7 percent), the Hawks are the second-best penalty-killers in the league. They’d just like to lean on that skill a little less.

“We’ve been taking some dumb penalties lately,” Kruger said. “For sure, we can take some of those away, maybe one or two per game.”

Kruger said it seems that referees are calling games tighter than usual, and, indeed, teams are averaging a little less than one more penalty a game than they were last season.

He wondered if it was because of the long layoff for so many players during the lockout.

Frolik chalked it up to the league’s continued crackdown on interference.

“When you have the puck, it’s better,” he said. “When you chip it in and skate around the guy, he can’t even touch you, but it goes both ways. It’s a new kind of rule, and we’ve got to learn from it and be careful. You can avoid [penalties]. You have to move your legs, and don’t reach with your stick, and take care of our sticks — we’ve had a few high sticks — try to be careful and avoid them. It’s a mind-set.”

Of course, the Hawks can trace some of their biggest wins and goals to the momentum gained from killing off a third-period power play. They’d just prefer not to have to.

“It’s always good when you get a kill, and to kill one off late in the game always feels good,” Kruger said. “But that’s something we’d rather not do. But if we have to, we’ll be ready.”

NOTES: Dave Bolland will miss his third consecutive game with an unspecified upper-body injury when the Hawks visit St. Louis on Thursday. Bolland was at Johnny’s IceHouse West on Wednesday morning but didn’t participate in the team’s practice and will not be on the trip.

“Bolland is progressing, hopefully he gets on the ice in the next couple of days,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s improving every day.”

Corey Crawford will start in goal for the Hawks. With a game Friday at home against Columbus, it’s likely Ray Emery will get the call that night. Jaroslav Halak, who has been sharp in two games since returning from injury, likely will start for St. Louis. The Blues will be without forward Andy McDonald, who hurt his knee in Tuesday’s practice, and star rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, who’s still recovering from a concussion.

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