Blackhawks

Blackhawks cruise past Oilers for fifth straight win

Blackhawks cruise past Oilers for fifth straight win

EDMONTON, Alberta – There have been times where the Blackhawks have gone into breaks playing so-so hockey.

They've looked tired, unmotivated, like they've flipped the calendar to their off day a few hours too early. But on Saturday, the Blackhawks looked like a team that was going to earn a few days off.

Richard Panik had two goals and an assist and Jonathan Toews added two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-1 on Saturday night. The Blackhawks went 5-1-0 on their Ice Show trip and enter the break on a five-game winning streak, three points behind the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild.

Patrick Kane had a goal and and two assists. Scott Darling stopped 30 of 31 shots for the victory and Artem Anisimov scored his 20th goal of the season.

The Blackhawks got steadily better on this road trip and they saved their most convincing victory on it for the end.  Patrick Maroon gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead four minutes into the game after Connor McDavid picked Niklas Hjalmarsson's pocket. That was pretty much the last time the Blackhawks were caught playing careful.

"We're playing good hockey," Darling said. "That's a super talented team with a lot of skill. We weathered the storm and took over the game. We played 200-foot hockey and that helped give me an easier night."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Indeed, when the Oilers made mistakes, they capitalized – Trevor van Riemsdyk's goal off Oscar Klefbom's gaffe was one such example. Their power play was stellar. Kane scored from behind the net on one advantage, shooting the puck off Edmonton goaltender Cam Talbot's skate. Panik cleaned up a rebound on the second, which gave the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead late in the second period.

The four-line rotation was evident again but the top line did the most damage. Panik had his second three-point night of the season – his other one was his hat trick against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 15.

"If you get a goal your confidence is high," Panik said. "When you're hot you have to keep doing it as long as it goes because if you go on a cold streak you can go on it for a while. That's what happened to me at the beginning of the season."

Considering how well the Blackhawks are playing right now you wouldn't have been surprised to hear a player or two wish they could delay the bye and keep playing. Nope. As Darling said, "we'll be back pretty quick."

"We'll use it to our advantage," Duncan Keith said. "We'll try to use it to rest up and feel as good as we can, come back and try to carry on the momentum. At the end of the day it's been a good stretch of games here lately. All four lines, defensemen and goalies are playing great. It's just something we can keep in our heads, of what we can do."

The Blackhawks have had a habit of sliding into a break. They could've done it again on Saturday, coming off big victories over the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets and playing on the second night of a back to back. Instead, whatever energy they had remaining, they used it wisely.

"Minny, which had our number going back eight games, we knew the importance of that game. Winnipeg owned four games against us and good response [Friday] night. Earlier this season we got pounded here. Good response all three games," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're certainly happy how we're going into the break. Everyone should enjoy it, knowing we put a nice standard going into it."

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night:
 
1. Nick Schmaltz returns but sizzle doesn’t.

You didn’t expect the fireworks of the season opener but you figured Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane would connect pretty quickly again. The speed was certainly there. The connections on passes were not. It wasn’t just that second line, though: it was another night on which the Blackhawks’ offense was sluggish. 
 
2. Tripping along.

I joked that tripping is the new slashing. Maybe that’s not the case league-wide but it was for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks took five tripping penalties overall, including three in the first period. It was a clear sign that the Blackhawks were trying to play catch-up all night, and they didn’t fare well at it.
 
3. Power play gets something but…

It took until late in the third period (when the Blackhawks’ offense seems to get going lately). The Blackhawks got two late power-play goals, a reminder of what they can do when they battle for the puck and show some spark.

“Our sense of urgency in the puck area, be it 5-on-5 or on the power play, that’s the differential of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and making plays off it is one of our strengths,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t do that very often and we haven’t won many battles.”
 
4. Starting slow.

Why these are happening is a mystery, and they’ve been most evident in the Blackhawks’ last three games, which have all come against division opponents. Too much relying on Corey Crawford again and not much in terms of shots, be it quality or quantity through the first two periods. The Blackhawks were outshot 17-8 through the first 40 minutes on Wednesday. While they created little they gave up way too much.
 
5. Patrick Sharp OK?

Sharp was injured late on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks-Blues game got chippy in the final five-plus minutes. Quenneville thought Sharp was fine but he wasn’t positive at the time of his postgame press conference.

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks’ first tripping came barely a minute into the game. Then came another one. And another. And another. And another. Despite welcoming one of their fastest players back into the lineup, the Blackhawks were overall flat-footed and playing catch-up all night, be it on the ice or on the scoreboard, to the St. Louis Blues.

Nick Schmaltz returned but the effect on the second line and the Blackhawks overall wasn’t immediate. Instead the Blackhawks looked sluggish. Their offensive opportunities were few – a one and done here and there but no sustained zone time or pressure on Blues goaltender Jake Allen – their passing was off and they were on the defensive all night.

And then there were the tripping penalties. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill held up through it, nullifying all five Blues power-play opportunities. But the Blues found other ways to inflict their damage.

“They played well and we were brutal,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was a bad start, a bad middle and even [though] it was a little excited at the end it wasn’t very good. That’s as close to brutal as you can get.”

The Blackhawks’ last three games have common themes: they’re outshot for a good part of the game, they’re giving up a good amount of quality shots and then the urgency hits them midway through the third period. For the third consecutive contest the Blackhawks scored two goals late and in two of those three games it wasn’t nearly enough.

“Obviously it wasn’t good enough for two periods. If you take any positives out of this game, it’s the way we played in the third,” Patrick Kane said. “At least we know we can do it. Just gotta do it before our backs are against the wall.”

Why it’s taking the Blackhawks so long to get going, however, is the question. Obviously the Blackhawks’ late third-period pushes show how capable they are of producing when necessary. Said Alex DeBrincat, who assisted on Ryan Hartman’s goal late in regulation, “If we’re would’ve been crashing the net like that all game it may have been a different story.”

But they didn’t. The Blackhawks welcomed back a teammate that’s injected speed into their lineup but the team was once again stumbling out of the gate.

“We’re supposed to be out there, giving our all every minute we’re out there and every shift, go out there and take it a shift at a time and give it all you got every shift,” Hartman said. “We have four lines that can roll so there’s no excuse for not going out there and putting all your energy out there for a shift and getting ready for the next one.”