Blackhawks continue trending in right direction, but can't complete comeback vs. Predators


Blackhawks continue trending in right direction, but can't complete comeback vs. Predators

For the Blackhawks on Tuesday, it was a mix. A good start, a so-so middle and not enough at the end. Against a red-hot Nashville Predators team and on the second half of a back-to-back, the Blackhawks could take some good out of their 3-2 loss.


“For the most part we played a pretty good road game. That being said the only thing that matters is the two points,” Tommy Wingels said. “While we’re happy with some aspects, we didn’t come away with the two points.”

Considering some of their squandered opportunities earlier this season, the Blackhawks are certainly looking for two points every chance they can get them. But Tuesday’s game wasn’t some lopsided mess. It wasn’t the dismal failure of last April. It was a close game in which Pekka Rinne stymied the Blackhawks just enough (especially Patrick Kane early).

Not that some issues couldn’t have been avoided. The Blackhawks went through their second-period swoon again and by the start of the third period they were down 3-1 to a Predators team that was 8-1-1 at Bridgestone Arena entering Tuesday’s game. The Blackhawks know from history, especially recent history, that the Predators will take advantage of any hiccup.

“Great start, second period we slowed down a bit and tried to come back being down two,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had a couple of looks there at the end but they’re a good hockey team. You can’t have a lull in the game and you gotta keep the pace up.”

Anton Forsberg had a solid outing, stopping 28 of 31 in the loss. He was beaten cleanly early (Filip Forsberg’s game-opening goal). Austin Watson’s go-ahead 2-1 goal got another look when Quenneville challenged for goaltender interference, but officials ruled it was incidental contact.

“I didn’t understand how it went in, because it was going wide. I reached my arm over there. I asked the ref afterward and he said that my arm was outside and if it had been inside and he would’ve had contact with me, it would be no goal,” Forsberg said. “But my arm was outside. That’s what happened.”

Roman Josi’s game winner went off Brent Seabrook’s stick and past Forsberg.

The Blackhawks have been playing a lot better as of late. They’re producing again. They’re getting solid goaltending. They’re doing a lot of things right. But as they were reminded on Tuesday, having lulls against a surging team can still be costly.

“I think we got away from our game a little bit in the second period. They outshot us, out chanced us. For whatever reason we were on our heels but other than that it was a good effort,” Wingels said. “It’s a tough team, a tough building to play in. We wish we would’ve done better.”

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

For Alex DeBrincat, it was probably nice to hear Chelsea Dagger again.

But how about three times?

The 20-year-old rookie snapped out of a 13-game scoring drought in a big way on Sunday night, recording his third hat trick of the season. DeBrincat did all he could to help give the Blackhawks two points, but they only came away with one in a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

DeBrincat is now the first rookie in franchise history with three hat tricks in the same season, passing Steve Larmer. His last two hat tricks came against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 27, 2017 and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 25.

"It's pretty cool," DeBrincat said of his third hat trick, "but I wouldn't be able to do that without the guys we have in this locker room and the linemates I've had. Most credit to them."

Entering Sunday, his last goal was on Feb. 17 against the Washington Capitals.

"Obviously it's frustrating when you go through a slump that like that but what I've learned is to stay positive and there's other things you can help your team win with," DeBrincat said. "Just kind of focus on those things."

He netted goals No. 23, 24 and 25 on the season, tying Patrick Kane for the team lead. He is also tied for second among goals scored by a rookie this season.

DeBrincat opened the scoring with nice wrist shot on the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead midway through the first. With less than a minute to go in the period, he tapped one home in front of the net to make it 2-0.

In the third period with the game tied at 3-3, DeBrincat put his team in front 4-3 with 3:13 left in regulation. 

“We were talking about [DeBrincat] today, it had been a while since he had scored," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But whether he scores or not, he does a lot of good things in the game, and he’s very aware of his positioning, and doing the right things, finding pucks, getting in shooting lanes, or denying passing lanes. So he’s effective in a lot of ways, but nice to see him score a nice power-play goal today.”

But Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo even things up again after a shot from the point found its way past J-F Berube with 1:22 left. Patrik Berglund would net the game-winner in overtime to hand the Blackhawks a loss.

"I feel like we’ve played well and we just came up a little bit short," DeBrincat said. "I feel like that’s been the theme of this whole season.”

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line


The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.