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.”

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?


Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Jonathan Toews sits down with Pat Boyle for a 1-on-1 interview. Toews weighs in on his season with Brandon Saad, whether he expects major changes this offseason and has the championship window closed?

Also, Adam Burish joins the podcast and plays the game: “Building block, not sure, or no thanks.” Burish runs down the Blackhawks forwards and predicts whether or not they have a future with the team.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

What should the Blackhawks do in goal next season?

What should the Blackhawks do in goal next season?

The last time the Blackhawks were in Winnipeg they exploded for three first-period goals en route to a 5-1 victory on Dec. 14.

The roles were reversed on Thursday.

It appeared the Blackhawks might be headed for another drubbing when Brandon Saad scored 11 seconds into the game and they were awarded an ensuing power play following a failed offside challenge by the home team, but the Jets killed it off then responded with five unanswered goals over the next 11:53 and didn't look back as Chicago lost 6-2.

Anton Forsberg was pulled for the sixth time in his 27th start this season after allowing three goals on six shots, while J-F Berube gave up two goals on his first five shots before stopping 27 straight. It was the 14th time the Blackhawks allowed five or more goals in a game this season, having done that only eight times last season.

Needless to say, it's been a roller coaster in goal as of late.

To make matters worse, the Blackhawks aren't as optimistic about Corey Crawford returning before the season ends and maybe that's for the better.

But there's a big question mark between the pipes when you factor in Crawford's health and the inconsistency from their backups, which has included Jeff Glass, Forsberg and Berube.

The Blackhawks weren't expecting Forsberg to be the next Scott Darling when they included him in the trade package involving Saad and Artemi Panarin this past offseason, but they were certainly hoping he would be around the league average in save percentage (.913).

Instead, it's slipped to .905, which ranks 43rd of 52 goaltenders that have started at least 20 games this season. That's also his 5-on-5 save percentage, which is 49th out of 52 among goalies with 800-plus minutes of ice time.

When it rains, it often pours with Forsberg in net and he hasn't shown signs of progression to prevent the bleeding from getting worse.

The backup goaltending position is more important than ever in this day and age, especially for the Blackhawks with Crawford likely going into next year having not faced a shot in game action in nine months.

For those reasons, it might be wise for the Blackhawks to strongly consider rolling with Berube as the No. 2 to at least start next season if an external option isn't the preferred direction.

It would allow Forsberg to fine-tune his mechanics, build his confidence and continue his overall development with the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League, where he backstopped the Lake Erie Monsters to their first ever Calder Cup championship in Columbus Blue Jackets franchise history two years ago.

Berube and Forsberg are both under contract for the Blackhawks in 2018-19, and it's no secret there's a belief within the organization that Forsberg has a higher ceiling. He just hasn't been able to reach it yet in the NHL for whatever reason.

There are 11 games left, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Berube get more than half of those.

Yes, his save percentage is one percentage point below Forsberg's at .904. But three of his eight appearances have come in relief.

In his five starts, he has a .908 percentage; in his three relief appearances, it's at .893.

Berube deserves a longer look, one that could carry weight when determining next season's backup.