Blackhawks

Blackhawks’ likely backup Anton Forsberg passes first test

Blackhawks’ likely backup Anton Forsberg passes first test

For Anton Forsberg, the challenges were going to come early. It wasn’t just getting the start for the Blackhawks’ first preseason game, it was getting tested early and often in that game on Tuesday night.

A small sample size, but Forsberg had a strong preseason debut. And if he can continue off that start, he’ll be the latest in a successful run of backup goaltenders here.

With a young Blackhawks group in front of him, Forsberg was a steady presence in net. He stopped 38 of 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 5-2 victory; that included 14 shots in the first period, when penalties added up and the Blackhawks were on the short end of a 5-on-3 for 54 seconds.

“It’s always nice to get a couple of shots. The first one hit my chest so I got the feel for the puck and I feel like it’s nice (rather than) standing there and waiting for the first shot,” he said. “It was coming a couple quick ones there right away. After that I was in the game and it was pretty easy to keep going.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said Forsberg looked comfortable immediately.

“For the guys who played in front of him, I think he showed a lot. Organizationally it was nice to see him battle through a lot of traffic and action around his net. He fought through a busy game and did an outstanding job,” he said. “It gives you confidence as well knowing, going forward, you’re comfortable in your new surroundings and go off of these levels, which would be a good beginning.”

The Blackhawks hope Forsberg is the latest in a recent line of successful backup goaltenders they’ve had. It’s been quite a run, from Ray Emery to Antti Raanta to Scott Darling. Forsberg’s NHL experience is minimal – he played in nine games for the Blue Jackets the last two seasons. But neither Raanta nor Darling had played an NHL game prior to joining the Blackhawks and clearly that didn’t prove to be an issue.

General manager Stan Bowman said in July, when the Blackhawks traded for Forsberg as part of the deal that brought Brandon Saad back, that Forsberg had earned the chance at the backup job. The Blackhawks signed Jean-François Bérubé on July 1 but, as of now, it looks like the backup job is Forsberg’s to lose. Whoever earns the job has to be prepared because the Blackhawks have had to rely on their backups for extended times. Corey Crawford has been sidelined several times in recent seasons, including last year when he missed nearly all of December with appendicitis – Darling started 11 consecutive games during that stretch.

“We know the emphasis on goaltending is huge and having confidence and trust no matter who’s in the net. For the team, just having that confidence in that guy in the net is a big factor. Coming in here early and demonstrating that can help him as well, getting comfortable with his teammates,” Quenneville said. “We’d love to see him continue on, knowing that he could be a big part of our team.”

Playing against his former team was motivation enough on Tuesday. But for Forsberg it’s about the opportunity ahead of him, not the one he didn’t really get in the past. The Blackhawks have done well in this department the last few seasons. If Forsberg can continue to advance past Tuesday’s start, the Blackhawks could have another strong 1-2 punch in goal again.

“It's always fun to play old teammates and my old team, but it’s a game and it’s my first game [with the Blackhawks]. I've got to [give] a good first impression and I do whatever I can to do that,” he said. “I felt like it turned out pretty well.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.