Blackhawks

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime loss to Maple Leafs

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime loss to Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night:

1. Anton Forsberg stands on his head.

Due to Corey Crawford's remarkable numbers against Montreal, Joel Quenneville elected to go with Forsberg between the pipes in Toronto and it turned out to be a solid decision despite the overall result.

He stopped 39 of 43 shots (.906 save percentage) in his official team debut, and essentially stole a point for the Blackhawks, who were outshot 43-21. The only blemish was a soft goal he allowed on Toronto's first goal of the game, when Nikita Zaitsev slipped a shot past Forsberg's five-hole.

Other than that, he picked up exactly where he left off in preseason.

2. Saad-Toews-Panik line continues to impress.

We're already running out of things to say about this trio. They've been one of the best lines in hockey to open the season, and they were far and away the best line for the Blackhawks in this one again.

Jonathan Toews scored his second goal in as many games, which was assisted by linemates Richard Panik and Brandon Saad, that gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead in the first period. Panik added a power play goal in the third, giving the three of them a combined nine goals and six assists through three games.

They were also the only three players on the Blackhawks to finish with positive even-strength possession numbers against a Maple Leafs club that absolutely dominated in that area.

3. Nick Schmaltz's absence felt.

The Blackhawks got away with not having their second-line center in Saturday's game against Columbus, but they couldn't overcome it Monday.

Patrick Kane (minus-25 Corsi), Ryan Hartman (minus-20) and Artem Anisimov (minus-18) had the worst even-strength possession numbers among all skaters, and were all held pointless.

Schmaltz is a huge part of this Blackhawks team. His speed changes the way that line plays, and his absence is magnified when he's not in there because it puts more offensive responsibility on the bottom six centers who have a defense-first mentality and are pushed up into the lineup.

4. Forsling-Rutta pairing strong again.

The Blackhawks spent a lot of time in their own end, but Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta had to be the best pairing in the loss.

Rutta scored a goal for the second straight game, and added an assist later on for his first multi-point game in the NHL. He now has two goals and two assists during his three-game point streak.

Forsling has also recorded a point in three consecutive games, all of which have been assists. He slapshotted a perfect pass off the end boards that ricocheted right to Panik, who buried home Chicago's third goal. Forsling finished with five shot attempts, tied for the team lead with a pair of blocked shots and logged 16:23 of ice time, 3:26 of which came on the penalty kill.

5. Busy evening for special teams.

There were 13 penalties committed between the two teams, leading to plenty of whistles and man advantages.

The Blackhawks had six power-play opportunities and cashed in on one of them, while the Maple Leafs also converted on one of their eight chances. Toronto has scored a power play goal in each of its first three games, and lead the league with a 37.5 percent success rate.

And it probably could've added one or two more if it weren't for Forsberg's strong play in net.

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but players understand juggling act

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USA TODAY

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but players understand juggling act

For Jordan Oesterle, the wait really wasn’t a terrible thing.

Sure, he was used to playing more consistently in the past. But he knew with the Blackhawks carrying eight defensemen that several players, including him, would need to practice patience and understanding.

“It hasn’t been too long. It’s only been a week and a half so it’s not terrible,” said Oesterle on Thursday morning, a few hours before he made his Blackhawks debut against his former team, the Edmonton Oilers.

For the second consecutive season the Blackhawks are going with eight defensemen to start the season. In one way, it’s good: if anything goes awry, be it someone’s game or someone’s health, the depth is readily there.

But so are the challenges. It’s a juggling act, a delicate balance between making the right decisions and making sure a player understands that a scratch may be more about the rotation and not his individual game.

Communication, above all, is key.

“It’s not easy being the guys who are in or out, right on that bubble situation where you come in not knowing if you’re going to play. But as a staff we want to keep everyone involved,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We know the depth of your defense is going to get challenged at some point during the year. We feel the eight guys who are here can play but that’s how we’ve always done it: We’ve always let guys know whether you’re in or out. Sometimes you have to be more patient than you’d like but handling it the right way, whether you’re a good pro or teammate, that can be healthy around the environment of your team.”

