Blackhawks' Andrew Ladd receives roaring ovation in Winnipeg return


Blackhawks' Andrew Ladd receives roaring ovation in Winnipeg return

By Darrin Bauming contributor

WINNIPEG — In a hockey-crazed town where countless No. 16 jerseys adorned with a 'C' are still donned proudly by fans of a player no longer on their favorite team. Consider, to this day, only one man has ever worn the captain's 'C' for the modern iteration of the Winnipeg Jets.

And to the surprise of no one, when Andrew Ladd stepped onto the MTS Centre ice for the first time since his trade to the Blackhawks on Feb. 25, a roaring and proud ovation for Winnipeg's former captain followed a brief tribute on the big screen.

Ladd raised his stick in acknowledgement.

Ladd's "welcome home," as teammate Patrick Kane called it, was capped with his 20th goal of the season — his third in nine games since joining his new club and the third of the night in his Blackhawks' 4-0 blanking of the Jets — followed by a peculiar and delayed response by Jets fans when they realized their former hero scored in their rink once again.

[SHOP: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

"I always appreciated the fans and really the people of Winnipeg when I was here," said Ladd of his reception from the sold-out crowd of 15,294. "I appreciate the ovations and I really can't say enough about the city."

"It was different off the hop," added Ladd. "It's a weird feeling looking across and seeing a lot of friends and being back in this rink on the other side. But as the game went on it kind of got more into just playing hockey. A big two points for us. It's nice to get back into the win column."

Ladd, who led the Jets in scoring twice in his four-plus seasons in Winnipeg, has been paired with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews near consistently since re-joining the club where he won his second Stanley Cup in 2010. He has three goals and five points since being acquired by the Blackhawks on Feb. 25.

"(He's) comparable. He's on the puck. His quickness. He goes to the net. Good forechecker. Good along the wall. Good in tight areas," said Joel Quenneville, listing off Ladd's qualities, having now coached him in Chicago twice. "A competitive guy. That's what we had when we had him before, and I think he improved along the way here in Winnipeg. And we'll get the experience with him at this stage."

[MORE: Blackhawks get back on track with shutout win over Jets]

"He was such a well-liked guy in the room. They'll be happy for him," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "Other than (Dustin) Byfuglien saying he might take a run at him, everyone's happy to see Andrew." 

But there were no crushing blows from a 260-pound blueliner — as Byfuglien joked pre-game, and no bloody noses via the elbow of Andrew Ladd, as his former teammate spit back.

Ladd just went to work, as he always has, and scored a goal in the rink where he has many times before since the Atlanta Thrashers relocated in the summer of 2011.

"That was awesome," added Kane of Ladd's goal Friday. "From the outside, he looked like he was ready to go tonight. He had a jump in his step and it was pretty cool the way the fans treated him. I thought that was awesome."

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line


The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?


Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Jonathan Toews sits down with Pat Boyle for a 1-on-1 interview. Toews weighs in on his season with Brandon Saad, whether he expects major changes this offseason and has the championship window closed?

Also, Adam Burish joins the podcast and plays the game: “Building block, not sure, or no thanks.” Burish runs down the Blackhawks forwards and predicts whether or not they have a future with the team.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: