Blackhawks

All grown up: Leddy found his niche

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All grown up: Leddy found his niche

Nick Leddy has had to grow up in a hurry. On the ice, anyway.

Just 19 when he made the Blackhawks team last fall, Leddy did a solid job. And coming into this season, with the losses of puck movers Brian Campbell and Chris Campoli, Leddy was expected to pick up a good deal of that slack.

So far hes doing just fine with the new responsibilities.

Leddy has been effective as a puck-moving defenseman and has found his niche as Duncan Keiths partner. He picked up two more assists in the Blackhawks 5-2 victory over Columbus on Saturday night, giving him six points in 10 games this season. Thats one point shy of what he had in 46 games last season.

I like the way he comes up the ice with his speed, in the zone, coach Joel Quenneville said on Saturday night. He made a great poke-check to sustain the play (on Viktor Stalbergs first goal). He has good patience. Hes just one of those players who should keep getting better as he keeps going.

But whether it was last season when he was thrust onto a depth-depleted defensive core or this season with bigger responsibilities, Leddys mindset hasnt changed.

The coaching staff told me to just play my game, he said. So thats what I tried to focus on.

Pairing with Keith helps the progression, too. The duo played together a little at the end of last year, and when Keith talks, Leddy listens.

If Im not doing something he likes or that I can work on, hell let me know, Leddy said. Having him as my partner has helped me learn the little things.

Keith said Leddys adapted to the changes and greater responsibilities well.

I think its just a matter of him getting his feet wet last year and he feels more comfortable last year, Keith said. You can tell with his skating ability. He can do a lot of things out there. Plays the right side, which as a lefty isnt always the easiest side to play. He plays it well and he has a lot of confidence over there, too.

Leddys already had to learn a lot in his young pro career. Hes handling it all well and the Blackhawks are benefiting from it.

You see his speed and physically hes so much more mature than last year, Jonathan Toews said. Confidence-wise hes not afraid to play his own game out there. Hes not worried about Duncs, hes not worried about getting the pucks to anybody. Hes just skating and making plays as he sees fit.

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

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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

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USA TODAY

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."