Based on all outward appearances, everyone has handled it well. Connor Murphy has been a healthy scratch twice – “I mean I just want to see the team win really...if we're winning and guys are playing well that's all that matter,” Murphy said after his first scratch.

Oesterle was a healthy scratch the first seven games. Michal Kempny, who Oesterle replaced, has been scratched the last two games. Cody Franson has also sat seven games. Franson, whose patience has been in place while awaiting contracts in his career, is practicing it again. But he’s appreciated the Blackhawks’ communication on it.

“This situation gets tough when they don’t say anything to you; you don’t know if it’s because of the way you’re playing, you don’t know if it’s something you did or what the situation is. The coaching staff has done a great job of being in our ear, letting us leave our work at the rink and not take it home with us,” Franson said. “That goes a long way in being able to stay positive and in the right mindset through it.”

After starting with eight defensemen last season the Blackhawks eventually went back to seven. Will they do that again this season? Maybe, but whoever gets sent down would most likely have to go through waivers. The Blackhawks reassigned Gustav Forsling last season to get back to seven defensemen and get Forsling more playing time. But this season Forsling and Jan Rutta have been dependable and have pretty much become the Blackhawks’ second pairing.

So for now, eight defensemen it shall be. Being part of the rotation isn’t always easy but so far players seem to get that it’s for the greater good.

“It’s one of those things where we’ve got eight quality guys. I think no matter who’s sitting on any given night, it might not necessary be due to how they’re playing or how they’re doing individually,” Franson said. “I think Q’s done a great job of managing that situation. That’s one of those things where it’s a great problem to have but it’s not an easy one to handle. So we’re all aware of what’s taking place right now and you just try to be as professional about it as you can.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night:
 
1. Surviving a crazy first period.

The Blackhawks committed four penalties in the opening frame within a 2:18 span, and escaped unscathed from it despite a pair of 5-on-3 opportunities for the Coyotes.

Of course, the only goal allowed in the period came from a fluke deflection off Jordan Oesterle's stick and slipped underneath Corey Crawford's five-hole.

Joel Quenneville likes to say the team that takes advantage of their 5-on-3 opportunities has a pretty good chance to win the game. It applied in this case, with the Blackhawks coming out victorious after surviving that stretch.

2. Power play comes alive early.

The Blackhawks got off on the right foot in an area that has been an issue for them this season, capitalizing on their first power play of the game 24 seconds into it when Richard Panik redirected a Jonathan Toews shot that tricked past Louis Domingue.

Good thing too, because it was the only man advantage they'd get. Well, excluding the power play they received with 17 seconds left in regulation when the game was already decided. 
 
3. Another controversial review in Arizona.

What's with it with controversial reviews in Arizona and the Blackhawks being on the wrong end of the call?

The Blackhawks appeared to have taken a 3-1 lead when Tommy Wingels converted on a penalty shot, but it was overturned after officials reviewed it and determined the Coyotes netminder got a stick on Wingels' initial shot. Replays didn't exactly show conclusive evidence, but the NHL released a statement proving otherwise:

Video review determined that Wingels shot the puck into the net after Arizona goaltender Louis Domingue made contact with the puck. According to Rule 24.2, "No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind."

Shortly after, the Coyotes scored in the final minutes of the period to even up the score at 2-2 in a big turn of events at the time.
 
4. ... But puck don't lie.

The overturned penalty shot didn't matter in the end though, because the Blackhawks came away with the victory and Wingels ended up getting his first goal after all on an empty netter that iced the game.

It was Wingels' first goal as a member of his hometown team, and it was well deserved for a guy who was part of the fourth line that turned in arguably their best performance of the season.
 
5. Lance Bouma rewarded with game-winning goal.

Speaking of which, it was fitting that Bouma scored the game winner with 4:24 left in the third period because that trio of Bouma, Wingels and John Hayden was around the net for the majority of the night.

They combined for two goals and two assists, had eight attempts shot attempts (five on goal), eight of the team's 16 hits and four blocked shots.