Blackhawks getting 'a bonus' from defensemen chipping in offensively


Blackhawks getting 'a bonus' from defensemen chipping in offensively

The Blackhawks defensemen’s main role is preventing others from scoring, and on this recent road trip they did a pretty good job of that.

Adding a few points on the other end, however, never hurts. And in the Blackhawks’ last three games, their defensemen did that.

You’re used to seeing Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith getting their share of points, especially considering their minutes and their roles on the power play. But other defensemen also chipped in during the Blackhawks’ three-game winning streak. Trevor van Riemsdyk had a goal and an assist in his past two games. Seabrook had an assist in each of his last two games, Michal Rozsival had his first goal of the season against Arizona and Niklas Hjalmarsson had two assists vs. the Dallas Stars.

“Guys that don't do a lot of scoring, whether they're up front or on the back end, it's kind of like a bonus,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think it's the reflection, too, of what we're talking about, just putting pucks at the net and things happen. Bad-angle shots or just, you know, clears out of our own end and beating them in races that develop into scoring chances and situations from that type of play.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The Blackhawks’ winning streak was a combination of several things: energy gained from the All-Star break, great goaltending from Corey Crawford and a strong puck-possession game. The Blackhawks took their share of shots with that puck possession – they had 42 and 40 shots, respectively, vs. Colorado and Arizona – and the defensemen were as much a part of that as the forwards.

“Obviously we’re trying to be involved in the offense, whether it’s jumping in the rush or being active when we have the puck in their end,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s nice to get contributions from the D and not just have only the forwards put the puck in the net.”

Van Riemsdyk added that, from a defenseman’s perspective, it’s about reading each situation to see if you can/can’t get an opportunity for offense.

“You always want to be right on the back of the rush, whether you’re fully jumping in and going into the other end or reading from there and pulling off or whatever you do,” he said. “Any time we make those passes we want to be moving our feet and joining the rush, and as we jump in, diagnose it from there.”

[MORE: (No) change is good: Hawks’ second line a model of consistency]

Andrew Shaw said any points the defensemen can add are beneficial.

“They’re getting the puck up ice quick, getting shots on the net and it’s going to help our offensive game. We keep getting the pucks in, keep getting them deep they’re going to keep chipping in.”

The Blackhawks were lacking offense heading into the break. Again, a lot of that was a symptom of fatigue for a team that had played a non-stop schedule entering the All-Star weekend. Now they’re getting it back, and their defensemen have played as big a part in that as their forwards.

“I always say there's enough offense within our team, so we don't care where it comes from, but it’s nice to see,” Quenneville said. “And I'm sure those guys feels good about it.”

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."