Blackhawks effective power play producing again


Blackhawks effective power play producing again

The Blackhawks got their necessary rebound victory on Friday night. They didn’t need a lot of goals, but the two they did get came from their power play.

Wait: the power play? The same Blackhawks’ power play that has been much maligned these past few years despite the firepower this team possesses? Yes, after being a bane the last few seasons, the power play has truly become an advantage for the Blackhawks again.

The Blackhawks scored both of their goals on the power play on Friday, and entering Saturday’s games the Blackhawks’ advantage is ranked fifth in the NHL (22.2 percent). For a team that’s struggled more than expected in 5-on-5 scoring, the power play’s resurgence has been pivotal.

“We have a lot of different looks, different options,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “The threat for a point shot from the middle opens a lot of things up, then you have play-making down around the net. But net-front presence on both power plays, shot mentality first and improvising off that, it helps when you’re thinking shot first instead of the perfect play.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

So why is the power play so much more effective this season? It doesn’t hurt that Patrick Kane has been on the points roll he has. Ten of Kane’s 19 goals this season have come on the power play; he has five assists on the advantage, too.

Kane’s fellow second liners have also enhanced the Blackhawks’ power play, be it with their points (Artemi Panarin has six assists on it and Artem Anisimov has two goals and an assist) or just their presence on it. Anisimov gives the Blackhawks another player who’s willing to be that net-front presence. Before that, the only steady one was Andrew Shaw.

Defensemen have also been active on it, their shots either getting through or becoming rebound opportunities for teammates in front. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith have combined for 14 power-play points.

[MORE: Kane's point streak continues in win over Jets]

“We have a lot of guys who can play the power play and move it around, a lot of different looks going for us right now, some unpredictability,” Keith said. “And obviously Kaner’s having an unbelievable season and his line mates have helped. Chemistry out there in general helps.”

So far this season, the power play has been what the Blackhawks figured it should have been allalong. It’s going to have its slumps. Even now the power play has its extreme moments, producing a goal on one opportunity and not even registering a shot on the next go-around. But overall, it’s definitely been a true advantage this season.

“I think there’s definitely a focus on it this year. We want to make sure we’re doing the right things on the power play to create chances, score goals and not lose momentum,” Kane said. “That’s probably the biggest thing that we’ve seen in the past: sometimes on our power play we can lose momentum and give that team an extra edge. So I think we’re doing a good job of not only keeping momentum but cashing in on chances.”

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

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


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."