Blackhawks

Will a reunion heat up a cold Blackhawks offense?

Will a reunion heat up a cold Blackhawks offense?

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together on the same line. Call it the nuclear option, or the in-case-of-emergency-break-glass combination. It can have a few nicknames but when coach Joel Quenneville resorts to putting those two together, it has only one meaning: The Blackhawks are desperately looking to boost production.

Patrick Sharp joined Toews and Kane at Tuesday’s practice as the Blackhawks continue to try and rekindle their offense. Quenneville has expressed his reluctance to go this route many times in the past, and understandably so: you’re loading up one line and limiting your forward depth quite a bit. But when you’ve reached the point when your team can’t buy a goal, you do what you gotta do.

“Right now we haven’t had the team scoring so we’re trying to get that first and maybe things will look on balance as we’re going along. But I feel if they can score and other lines can score, maybe there’s balance that way, too,” Quenneville said. “We’re just looking at any way right now to recapture what it’s like to score because we know it’s there."

The Blackhawks’ 5-on-5 scoring has been a problem for a while now. The overall stats are deceptive: through 15 games the Blackhawks have 28 goals, which places them 13th in the NHL. But 14 of those 5-on-5 goals came in their first two games against Pittsburgh and Columbus. So they’ve scored just 14 more 5-on-5 goals over their last 13 games. Ouch.

To repeat, in case of emergency…

As for the players involved, they’re ready to give it a shot again.

“You’ve got a playmaker/puck-handler, a grinder, a shooter. We all have speed, we all kind of think the same way,” Sharp said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been a unit but if that line plays next game, hopefully we can do something.”

Toews and Kane are also usually thrown together in the postseason when the Blackhawks are looking for a knockout punch. When they got together for some games last season, the usual magic wasn’t there. Last year, Kane and Artemi Panarin were the magic combo. Still, the Blackhawks need to do something to generate some offense.

“We’re always a good line the three of us. And I’ve always said when I play with Kaner I always seem to be able to disappear and he can buy himself time and space with the puck so well that I can go to the net or go to areas where the puck might show up after we get scoring chances or shots,” Toews said. “With Sharpie, he’s such a good finisher and he can just make plays and always seems to be in the open ice with the puck under control.”

Toews and Kane are together again, this time with Sharp. The glass has been broken. The Blackhawks are desperate to find answers, and getting the band back together again needs to have a ripple effect, fast.

“That's the goal: create some magic,” Kane said. “The biggest thing is we've got three good players on the line so make sure you're not standing around waiting for the other guy to do it. Go and make stuff happen yourself and when you add two players like that, good things should happen.”

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
 
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.