Hockey News: Hawks soar under new coach

Updated: December 4, 2006, 12:33 PM ET
By Darryl Dobbs | Special to ESPN.com

Once again, the Monday column speaks to a coaching change. This time, the team is the Chicago Blackhawks and the coach is Denis Savard. Hopefully you poolies were paying attention to this one, as Savard could not have made his intentions more clear:

Offense, offense and more offense.

Savard told every reporter who would listen that his game plan would revolve around scoring. Fans could expect to see Tony Salmelainen not only play every game, but play 15 minutes instead of nine or 10. There would also be more ice time for Tuomo Ruutu and prospect Brandon Bochenski would get a real chance on a top line.

So far so good. The Blackhawks are 3-0-0 under Savard, marking the first time all season they have won three in a row. Their 11 goals in that span averages out to 3.67 goals per game, an improvement over the 2.81 average they had in the 21 games prior to Savard taking over. Finally, some good news for owners of Chicago Blackhawk players.

Salmelainen has a point in each of those three games. Ditto for Ruutu. Bochenski has now played in three straight contests and had over 14 minutes of ice time Saturday. He also has eight shots on goal in the past two games.

Another beneficiary of the new coaching philosophy is career minor-leaguer Jeff Hamilton. He exploded for four points on Saturday and has five points in three games. His season average is just over 11 minutes of ice time per game, but Savard has played him for nearly 15.

All this and their star forward, Martin Havlat, is set to return Tuesday. Keep in mind that 3.67 goals per game is not exactly Buffalo Sabres territory, but it is sustainable, so expect the goals to continue. Hamilton and/or Bochenski will lose some ice time with Havlat back, but early returns on Salmelainen indicate you should buy buy buy.

Injuries, from a fantasy pool perspective: Ryan Smyth of the Edmonton Oilers, a consistent 60-70 point scorer if there ever was one, is out indefinitely with a broken thumb. Smyth is legendary for returning early from injury, but this should keep him on the shelf for a while. Already missing Ales Hemsky (shoulder), the Oilers are now without their two best skaters. Marc-Antoine Pouliot was recalled to replace Hemsky and Jean-Francois Jacques will step in and replace Smyth. If he falters, Alexei Mikhnov has been recalled and may see some action.

Farm Report: Washington's top prospect, Nicklas Backstrom, continues to lead the Swedish Elite League in scoring. He has 30 points in 26 games for Brynas. Interestingly enough, former NHL blue-chipper Pavel Brendl is second with 29 in 26 for Mora.

Darryl Dobbs' Fantasy Pool Look appears every Monday and Wednesday only on The Hockey News.com. Want to speak with Darryl about fantasy hockey? E-mail him at dobber@dobberhockey.com.

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