Blackhawks

Blackhawks need goals from everybody, but especially from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane

Blackhawks need goals from everybody, but especially from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Coach Joel Quenneville was asked about seeing more out of Jonathan Toews this postseason. Same with Patrick Kane. In each instance, the response was pretty much the same: The Blackhawks needed more out of everyone, not just those two.

"We look across the board," he said. "We always find that when we're in some tough spots our top guys always find a way to lead the charge and find a way to overcome all obstacles. And we're going to need (Toews and Kane), but we're going to need everybody else too. It's a tough challenge. You can't just rely on one guy to get it done."

Well, that's true to a point. The Blackhawks certainly need more across the board in a series that has been very lopsided in the Nashville Predators' favor. But if they want to continue past tomorrow, let alone pull off the comeback to get to the second round, they really need their top players to get going.

The Blackhawks are on the brink of elimination when they face the Nashville Predators in Game 4 of their first-round series on Thursday night. It's been an all-too quiet series overall for the Blackhawks, whose two second-period goals in Game 3 are their only ones of the first three games. The silence from their top players has been at the forefront of that.

Kane's goal on Monday was only his second in his last 10 playoff games. Toews has gone goal-less in the postseason since Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015 Stanley Cup final (12 games).

"That's something I'm obviously well aware of and no better moment than a game like (Game 4). I've waited long enough," Toews said of his goal drought. "You've got to go out there feeling lucky like you're going to work for that bounce. I'm just trying to stay patient and smart and do the right things. Obviously no more waiting. [Thursday] is a big game and a great time for it to come through and make a big play, and contribute…"

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With two goals in three games, clearly Toews and Kane aren't the only ones who are too quiet on the scoresheet. But Toews and Kane have been the offensive backbone of this team for many postseasons now. They've come up with the clutch games and goals over and over again.

"You need your best players this time of year to step up and be your best players. Throughout the playoffs, as time goes on, you kind of see some depth guys step up and have big games," Kane said. "but at times like this, I think it's the top guys who probably need to lead the charge."

The Blackhawks look to their top players for leadership, be it their words or their play. The latter is especially needed now. And the faster they get going the more there's a ripple effect throughout the lineup, with confidence and offense.  

The last time the Blackhawks were swept in a postseason series most of the players on their current roster were kids (1993 division semifinals against St. Louis). They still believe they can come back in this series. To do that they'll need contributions from everybody but they'll really need it from the guys who have done it so often in the past.

"We know what we have to do. It just comes down to what we haven't accomplished yet," Toews said. "We're getting closer and closer to getting that win. So [Thursday] we've just got to go out there and find a way to win that game."

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but Blackhawks understand juggling act

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USA TODAY

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but Blackhawks understand juggling act

For Jordan Oesterle, the wait really wasn’t a terrible thing.

Sure, he was used to playing more consistently in the past. But he knew with the Blackhawks carrying eight defensemen that several players, including him, would need to practice patience and understanding.

“It hasn’t been too long. It’s only been a week and a half so it’s not terrible,” said Oesterle on Thursday morning, a few hours before he made his Blackhawks debut against his former team, the Edmonton Oilers.

For the second consecutive season the Blackhawks are going with eight defensemen to start the season. In one way, it’s good: if anything goes awry, be it someone’s game or someone’s health, the depth is readily there.

But so are the challenges. It’s a juggling act, a delicate balance between making the right decisions and making sure a player understands that a scratch may be more about the rotation and not his individual game.

Communication, above all, is key.

“It’s not easy being the guys who are in or out, right on that bubble situation where you come in not knowing if you’re going to play. But as a staff we want to keep everyone involved,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We know the depth of your defense is going to get challenged at some point during the year. We feel the eight guys who are here can play but that’s how we’ve always done it: We’ve always let guys know whether you’re in or out. Sometimes you have to be more patient than you’d like but handling it the right way, whether you’re a good pro or teammate, that can be healthy around the environment of your team.”

