Blackhawks return from holiday break with another busy stretch ahead


Blackhawks return from holiday break with another busy stretch ahead

Being busy. It can have a bad connotation at times, bringing about a feeling of being overwhelmed or having too much on your plate.

For the Blackhawks, however, being busy usually brings out their best. That’s good, because after competing a busy stretch prior to the Christmas break, they’re going right into another one coming out of it.

The Blackhawks have 17 games – including three back-to-backs – over the next 31 days, beginning with Sunday’s game at the United Center. That means a lot of busy nights and very few practices – if you listen carefully, you can hear the players cheer that last part. It’s going to be an incredibly busy stretch, and the Blackhawks will have to be ready for it.

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But busy doesn’t seem to bother the Blackhawks much. No matter the year, they’ve usually taken hectic stretches and gotten into a rhythm. It happened this season. In a 10-game, 17-day stretch heading into Christmas, the Blackhawks went 7-3-0. You could argue they started finding their niche, their chemistry with each other on the lines.

Corey Crawford was also playing at his best, mainly because he was as busy during games as he was starting them. In his last nine starts, of which he won seven, Crawford faced an average of 30.8 shots per game. Crawford has admitted in the past that, when he doesn’t see shots on a consistent basis, he can lose focus. He didn’t have time to lose focus on that latest run, and he wouldn’t.

The Blackhawks will enter Sunday’s game third in the Central Division. Dallas and St. Louis play on Saturday night but no matter who wins or loses, it won’t change where the Stars (first) or the Blues (second) fall in the division. The Blackhawks could be getting Marian Hossa back; Hossa missed the final two games prior to the break with an upper-body injury. It’s unknown whether or not Rob Scuderi, who took a redirected puck to the mouth, will be ready for Sunday’s game.

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It took a while for the Blackhawks to find some rhythm and some lines – outside of the second one – that could play together for several games. They should exit this break with confidence, knowing that they no longer have to figure out the four-line puzzle that was an issue for some time early this season.

Right now the Blackhawks just need to keep pace. If they’ve learned anything from these long postseason runs it’s that you get in and go from there. It’s not about catching the Stars right now; it’s about gathering up as many points as possible and keeping pace in a very competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are going to be busy again starting on Sunday. A nonstop schedule has usually benefitted them. It has to again now.

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?