Bears

Blackhawks want more traffic in front of Smith

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Blackhawks want more traffic in front of Smith

GLENDALE, Ariz. Jonathan Toews gave his assessment after the Blackhawks 3-2 overtime loss to Phoenix on Thursday. They did a lot of good things, played their game for the most part. Just a few little tweaks needed to be done.

Two of them include eradicating those turnovers and making life a lot harder on Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith.

The Blackhawks had a rough second period in which they struggled to move and turned the puck over. That, and lack of hard-to-see shots against Smith were costly in their loss. So the Blackhawks talked on Friday about shoring up a few things.

The second period we had the puck on our stick; it wasnt like they had to make any indirect plays, said coach Joel Quenneville, who added that there could be some changes for Game 2. We have to be more effective, efficient in that area. The onus is on the puck carrier to be responsible.

The Blackhawks had particular trouble midway through the second period, when clearing the puck from their zone became an ordeal. The Coyotes tied the game on that prolonged possession, which had a tired group of Blackhawks on the ice.

Marian Hossa said the team may have gotten too particular on its passing.

It felt like the first period was really good and the second started turning pucks over. Maybe we tried to make big plays too much instead of keeping it simple in the neutral zone. Maybe chip it in and go for it instead of always finding tape-to-tape passes.

Once they get that taken care of they can get back to attacking Smith. Yes, the Blackhawks fired plenty of shots at him in Game 1; 45 to be exact. But the big, mobile Smith could see most of them en route to stopping 43. Meanwhile, it was the Coyotes getting those deflected, traffic-bred goals, and the Blackhawks know they need more of those in their game.

Hes a good goaltender, and hes going to see a lot of pucks. Traffic is probably the biggest thing, Patrick Kane said. We have to get traffic around the net, try to squeak some by him. Hes going to stop the ones he sees.

The Game 1 loss wasnt the end of the world, but it was a wake-up call. This is not going to be an easy series against a gritty, opportunistic team with a red-hot goaltender. The Blackhawks will make their tweaks and hopefully make a bigger statement come Game 2.

Its not fun to lose Game 1 but we have a long way to go. Well bounce back from this, Toews said. Well improve on certain details and well be just fine. Well be even tougher to play against. We want to steal one here tomorrow night and go home with a good feeling and not let that get away from us.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?