Blackhawks

Blackhawks adjust quickly to switching sides: 'It’s just a little weird'

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks adjust quickly to switching sides: 'It’s just a little weird'

Patrick Sharp got his position-switching indoctrination when he first joined the Blackhawks.

“Going back to when Savy was coaching, he played me at all three positions nightly,” Sharp said of former Blackhawks coach Denis Savard. “So I got used to bouncing around quite a bit.”

The Blackhawks are like any other team: they’d love to play guys at their most comfortable spots at all times. But sometimes you need to be a little creative. Perhaps cap issues have left you with a lack of depth at a position. Maybe your overall game is off and shaking things up may have an effect. Whatever the reasons players have to be ready to switch to their off side – or their comfortable side – depending on needs. Players adjust accordingly.

“The biggest thing is probably taking pucks on different sides and the breakouts. On the off wing you’re more on the backhand and on the strong side you’re getting more pucks on your forehand, so it’s a little easier coming out,” said Nick Schmaltz, who’s back at his familiar center after playing on the wing last season. “But I think it’s a different look coming into the zone as well; when you’re on your off wing you can cut to the middle and it’ll be on your forehand. But everyone on our team’s pretty high skilled player. It’s a quick adjustment, maybe just take one or two shifts to adjust a little bit.”

Alex DeBrincat has played most of his Blackhawks games at right wing but was moved back to the left side for their victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night. DeBrincat played right wing his first season with the Erie Otters but was mainly a left wing his final two years there. He admits the left feels better.

“It’s easier for me entering the zone if I’m on my left side. That’s the biggest change. But that’ll be easier for me and hopefully I can make some more plays,” said DeBrincat, who scored an empty-net goal on Wednesday. “I mean it doesn’t matter that much. But for me, this side’s going to let me get more shots and let me have a quick release. Those are two things I’ve done in the past and I need to find at this level.”

Jan Rutta is on the other side of that equation. The defenseman has played the right side all but a handful of times, but coach Joel Quenneville put Rutta on the left late in the Blackhawks’ loss to Colorado last weekend.

“It’s just a little weird to be on the left side. The angles are a little bit different,” Rutta said prior to Wednesday’s game. “I wasn’t skating on the left very much but after two practices I felt more comfortable there.”

Different? Sure. But Rutta’s ability to adapt quickly, coupled with Gustav Forsling’s upper-body injury, left Quenneville looking for an option. Quenneville said there were a few adjustments defensemen have to make playing their off sides.

“Sometimes there are some blind spots and you get more familiar coming out of your corner coverage to the net: loose pucks off shots, turning and you have to adapt to seeing the play in front of you,” said Quenneville, who’s been happy with Rutta’s work on the left. “Turning into pucks coming down the ice, you’re familiar going to your left or right. The other way, it’s a different turn. But I think his quickness can help alleviate those type of challenges.”

Players would probably prefer to stay where they’re most comfortable. But if necessary, they’re able to figure it out pretty quickly.

“When you’re playing hockey and making plays, it’s out of your mind,” Sharp said. “Sometimes you gotta remind yourself when you’re lining up for a faceoff, you’re just on autopilot sometimes and go to your natural spot. There are positives and advantages to playing either side. You just have to get the experience doing it.”

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.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks return to action against Islanders

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks return to action against Islanders

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the New York Islanders tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Erik Gustafsson's season debut.

The Blackhawks recalled one of their top defensive prospects on Jan. 9 but haven't been able to get him some game action yet. All signs point to that changing tonight.

He skated on a pairing with Brent Seabrook during Friday's practice, and was even placed on the second power play unit during special teams drills. Joel Quenneville was excited about the possibility of finally getting Gustafsson into the lineup.

"Good option, good opportunity," Quenneville said. "We’re not for sure but certainly he’s been around, he’s eager to go. I look forward to seeing what he can do."

2. Anthony Duclair's promotion.

He hasn't been in Chicago for very long but Duclair is quickly working his way up the lineup. The newly-acquired Blackhawk registered an assist in his team debut last Friday in a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg, and was put on a power play unit as well.

On Friday, Duclair was promoted to the top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews and continued getting reps on the second power-play unit. Let's see if the 22-year-old can take advantage of that opportunity in a top-six role.

3. Mathew Barzal.

Three rookies will be named finalists for the Calder Trophy at the end of the season. Barzal is a lock to be one of them.

He not only leads all rookies with 48 points, but he ranks 15th in the entire league in the scoring race and is the only first-year player averaging at least a point per game. 

The 20-year-old center has been sensational and he already has two five-point games in his young professional career. To put that into perspective, Patrick Kane recorded his first NHL five-point effort two weeks ago against the Ottawa Senators.