Starving for goals, Blackhawks need to show hunger to break out of losing stretch


Starving for goals, Blackhawks need to show hunger to break out of losing stretch

When the Blackhawks began training camp in September, the goal was clear. It didn’t matter how many points they had in the 2016-17 regular season; the abrupt postseason end was ugly, stunning and forgettable. From the start this season, they had to play hungry hockey.

“A big part of what we gotta do here is get to the playoffs, and you’ve got to have a good regular season,” Brent Seabrook said when camp began. “The playoffs last year didn’t sit well with me, and I’m sure it didn’t sit well with a lot of other guys that were here. So we’re going to be ready to roll right off the start, and we want to get in a good position to have the best spot we can for the playoffs.”

In the Blackhawks’ first two regular-season games that hunger was evident. They were relentless, confident and seemingly scoring at will. But the Blackhawks’ course has taken a U-turn since then. Hesitation has replaced aggressiveness. They’re in a goal drought, be it 5-on-5 or the power play. And when doubt creeps into this team’s game, it’s hard to shake.

When the Blackhawks fell 6-3 on Saturday night in Colorado, it was their third consecutive loss and fifth regulation loss in their last eight games. For a team that came out of the gates so strong, the latest batch of games is a concern.

Let’s look at the Blackhawks’ last 10 games. There have definitely been vintage Blackhawks hockey moments. They’ve had 20 minutes here, 40 minutes there, but the complete games have eluded them for a while. On Friday the Blackhawks’ first period was one of their best of the season, right up there with their first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 5. Despite that dominating first period, the Blackhawks led just 1-0 on an Artem Anisimov short-handed goal. But when Duncan Keith’s mistake led to Nashville’s tying goal the Blackhawks seemed to deflate. For those of us who have watched the Blackhawks the last few seasons, shaking off miscues and recovering fast was always a big part of their game. The Blackhawks came on with a better third against the Predators, but there’s no doubt they let that one mistake affect them too long.

“Mistakes are going to happen,” Patrick Kane said on Friday. “When it does happen we have to stay the course, try to keep that momentum we had or regain it, whatever it is.”

Maybe the Blackhawks’ wealth of regular-season success is more of a hindrance than a help. Outwardly they don’t get rattled, especially at this time of year. "It’s a long season. There’s time to work things out." It’s been a long time since they’ve had to scratch and claw their way into the postseason, but if they keep going on their current path, they might have to do that.

The Blackhawks have all the tools to be successful. There’s no shortage of talent, no shortage of ability, no shortage of winning pedigree. What the Blackhawks seem to be lacking right now is hunger, and if they don’t work up the necessary appetite soon, it could be a long season.

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

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


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."