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Not enough evidence that Blackhawks are penalty-killers

Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith checks Blues’ Matt D’Agostini from behind Saturday St. Louis. | Tom Gannam~ap

Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith checks the Blues’ Matt D’Agostini from behind Saturday in St. Louis. | Tom Gannam~ap

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Coyotes at Blackhawks

The facts: 7, Versus, 720-AM.

Updated: January 6, 2012 8:16AM

Coach Joel Quenneville doesn’t want the Blackhawks to get ahead of themselves. One game of successful penalty-killing doesn’t mean much — especially against a team like the St. Louis Blues, who struggle mightily with the man advantage — unless it continues.

‘‘We don’t want to get too excited,’’ Quenneville said
after the Hawks killed off four penalties in their 5-2 victory against the Blues on Saturday. ‘‘It’s one game.’’

But at a time when their defensive efforts have drawn criticism, it’s a sign the Hawks are capable of being good defensively, whether on the penalty kill or at even strength, just like they were against the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings on their circus trip.

The Hawks’ plus-6 goal differential after 27 games leaves much to be desired, especially because they’re one of the highest scoring teams in the league. As of Sunday, the Hawks and Sharks were tied at the bottom of the NHL with a penalty-kill rating of 75 percent.

It’s just a matter of finding consistency. The Hawks have won four of their last five games, but imagine how good they would be if they were more reliable defensively in all situations.

‘‘It’s a team mentality that we’ve got to be better,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘It’s a commitment without the puck [in] all three zones, whether it’s the depth of our third forward in the offensive zone, getting through us in the middle ice, how we play in our own end, defending the rush better [and] playing around our net better. That’s probably the area that’s been our sore point is around our net. That’s where we have to get more predictable.’’

It’s a message Quenneville reinforces often. He said the Blues’ first goal Saturday — in which David Perron got close to goalie Ray Emery with Sean O’Donnell and Steve Montador defending — was preventable.

As center Dave Bolland maintains, the Hawks have to be ‘‘battling.’’ It’s about challenging opponents for pucks, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and others blocking shots, clearing away rebounds, knowing the assignments and more.

The Blues have the worst power play in the NHL, but the Hawks believe they’ve gained confidence after allowing just three shots on goal while on the penalty kill.

‘‘Sometimes people only think that confidence helps you offensively,’’ center Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘But when you try and do everything right and you work your tail off on the penalty kill and things always seem to go wrong, it does hurt your confidence a little bit.

‘‘So when you get a night like [Saturday], we just have to keep working hard the way we did, and we can get some big penalty kills for our team.’’

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