Blackhawks

Blackhawks losing their spark; Now what?

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Blackhawks losing their spark; Now what?

There was a time when you could see a fire in the Chicago Blackhawks.

You would have certain players, especially captain Jonathan Toews, seething and putting their angst into words. Even as much restructuring and readjusting that last years team faced, there was a big response before losing streaks got out of hand.

But as the Blackhawks losses have mounted in February, youre seeing less of that. The anger has dissipated into bewilderment and, to some degree, a feeling of resignation. This skid has been a punch to the Blackhawks midsection, and theyre struggling to catch their breath.

The Blackhawks havent had a losing streak like this since the 2008-09 season. And for a still young group thats used to winning a lot, there seems to be a sense of, What do we do now?

So is this just a total collapse, or were there cracks in the faade even during the best of times this season?

Even when we were in first place and it was tight, I think there were a lot of games when we werent that good, Duncan Keith said prior to Saturdays game. Now its caught up with us.

Thats true in a few aspects. Even in some of their victories they were giving up a lot of goals, as team defense and goaltending have struggled. They have yet to record a shutout this season, have yet to prove they can win those 1-0, 2-1, tight, low-scoring games.

The Blackhawks core pushed them to the top of the NHL standings through the first three months. But individual slumps happen, and unfortunately for the Blackhawks their top guys are all slumping at the same time. And the supporting cast hasnt been enough to buoy the Blackhawks through their troubles.

Coach Joel Quenneville has juggled lines trying to get something, anything. Nothing is working. Occasional healthy scratches for Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik havent bolstered their games, and other leashes have been way too short -- Brendan Morrison was a healthy scratch Friday, after just four games with his new team.

You need every guy in the room, said Patrick Kane, whos been way too quiet this season. When we were successful, whether last year or the year before, we had a lot of depth, a lot of players stepping up beyond their game. That goes for me and for anyone in the room.

And, yes, Kane called himself out too.

Its something where Ive got to pick it up, got to score goals. The onus is on a lot of guys, but first and foremost you look at yourself and try to figure out what you have to do better.

The Blackhawks have to figure it out quick. The teams in front of them are pulling away. The ones behind them are gaining. They need to re-ignite that fire.

We need everybody on board, Quenneville said. Were not thinking about standings right now. Were thinking of trying to win a game.

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Probably not the way the Blackhawks wanted to start their second half of the season.

After a five-day break, the Blackhawks suffered a brutal 7-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night at the United Center. This coming after a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on home ice last Sunday.

"It was a game we had to win," Quenneville said after Saturday's loss. "Disappointing in a lot of ways."

The Blackhawks needed both goaltenders to get through 60 minutes. Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass combined for 39 saves on 46 shots.

On the offensive side of things, Patrick Kane hit a milestone.

The 29-year-old had two goals and an assist and recorded his 800th career point, becoming the fifth player in franchise history to reach 800 points.

The Blackhawks are now 22-18-6 on the season with 50 points and rank last in the Central Division, five points behind the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

The Blackhawks' schedule doesn't get any easier when the Tampa Bay Lightning — the league-leader in points — come to town on Monday.

See what Quenneville and Kane had to say about Saturday's loss in the video above.

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

When the 2017 season ended, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

He was stocky, slower than he wanted to be and he had just finished a very difficult season that saw him spend time back in the minor leagues at Triple-A after he struggled mightily through the first three months of the season.

Schwarber still put up solid power numbers despite his overall struggles. He slammed 30 home runs, putting him among the Top 15 hitters in the National League and among the Top 35 in all of baseball. But, Schwarber was honest with himself. He knew he could achieve so much more if he was in better shape and improved his mobility, his overall approach at the plate and his defense.

Schwarber was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University as a catcher. However, many scouts around baseball had serious doubts about his ability to catch at the big league level. The Cubs were in love with Schwarber the person and Schwarber the overall hitter and felt they would give him a chance to prove he could catch for them. If he couldn't, then they believed he could play left field adequately enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup.

However, a serious knee injury early in the 2016 season knocked Schwarber out of action for six months and his return to the Cubs in time to assist in their World Series run raised expectations for a tremendous 2017 season. In fact, the expectations for Schwarber were wildly unrealistic when the team broke camp last spring. Manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber in the everyday lineup batting leadoff and playing left field.

But Schwarber's offseason after the World Series consisted of more rehab on his still-healing injured left knee. That kept him from working on his outfield play, his approach at the plate and his overall baseball training. 

Add in all of the opportunities and commitments that come with winning a World Series and it doesn't take much detective work to understand why Schwarber struggled so much when the 2017 season began. This offseason, though, has been radically different. A season-ending meeting with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer led to a decision to take weight off of Schwarber's frame. It also included a decision to change his training program so that he improved his quickness, lateral movement and his overall baseball skills.

"I took two weeks off after the season ended and then I went to work," Schwarber said. "We put a plan together to take weight off and to improve my quickness. I have my meals delivered and I feel great. My baseball work combined with a lot of strength and conditioning has me in the best shape that I have ever been in."

Schwarber disagrees with the pundits who felt manager Maddon's decision to put him in the leadoff spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup contributed to his struggles.

"I have no problem hitting wherever Joe wants to put me," Schwarber said. "I didn't feel any more pressure because I was batting leadoff. I just needed to get back to training for a baseball season as opposed to rehabbing from my knee injury. I'm probably 20-25 pounds lighter and I'm ready to get back to Arizona with the boys and to get ready for the season."

Many around the game were shocked when the Cubs drafted Schwarber with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, but a rival executive who was not surprised by the pick believes that Schwarber can indeed return to the form that made him such a feared hitter during his rookie season as well as his excellent postseason resume.

"Everyone who doubted this kid may end up way off on their evaluation because he is a great hitter and now that he is almost two years removed from his knee injury," the executive said. "He knows what playing at the major-league level is all about I expect him to be a real force in the Cubs lineup.

"Theo and Jed do not want to trade this kid and they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. I think he has a chance to be as good a hitter as they have in their order."

Watch the full 1-on-1 interview with Kyle Schwarber Sunday night on NBC Sports Chicago.