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Hawks have to make do with what they have down stretch

tonight

Blackhawks at red wings

The facts: 6:30, Versus, 720-AM.

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



The Blackhawks sure could’ve used center Dave Bolland in the 2-1 loss Saturday night against the Anaheim Ducks.

But coach Joel Quenneville just doesn’t have many options to choose from to fill that void — or Patrick Sharp’s.

He mainly has rookies and other inexperienced players at his disposal.

If the Hawks’ top players aren’t at their best every night, especially with five of their last eight games on the road, including two in Detroit and trips to Boston and Montreal, things could get hairy.

How much has inexperience —whether it’s young players in the NHL or new linemates getting accustomed to each other after injuries and trades — hurt the Hawks, who are 3-3-2 in their last eight games, down the stretch?

“Guys learn as they go along,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “Two years ago, we were told we weren’t experienced enough and ended up going to the conference finals. Sometimes [inexperience] plays a factor, but if you want it enough, you can just play through it and make sure you’re doing what needs to be done.”

The Hawks have no choice but to hope that happens with Sharp and Bolland out. The Hawks need Bryan Bickell to chip in a few goals, Jake Dowell to play like the sound checking center he aspires to be, Viktor Stalberg to use his speed and be a factor, Nick Leddy to continue to improve on the blue line and Marcus Kruger to become the player the team built him up to be after prospects camp.

And it won’t be easy, considering the rough road ahead.

“I remember when we were pretty young playing in the playoffs; we were just out there playing hockey,” winger Patrick Kane said. “I don’t know if we were too stupid sometimes to realize what was going on. But a lot of these guys in here, they want to win, especially the new guys.”

All teams undergo change as trades, recalls, injuries and the salary cap reshape rosters. But the Hawks’ transition — when coupled with their inexperience — has seemingly led to an ongoing feeling-out process and their up-and-down season.

Mixed results only led to more changes, too. Quenneville’s lineup isn’t just different than what the Hawks had last season. It’s different than what he had months ago. Against the Ducks, Kruger, Michael Frolik and Ryan Johnson centered three lines. None of them was with the Hawks when the season started.

“I don’t know about inexperience,” Quenneville said. “We’ve had some guys get exposed to playing at this level and playing some big games and getting some quality ice time as they’ve gone along here. Everybody thrives on the next challenge and wants to get better and wants to be a part of it.

“Whether it’s Nick Leddy, Marcus coming in or [Frolik] coming into a new environment, we all play hockey our whole lives, and we all want to be in situations where we have a chance to win and a chance to play more. Everybody should be excited about the challenge of getting opportunities as we go along. I don’t equate it to inexperience. They should welcome the challenge of being a part of it.”

Quenneville opted to pit fire against fire Saturday as Jonathan Toews’ top line was matched against the Ducks’ No. 1 line of MVP candidate Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. But that should change tonight against the Red Wings as Quenneville juggles his lines again.

“There are some guys playing some different positions, but there are no excuses, though,” defenseman Brian Campbell said. “You go in and put in solid work and get your job done. Whoever is in the lineup, the coaches have confidence in them, and they need to get the job done. That’s how we all look at it.”



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