Blackhawks

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Devils

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Devils

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the New Jersey Devils Sunday on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Brian Boyle.

The city of Chicago and the entire hockey community has rallied around Blackhawks TV analyst Eddie Olczyk as he continues to battle through colon cancer, and what's made it inspiring is Edzo's will to keep making several appearances on the broadcast in between his treatments. New Jersey is going through something similar with Brian Boyle, who was diagnosed with leukemia in September.

And he didn't stay down for long, either.

Boyle made his season debut earlier this month against Vancouver, then scored his first goal of the season on Thursday against Edmonton. It was an emotional moment, and we're all behind both of them.

2. Can second line build off last night?

Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane combined for only one point in Saturday's 4-3 overtime win against Carolina, but they were arguably the best line of the night for the Blackhawks.

It was the first time Schmaltz played wing this season, despite spending a majority of last season there. He and Kane compliment each other well, as does Anisimov, who's that big-bodied center and can provide net front presence. 

Let's see if that line can stick for now.

3. Red Tilson Trophy​ winner meets Hobey Baker Award winner.

Battle royale!

Last season, both Alex DeBrincat and Will Butcher helped spearhead their respective teams to the top of their leagues and finished their junior and college careers by taking home some individual hardware as well.

DeBrincat put up video-game numbers in the Ontario Hockey League, where he compiled 65 goals and 62 assists for 127 points in 63 games to win the Red Tilson Trophy as the league's top player. 

Butcher captained Denver University to its first NCAA championship since 2005 after scoring seven goals and 30 assists in 43 games, and became the first defenseman to win the Hobey Baker Award as college's top player since Matt Gilroy in 2009.

The 19-year-old DeBrincat has five goals and five assists in 17 games, including six points in as many games, for the Blackhawks this season while the 22-year-old Butcher has 13 assists in 16 games for the Devils. 

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?

Blackhawks’ much-maligned power play is now clicking

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks’ much-maligned power play is now clicking

It’s an annual rite of passage if you cover or are a fan of the Blackhawks: you question the power play, because there always seems to be an issue with the power play. You wonder why every season, given the talent on this team. And again this fall the power play has sputtered.

But a funny thing happened at the end of the weekend. The Blackhawks’ power play started to look good, started to generate chances and started to score. In 10 games prior to the Blackhawks’ Nov. 12 game against New Jersey they had just three power-play goals in 40 opportunities. In their last three games (vs. the Devils, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins), they’ve tallied five goals on 13 opportunities.

So what’s been working?

“I’ll probably give you the same answer as when it wasn’t working: pucks to the net, guys in front,” Patrick Sharp said. “We have the shot mentality more so than just moving it around and getting it set up. You look at the goals we’ve scored, it’s nothing overly complicated. It’s just getting the puck to the net. Just stay with it.”

Sounds simple enough, but the stay-with-it part has probably been the toughest segment of the equation. When the Blackhawks slumped they really slumped, and their lack of confidence on the power play was as evident as their lack of scoring on it. Yes, stressing over it can have its affect; and when the Blackhawks got those two power-play goals against the Devils it seemed to be a release.

“You get one, that weight gets lifted off your chest a little bit, you can play a little loser and maybe not grip your stick as tight as when things weren’t going well,” Cody Franson said. “When you’re confident out there you’re moving the puck cleanly, things happen a little quicker for you and give you those better looks at good chances. When you’re not that confident sometimes you’re not executing as well and things were moving slower and you’re not generating too much. Confidence definitely plays a big part in it.”

So back to what’s working. The Blackhawks started becoming more active on the power play, cutting down on the passes and increasing the shots. They’ve been there for rebounds. They started feeding off the success, be it with the power play as a unit or with individual performances. Artem Anisimov has returned to being a force at the net again; of his five goals in his last three games, two are power-play goals.

“A couple of broken plays and sometimes you get some breaks. You win a faceoff and make a quick little play after a couple of great opportunities on the prior whistle there that didn’t go in. I just think shots at the net and traffic and off that, sometimes they go in,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our entries have always been alright this year, so we’re getting zone time and let’s get some simpler looks and sometimes they go in. I think gaining confidence there, it seems like we’re having the puck more and longer and sustaining some offense off it.”

The Blackhawks have struggled more than they’ve succeeded on the power play the last few seasons. But as their overall scoring has increased again, so has their power-play production. Good timing.

“People tend to say the power play can keep you in games and the penalty kill can win you games. Our penalty kill’s been great and has given us chances in a lot of games. [Corey Crawford’s] been playing pretty well,” Franson said. “And when our power play can give us success we find ourselves in better situations to try and win games.”