Blackhawks

Alex DeBrincat has played well all year, but now the goals are coming and that's good for the Blackhawks

Alex DeBrincat has played well all year, but now the goals are coming and that's good for the Blackhawks

Alex DeBrincat was coming off a great individual weekend, four points (including three goals) through two games that went in very different directions for the Blackhawks. And DeBrincat’s focus was more on the latter than on his own numbers.

“It’s nice to have. I mean, the first game (vs. Carolina) was a pretty big win for us and we had a good start to the second game (vs. New Jersey) but we kind of fell apart there,” he said. “It just would’ve been better if we had won both games, but it’s kind of a good start for me to keep moving from.”

Let’s be clear: DeBrincat has played well pretty much from the start. There’s a reason he made this team out of camp and even if he’s not scoring points, he’s shown a good all-around game that the Blackhawks have liked. Points, nevertheless, are always encouraging.

“Well, we’ve been encouraged every single day we’ve seen him this year. Out of camp, (the questions were) could he handle the pace, the size, the strength, the intelligence of different players? How he could play without the puck and defensively, was he strong enough to overcome that part of his game? On both sides of the puck he gives us great instincts, play recognition,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “The fact he’s starting to score a little bit more gives us an added sniper. But he does a lot of good things, not just scoring. He compliments your team game.”

Usually going on a scoring tear means moving up in the lineup, but for now DeBrincat remains on the Blackhawks’ third line — he skated there Tuesday with Patrick Sharp and Tommy Wingels. He and Sharp have worked together a good amount this season, so there’s familiarity there. Sharp’s been impressed with what he’s seen from DeBrincat from the start and said DeBrincat’s recent scoring burst should boost his confidence.

“Being a guy who’s scored in streaks and bunches, as well, I know what it feels like to get a couple. I think it started a week or two ago with those empty-net goals. They all mean the same at the end of the day; makes you hold your head up a little higher, feel good about yourself,” Sharp said. “You can see his confidence with the puck. He’s going to the dangerous areas, and guys that he’s playing with, they’re starting to find him now. He’s a good goal scorer, we knew that, and it seems like he’s hitting his stride right now.”

DeBrincat started this season on the right, went back to his more familiar left and has bounced back to the right. Doesn’t seem to matter anymore which side he plays, outside of one thing.

“It’s a matter of remembering what side you’re on to get back in the zone,” DeBrincat said with a laugh. “No, it doesn’t really matter. I think it’s pretty easy for me to change around. I’ve played every position, so it’s not too bad.”

The Blackhawks already knew what they had in DeBrincat. Still, racking up some points for a team that — outside of Sunday — has struggled to do so bodes well for the Blackhawks’ team game and his individual confidence.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."