Blackhawks have fun practice, defend Coach Q


Blackhawks have fun practice, defend Coach Q

With the 1,800-pound gorilla also known as an eight-game losing streak weighing on his team as it took the ice for a practice at Johnnys West before departing for Nashville to open the final leg of their nine-game road trip, Joel Quenneville encouraged what else? a little fun.

We tried to have a pulse thats positive, Quenneville said. Coming off two tough road trips here, the moods down, and low, and we tried to instill some positive things, some fun drills, and try to get a little life.

The Hawks ignored the too-many-men-on-the-ice rule and skated up and down, clogging every lane and zone possible to begin the session, and goals were met with whoops and hollers. Leading the way was Mr. Light-hearted (and team prankster) Patrick Sharp, who ended the 50-minute workout flicking a puck or two up to young fans in attendance.

I try to keep it light, have fun, goof around. I feel I play my best when its loose, and the team does, too, the alternate captain said.

That said, theres one of many schools of thought citing with regards to Sharp, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as the guys who will have to lead the way out of this with so many areas springing leaks. Hossa went into the All-Star break with a nine-game point streak, but has exactly zero in the six games since.

100 percent (that its up to the stars to lead the way). We say we need everybody but we have to be the couple (of players) and lead this team, Hossa agreed. Im expecting myself to be better and help the team get a win after a long time.

In being outscored 34-15, the goals-against average now sitting at even 3 per game, the power play 1-for-21 during the skid, and the penalty kill just 17-of-24 starting with the two meetings with Nashville prior to the break, there are a multitude of areas that need improvement, and the trade market remains dormant. That has led many to believe Quennevilles job could be in jeopardy, something general manager Stan Bowman denied in a Monday interview with Comcast SportsNet.

Asked his reaction after practice, the head coach who reached 600 career regular-season wins earlier this season remained focused on whats directly in front of him and his team.

Im confident in what I do and look forward to the challenge of instilling in our group a way to win and an environment in having to get better as we go along. Coming out of this were going to need everybody to find a way to be together, and when we look back over time, hopefully we can talk about being better as a team and I can be better as a coach. Its something you dont think about as you go along as a coach, but with the situation, it can be a reality.

Theyre trying to do everything I think they should do, Hossa said. I think the coaching staffs doing a great job addressing what we have to do. We just have to do it on the ice.

Theres no doubt about Joel in our locker room, Sharp stated. Id tell you if that happened (Quenneville getting fired), thered be a lot of guys in this room upset with themselves. We know as players were the ones who put the puck in the net and need to keep it out of our net. Theres no question Joels our leader.

News and notes

Keith was given a maintenance day and was not practicing, but will face Nashville Tuesday night. Defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador (upper body injuries) were not on the ice and did not travel with the team to begin this portion of the road trip. Ray Emery will get his second-straight start in goal.

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

For Alex DeBrincat, it was probably nice to hear Chelsea Dagger again.

But how about three times?

The 20-year-old rookie snapped out of a 13-game scoring drought in a big way on Sunday night, recording his third hat trick of the season. DeBrincat did all he could to help give the Blackhawks two points, but they only came away with one in a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

DeBrincat is now the first rookie in franchise history with three hat tricks in the same season, passing Steve Larmer. His last two hat tricks came against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 27, 2017 and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 25.

"It's pretty cool," DeBrincat said of his third hat trick, "but I wouldn't be able to do that without the guys we have in this locker room and the linemates I've had. Most credit to them."

Entering Sunday, his last goal was on Feb. 17 against the Washington Capitals.

"Obviously it's frustrating when you go through a slump that like that but what I've learned is to stay positive and there's other things you can help your team win with," DeBrincat said. "Just kind of focus on those things."

He netted goals No. 23, 24 and 25 on the season, tying Patrick Kane for the team lead. He is also tied for second among goals scored by a rookie this season.

DeBrincat opened the scoring with nice wrist shot on the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead midway through the first. With less than a minute to go in the period, he tapped one home in front of the net to make it 2-0.

In the third period with the game tied at 3-3, DeBrincat put his team in front 4-3 with 3:13 left in regulation. 

“We were talking about [DeBrincat] today, it had been a while since he had scored," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But whether he scores or not, he does a lot of good things in the game, and he’s very aware of his positioning, and doing the right things, finding pucks, getting in shooting lanes, or denying passing lanes. So he’s effective in a lot of ways, but nice to see him score a nice power-play goal today.”

But Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo even things up again after a shot from the point found its way past J-F Berube with 1:22 left. Patrik Berglund would net the game-winner in overtime to hand the Blackhawks a loss.

"I feel like we’ve played well and we just came up a little bit short," DeBrincat said. "I feel like that’s been the theme of this whole season.”

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.