Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews and consistent linemates 'makes a world of difference'

Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews and consistent linemates 'makes a world of difference'

For several games now Jonathan Toews’ glances to line mates have been to the same players: Nick Schmaltz to his left and Richard Panik to his right. The same guys for more than a game or two. Not bad, really.

“It makes a world of difference,” Toews said. “We were talking on the bench and we had a couple of goals midway through the game [on Wednesday]. We got that confidence going and we want to build on it and not just sit around and be OK with it.”

When the Blackhawks make changes it’s usually to provide a spark or get more of a four-line rotation. But there’s something to be said for familiarity, and especially giving your captain a chance to have some of that. Schmaltz, Toews and Panik, first put together on Feb. 2 against the Arizona Coyotes, have started to click. After each scored a goal in the Blackhawks’ victory over Minnesota, the three combined for six points in the team’s 5-1 triumph over Edmonton on Saturday night.

Panik said giving the three a chance to figure things out has been beneficial.

“Sometimes it happens overnight when you click with someone and the chemistry’s there. Sometimes you have to work on it, watch videos and talk about plays. That’s what we were trying to do, just talk to each other and figure out where we should be,” Panik said. “So it’s started working the last couple of games so we’ll just keep doing it.”

It’s also about knowing how and when to feed off each other, when to be selfish and when to give up the puck. When Schmaltz went to the top line the concern was him passing to Toews too often instead of taking his own opportunities. Schmaltz has fallen into that trap now and then but he’s also has not been shy about calling for the puck, as he did to Toews for his fourth goal of the season on Wednesday.

“[We talk] a lot, especially on our goal there. He told me he didn’t even see me, he just heard me and kind of threw it to that area,” Schmaltz said. “Communication is huge and the more we talk, you just know if you have pressure, if you have time, stuff like that. We’ll keep talking and keep building the chemistry.”

The top line’s budding chemistry benefits the Blackhawks overall, but especially Toews. In his last five games, Toews has two goals and five assists.

As Panik said, you can’t always assume chemistry will be there right way. The Blackhawks’ latest top line was given a chance to formulate some and they’ve done that. They’ve collected some points and confidence, too.

“I think when you start playing well or start getting a feel for what it’s like to play with a couple of line mates you want to continue to build on that confidence… be predictable and make plays and know where everyone is going to be on the ice,” Toews said. “I think we’ll look to keep working on that. Whether they go in or not I think as long as we’re working, we’ll get our chances.”

Blackhawks send four to Rockford

EDMONTON, Alberta – For most of the Blackhawks, this week will be for rest. For some of the team’s younger players, however, it’s time to go back to work.

The Blackhawks sent defenseman Gustav Forsling and forwards Vinnie Hinostroza, Tanner Kero and Nick Schmaltz to the Rockford IceHogs. The IceHogs face Milwaukee today and Cleveland on Wednesday and Saturday.

Additionally, the Blackhawks activated defenseman Michal Rozsival from injured reserve.

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.”