Based on all outward appearances, everyone has handled it well. Connor Murphy has been a healthy scratch twice – “I mean I just want to see the team win really...if we're winning and guys are playing well that's all that matter,” Murphy said after his first scratch.

Oesterle was a healthy scratch the first seven games. Michal Kempny, who Oesterle replaced, has been scratched the last two games. Cody Franson has also sat seven games. Franson, whose patience has been in place while awaiting contracts in his career, is practicing it again. But he’s appreciated the Blackhawks’ communication on it.

“This situation gets tough when they don’t say anything to you; you don’t know if it’s because of the way you’re playing, you don’t know if it’s something you did or what the situation is. The coaching staff has done a great job of being in our ear, letting us leave our work at the rink and not take it home with us,” Franson said. “That goes a long way in being able to stay positive and in the right mindset through it.”

After starting with eight defensemen last season the Blackhawks eventually went back to seven. Will they do that again this season? Maybe, but whoever gets sent down would most likely have to go through waivers. The Blackhawks reassigned Gustav Forsling last season to get back to seven defensemen and get Forsling more playing time. But this season Forsling and Jan Rutta have been dependable and have pretty much become the Blackhawks’ second pairing.

So for now, eight defensemen it shall be. Being part of the rotation isn’t always easy but so far players seem to get that it’s for the greater good.

“It’s one of those things where we’ve got eight quality guys. I think no matter who’s sitting on any given night, it might not necessary be due to how they’re playing or how they’re doing individually,” Franson said. “I think Q’s done a great job of managing that situation. That’s one of those things where it’s a great problem to have but it’s not an easy one to handle. So we’re all aware of what’s taking place right now and you just try to be as professional about it as you can.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night:
 
1. Surviving a crazy first period.

The Blackhawks committed four penalties in the opening frame within a 2:18 span, and escaped unscathed from it despite a pair of 5-on-3 opportunities for the Coyotes.

Of course, the only goal allowed in the period came from a fluke deflection off Jordan Oesterle's stick and slipped underneath Corey Crawford's five-hole.

Joel Quenneville likes to say the team that takes advantage of their 5-on-3 opportunities has a pretty good chance to win the game. It applied in this case, with the Blackhawks coming out victorious after surviving that stretch.

2. Power play comes alive early.

The Blackhawks got off on the right foot in an area that has been an issue for them this season, capitalizing on their first power play of the game 24 seconds into it when Richard Panik redirected a Jonathan Toews shot that tricked past Louis Domingue.

Good thing too, because it was the only man advantage they'd get. Well, excluding the power play they received with 17 seconds left in regulation when the game was already decided. 
 
3. Another controversial review in Arizona.

What's with it with controversial reviews in Arizona and the Blackhawks being on the wrong end of the call?

The Blackhawks appeared to have taken a 3-1 lead when Tommy Wingels converted on a penalty shot, but it was overturned after officials reviewed it and determined the Coyotes netminder got a stick on Wingels' initial shot. Replays didn't exactly show conclusive evidence, but the NHL released a statement proving otherwise:

Video review determined that Wingels shot the puck into the net after Arizona goaltender Louis Domingue made contact with the puck. According to Rule 24.2, "No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind."

Shortly after, the Coyotes scored in the final minutes of the period to even up the score at 2-2 in a big turn of events at the time.
 
4. ... But puck don't lie.

The overturned penalty shot didn't matter in the end though, because the Blackhawks came away with the victory and Wingels ended up getting his first goal after all on an empty netter that iced the game.

It was Wingels' first goal as a member of his hometown team, and it was well deserved for a guy who was part of the fourth line that turned in arguably their best performance of the season.
 
5. Lance Bouma rewarded with game-winning goal.

Speaking of which, it was fitting that Bouma scored the game winner with 4:24 left in the third period because that trio of Bouma, Wingels and John Hayden was around the net for the majority of the night.

They combined for two goals and two assists, had eight attempts shot attempts (five on goal), eight of the team's 16 hits and four blocked shots.