Blackhawks

Five reasons why the Blackhawks have been finding success

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USA TODAY

Five reasons why the Blackhawks have been finding success

About two weeks ago the Blackhawks were frustrated, the inconsistencies they developed in October carrying over to early November. But things have been looking up lately. Following their 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, the Blackhawks are now 4-1-1 in their last six games.

Are the Blackhawks finally putting things together? That remains to be seen. Until this develops a little more, let’s look at what’s worked for the Blackhawks in their recent successful run.

1. Corey Crawford is still being Corey Crawford. Crawford has had one bad game this season, the 7-5 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 12. Outside of that he’s been outstanding. There’s no doubt the Blackhawks leaned on him too much earlier this season, and he did well despite not getting much scoring on the other side. Now he’s getting the necessary support.

2. Special teams are working. The Blackhawks were already enjoying a strong penalty kill again, and it’s continued to be rather successful in their last six games (three goals allowed on 20 opportunities). But the power play is also improving. The Blackhawks are just getting back to simplicity on that, avoiding unnecessary passes and shooting the puck more. As a result, they have six power-play goals on their last 22 advantages.

3. Top lines are waking up. You could’ve picked a name out of a hat and selected a Blackhawks player who was struggling to score. Some, including Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, have broken out of their doldrums the last few games. Brandon Saad’s goal against Florida, part of a seven-shot first period against the Panthers, was just his second since Oct. 10. Jonathan Toews’ goal on Saturday, part of a three-point night, was his third this month. The Blackhawks need everyone on board but especially their top six forwards. Perhaps this is the beginning of more production.

4. Staying calm. On Nov. 11 the Blackhawks didn’t panic when they were down 4-2 to Carolina, and they came back to win. On Nov. 18 they didn’t freak out when Pittsburgh scored a short-handed goal to tie them 1-1, as Anisimov scored 21 seconds later. Too often this season if the Blackhawks gave up a goal or made a mistake, it snowballed into more bad results. Now they’re starting to keep their wits about them. That’s more like them.

5. Team stability. Be it the forward lines or the defensive pairs, the Blackhawks have avoided the blender lately. Sure, that usually happens when they string victories together. But it’s allowed the Blackhawks to get more comfortable with where they are in the lineup and, where necessary, helped them build chemistry. Blackhawks players usually say they don’t mind who they play with but leaving things alone has yielded the right results.

Why Vinnie Hinostroza has been a hidden gem for Blackhawks

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Why Vinnie Hinostroza has been a hidden gem for Blackhawks

When looking back on the 2017-18 season, it's easy to single out Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz as the two most notable silver linings for the Blackhawks, both of whom showed real promise as important pieces going forward.

But lost in the shuffle — or quietly flying under the radar — has been Vinnie Hinostroza, in part because he started the year in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs when he probably didn't deserve to.

"Obviously I wanted to start off the year here, but going down there, I knew that if I played well I'd be back up here and that's what they told me leaving camp," Hinostroza said. "I got to go down there, play a lot of minutes, play in every situation. I learned a lot and I think it helped my game."

It was perhaps more-so a numbers game, and Hinostroza was a guy the Blackhawks could send to Rockford without having to go through the waiver process. It also wasn't the worst thing for his long-term development.

Not surprisingly, Hinostroza flourished with the IceHogs by averaging nearly a point-per-game with nine goals and 13 assists in 23 games. He was more than ready to be promoted.

It just took a while because the Blackhawks were carrying the maximum amount of skaters (23) and there weren't any injuries to open up a spot.

Eventually, the Blackhawks decided they couldn't ignore his offensive production any longer and placed Tanner Kero on waivers — which he cleared — to make room for Hinostroza, who was recalled on Dec. 8.

And when he finally got his chance with the big club, Hinostroza took advantage.

He set career-highs in all three scoring categories with seven goals and 18 assists for 25 points in 50 games despite having only two points in the final 15 contests.

The underlying numbers supported his value, too.

When Hinostroza was on the ice at even strength, the Blackhawks controlled 54.57 percent of the shot attempts and had a high-danger Goals For percentage of 58.33, according to naturalstattrick.com.

He also had a points-per-60 minutes rate of 1.98 during 5-on-5 play; only Patrick Kane had a higher one (2.16) on the Blackhawks.

Hinostroza did all this while bouncing around from the first line to the fourth line, meaning it gave Joel Quenneville the luxury to put him anywhere and expect his offensive production to stay the same. His versatility in that sense, along with being able to play any of the three forward positions, makes him a valuable piece of this club.

The Blackhawks know that, and envision him as part of the long-term picture. Not bad for the Bartlett native who was taken in the sixth round (169th overall) in 2012 by his hometown team.

"I want to make it clear our No. 1 priority as we move forward is to make sure we can keep these young players — DeBrincat and Schmaltz and Hinostroza and some other young players that are going to maybe join our team over the next year or two," GM Stan Bowman said. "That's the direction that we're headed, and we want those guys to be Blackhawks and to take a bigger role."

Patrick Sharp to serve as guest NHL analyst for NBC Sports' Stanley Cup Playoff coverage

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Patrick Sharp to serve as guest NHL analyst for NBC Sports' Stanley Cup Playoff coverage

Despite announcing his retirement from the NHL this season, Patrick Sharp insisted he's not going anywhere.

And he won't be.

The three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks will be serving as a guest analyst on NHL Live tonight and Wednesday during NBC Sports' first-round Stanley Cup Playoff coverage, appearing on the pregame show at 5:30 p.m., breaking down the intermissions of Blue Jackets vs. Capitals and Jets vs. Wild.

Sharp will join Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick for Columbus-Washington and Kathryn Tappen, Anson Carter and Roenick for Winnipeg-Minnesota.

Perhaps we're seeing a little glimpse of what Sharp's future post-playing career could hold?