Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Who will step up in Marian Hossa's absence?

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Blackhawks: Who will step up in Marian Hossa's absence?

During the first couple months of the season, the Blackhawks auditioned multiple players for that top-line left winger to complement Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.

Andrew Shaw seized that opportunity in December and hasn't looked back since.

Now, the Blackhawks will need someone else to step up, the same way Shaw did, in Hossa's absence after he left Saturday's game against the Anaheim Ducks early due to an apparent left leg injury that was officially described as a lower-body injury. Coach Joel Quenneville sounded optimistic that the injury wouldn't keep him out long-term, but admitted Hossa "could miss some time."

The door has sprung open, but it won't be easy shoes to fill.

"Important minutes, special teams, quality ice time," Quenneville said of Hossa's impact on the ice. "You definitely miss (Hossa) playing the right way, but (it) definitely creates some opportunities for some guys that haven't done much recently that should look forward to getting a great chance."

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Reading between the lines, the immediate player that comes to mind is Teuvo Teravainen, who was demoted to the fourth line on Saturday night.

Whether it was a tactic to exploit matchups or send a message is unknown, but perhaps it was made more clear following Quenneville's postgame press conference when he didn't hesitate to respond whether Teravainen would get the first crack at an expanded roll as Hossa's fill-in on the first line.

"Well, the opportunity's been there," a seemingly frustrated Quenneville said. "Just grab it."

When Teravainen is on the ice with Toews, the Blackhawks control 52.5 percent of even-strength shot attempts, according to hockeyanalysis.com. When Teravainen is apart from Toews, that number slips to 50.8 percent. Still solid, but the possession numbers increase when they're together, which means the drop-off shouldn't be too significant if that's the direction they choose to go — although Hossa certainly has had a hand in those numbers playing across from Teravainen.

On top of that, Teravainen would be slotted in at right wing, a position he's been more comfortable in, rather than left wing on the top unit, where he's had the chance to play previously.

[MORE: Blackhawks lose Marian Hossa in OT loss to Ducks]

But it's Hossa's ability to impact the game on a nightly basis that will be difficult to replace.

"Just his consistency," Toews said when asked about Hossa's leadership on and off the ice. "I think you've seen him, he's working his tail off all year, maybe not getting the results he wants to offensively but he's still there taking up minutes, killing penalties, filling in on the power play, playing against top lines and top defensemen all the time.

"Sometimes even if he's not scoring the way he knows he can, you don't realize how much you'll miss a guy like that until he's not in your lineup."

Even before Hossa's injury, acquiring a top-six forward has been a hot topic of discussion as the Blackhawks approach the trade deadline on Feb. 29. An emergence from Teravainen would help lessen the blow of Hossa, and it also might earn himself a permanent spot somewhere in the top-six spot if he takes advantage of that opportunity.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."