Blackhawks trying to get past 'bumpy' start


Blackhawks trying to get past 'bumpy' start

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Coach Joel Quenneville was talking about the Blackhawks early season, looking for the right word to describe how the “ride,” so to speak, has been.

“Bumpy,” he said prior to Saturday’s game, a 6-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. “Certainly had some good stretches. This trip, it looked like we had two real good games coming into the start, picking up three of four points could be flattering. But we’re going to have to play better; [need a] little more balance in our team.”

The Blackhawks played better to a degree on Saturday but the Canucks – well, mainly the Sedins – handed them a loss.

[MORE: Stan Bowman: Patrick Kane 'absolutely' in Blackhawks' long-term plans]

The first three games of this Circus Trip have been a microcosm of the Blackhawks’ first portion of the season: some good games, some bad games, some opportunities capitalized upon and some squandered.

“Ups and downs,” Patrick Kane summarized following Saturday’s game. “I think we’ve had good games, beat some good teams and we’ve had some tough games as well. Up and down right now. We’re still trying to find our groove. But it seems like some other players are starting to get into it a little bit and get themselves going. That’ll be a good thing moving forward.”

Kane’s been part of a second line, with Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin, that’s accounted for a bulk of the scoring. The trio has combined for 68 points so far this season; the rest of the Blackhawks have combined for 85 points. As Kane said, others have started getting on the score sheet lately, but the Blackhawks need more. They need more consistency, be it on offense, defense or goaltending.

General manager Stan Bowman would’ve liked a stronger start but he’s not worried that the Blackhawks didn’t get it.

“If you were to line up the 30 GMs or coaches and ask them, other than maybe two or three teams – maybe Montreal, Washington and New York – everyone would probably say it’s been a bit bumpy,” he said on Saturday. “It’s just a really tight league. You’re a three-game winning streak (away) from being in the top five in the league, and you’re a three-game losing streak from being in the bottom third. It’s all really compacted.

"I think we didn’t have the start we did a couple years ago when we went 24 games without a loss, but that’s not going to happen anymore. That was a pretty spectacular year.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The Blackhawks didn’t get out to a spectacular start this season. It’s not a complete surprise given the changes. If there is a surprise it’s the fact that one line has been doing so well for so long and the other three have struggled to find anything resembling consistency. But the Blackhawks will work through it and try to figure things out. It’s early, but they don’t want to wait too long to get things going, get more consistency throughout the lineup and get more needed points.

“We can be better. For sure, we can be better. We’ve had some good elements in the start, but I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey consistently. I think we’ve had spurts of it and I think that’s part of some changes and you have some new faces and they have to sort of learn their roles and learn where they fit,” Bowman said. “But I think we’re probably like 25 other teams in the league in the same way. There are a couple teams that have been really good from the beginning. And there’s still three-quarter of the year to go, so we’ve got to find that consistency.”

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?

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?


Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: