Blackhawks

Blackhawks-Wild Preview

Blackhawks-Wild Preview

The Chicago Blackhawks are off to the best start in the 86-year history of the franchise, led by a balanced offense, a strong penalty kill and reliable goaltending.

They'll look to continue their well-rounded play when they open a six-game road trip Wednesday night against the Minnesota Wild, who just put a stop to a three-game losing streak.

The Blackhawks (6-0-0) are one of two remaining unbeatens in the NHL, and they already have four road victories under their belt as they begin their longest trip of the season. Sixteen skaters have registered at least one point, including 10 with at least three.

Patrick Kane leads the way with nine, while Marian Hossa's five goals are a team best.

"I think everybody deserves credit," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Everybody's contributing. Everybody was where we wanted them to be. Everybody had good conditioning to start with. Special teams, Crow (Corey Crawford) in net, the team game. I'm pleased."

Their perfect record was in jeopardy Sunday against Detroit, but Nick Leddy scored in overtime for a 2-1 win. Chicago killed off all six of the Red Wings' power plays, improving to 22 of 23 this season.

"We could have been better, but at the same time six (games) in nine (days) could have been a factor," Quenneville said.

Crawford will make his sixth start of the season Wednesday, and he's been one of the best goalies in the league in the early going. His 1.78 goals-against average is nearly a full goal below his 2.72 GAA from 57 games last season.

"I like his approach to the season," Quenneville told the team's official website. "He seems prepared and he's shown that he wants to play and he's determined to be the best he can be. He's taken charge of games at critical times and made big saves."

Minnesota (3-2-1) stepped up at a big moment Tuesday in a 3-2 home win against Columbus. The Wild squandered a 2-0 lead and were in danger of their fourth straight defeat, but Pierre-Marc Bouchard came through with the winning score with less than six minutes left.

Of the Wild's 16 goals this season, it was only the fifth not generated by the top forward line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley.

"Take pressure off the top guys, it's key," said Torrey Mitchell, who assisted on Bouchard's goal. "Secondary scoring is big. Guys are doing the right things and it's going to come around. There's no doubt in the locker room about that. But it's nice to get one, at least tonight."

Bouchard has two goals and is feeling good after playing only 97 games over the last three seasons because of concussions.

"It's pretty fun. The last few years have been pretty tough," Bouchard said. "It's good to be back and play those kinds of games and win some hockey games."

Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival, who has two assists in three games, missed the last two contests with a lower-body injury, but Quenneville said he expects him to skate Wednesday morning.

Jonathan Toews has six points over his last three games against Minnesota.

The Blackhawks are 8-1-3 in the past 12 meetings - getting at least a point in each of their last seven trips to St. Paul - though the Wild took the final two matchups last season in shootouts while Toews was sidelined.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night:
 
1. Nick Schmaltz returns but sizzle doesn’t.

You didn’t expect the fireworks of the season opener but you figured Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane would connect pretty quickly again. The speed was certainly there. The connections on passes were not. It wasn’t just that second line, though: it was another night on which the Blackhawks’ offense was sluggish. 
 
2. Tripping along.

I joked that tripping is the new slashing. Maybe that’s not the case league-wide but it was for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks took five tripping penalties overall, including three in the first period. It was a clear sign that the Blackhawks were trying to play catch-up all night, and they didn’t fare well at it.
 
3. Power play gets something but…

It took until late in the third period (when the Blackhawks’ offense seems to get going lately). The Blackhawks got two late power-play goals, a reminder of what they can do when they battle for the puck and show some spark.

“Our sense of urgency in the puck area, be it 5-on-5 or on the power play, that’s the differential of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and making plays off it is one of our strengths,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t do that very often and we haven’t won many battles.”
 
4. Starting slow.

Why these are happening is a mystery, and they’ve been most evident in the Blackhawks’ last three games, which have all come against division opponents. Too much relying on Corey Crawford again and not much in terms of shots, be it quality or quantity through the first two periods. The Blackhawks were outshot 17-8 through the first 40 minutes on Wednesday. While they created little they gave up way too much.
 
5. Patrick Sharp OK?

Sharp was injured late on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks-Blues game got chippy in the final five-plus minutes. Quenneville thought Sharp was fine but he wasn’t positive at the time of his postgame press conference.

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks’ first tripping came barely a minute into the game. Then came another one. And another. And another. And another. Despite welcoming one of their fastest players back into the lineup, the Blackhawks were overall flat-footed and playing catch-up all night, be it on the ice or on the scoreboard, to the St. Louis Blues.

Nick Schmaltz returned but the effect on the second line and the Blackhawks overall wasn’t immediate. Instead the Blackhawks looked sluggish. Their offensive opportunities were few – a one and done here and there but no sustained zone time or pressure on Blues goaltender Jake Allen – their passing was off and they were on the defensive all night.

And then there were the tripping penalties. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill held up through it, nullifying all five Blues power-play opportunities. But the Blues found other ways to inflict their damage.

“They played well and we were brutal,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was a bad start, a bad middle and even [though] it was a little excited at the end it wasn’t very good. That’s as close to brutal as you can get.”

The Blackhawks’ last three games have common themes: they’re outshot for a good part of the game, they’re giving up a good amount of quality shots and then the urgency hits them midway through the third period. For the third consecutive contest the Blackhawks scored two goals late and in two of those three games it wasn’t nearly enough.

“Obviously it wasn’t good enough for two periods. If you take any positives out of this game, it’s the way we played in the third,” Patrick Kane said. “At least we know we can do it. Just gotta do it before our backs are against the wall.”

Why it’s taking the Blackhawks so long to get going, however, is the question. Obviously the Blackhawks’ late third-period pushes show how capable they are of producing when necessary. Said Alex DeBrincat, who assisted on Ryan Hartman’s goal late in regulation, “If we’re would’ve been crashing the net like that all game it may have been a different story.”

But they didn’t. The Blackhawks welcomed back a teammate that’s injected speed into their lineup but the team was once again stumbling out of the gate.

“We’re supposed to be out there, giving our all every minute we’re out there and every shift, go out there and take it a shift at a time and give it all you got every shift,” Hartman said. “We have four lines that can roll so there’s no excuse for not going out there and putting all your energy out there for a shift and getting ready for the next one.”