Blackhawks

Connor Murphy adjusting to, learning Blackhawks’ system: 'There’s a lot of upside'

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AP

Connor Murphy adjusting to, learning Blackhawks’ system: 'There’s a lot of upside'

Blackhawks training camp had barely begun when Connor Murphy landed a big hit on Brandon Saad along the boards. For Murphy, who is known for his physical side, even new teammates weren’t safe.

“A couple of the guys are already talking about how they’re a little bumped and bruised from the last couple of days of him being physical on them,” Duncan Keith said of Murphy at the time. “He brings an element of physicality to our team that I don’t think we’ve had, especially on the back end, in a long time.”

That part of Murphy’s game was already there. Otherwise, there have been changes for the defenseman, who left Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury but was expected to be OK. After playing a more defensive, be-heavy-in-the-corners game with the Arizona Coyotes, Murphy is now getting used to the Blackhawks’ system. It’s different, but Murphy’s embracing it.

“I didn’t show as much offensive ability that I had maybe last year and I’d like to build on that with some shots from the point and being aggressive. Making sure you’re helping to pinch in in the O-zone at the right times and making it a five-man rush instead of just coasting up and letting your forwards do the work,” he said. “These forwards are so good at finding you if you come in late; it’ll be rewarding if you’re working hard going up and down the ice.”

Coach Joel Quenneville has liked a lot of things Murphy has brought thus far.

“I like his positional awareness, his size, he has physicality to his game, shoots pucks, has a big shot,” Quenneville said. “Once he gets more comfortable in how we play and the second nature of him being active defensively, offensively transitioning – we want to get our defense more involved and I think he’d like that as well.”

Dave Tippett coached Murphy in the defenseman’s first four seasons with the Coyotes. Paired with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Murphy had to learn fast. Tippett said there were times the young Murphy was put in situations that he may not have been ready for but that he kept improving.

“He’s a big guy and when we first got him he had to fill out a little. His attitude and his smarts are what I liked about him. He really has a passion to be a really good player and every day he comes to the rink trying to get better,” Tippett said. “He’s dialed into all the aspects of getting better: skating, nutrition, everything. He watched video, not just of his own stuff but also the team. He’ll have no problem adapting.”

Getting that veteran tutelage continues in Chicago, as Murphy’s been paired with Keith since the start of camp.

“People call him an offensive defenseman but to me, he just does everything so well,” Murphy said of Keith. “It seems like the offensive stuff comes natural and the defensive stuff, he puts himself in the right position all the time and his skating and conditioning allows him to eat up minutes and to do things well and consistently. That’s something you look at and it rubs off on other defensemen, on the team, when you see your top guy doing the right things and leading the way.”

Being physical comes natural to Murphy. Learning the Blackhawks’ system will be a work in progress for the 24-year-old, but the potential is there.

“You’ve gotta remember he’s a young player but there’s a lot of upside,” Tippett said. “He’s just starting to scratch the surface.”

Blackhawks release statement following incident that happened during game vs. Capitals

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AP

Blackhawks release statement following incident that happened during game vs. Capitals

Four fans at the United Center were thrown out of Saturday's Blackhawks game for taunting Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly with racist remarks.

Midway through the third period, Smith-Pelly, who is black, was in the penalty box when fans shouted "basketball, basketball, basketball" at him, the Washington Post reported.

Here is a GIF of Smith-Pelly's interaction with the fans:

After the game, the Blackhawks released this statement:

Capitals head coach Barry Trotz also had this to say about the incident:

Cue Chelsea Dagger: Blackhawks blow out Capitals to snap eight-game losing streak

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USA TODAY

Cue Chelsea Dagger: Blackhawks blow out Capitals to snap eight-game losing streak

Win one game.

That was Joel Quenneville’s message during the Blackhawks’ eight-game losing streak, which finally came to an end on Saturday night.

How about a 7-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on home ice for a streak-breaker? Now that’s more like it.

Prior to Saturday, the Blackhawks hadn’t recorded a win in February — or a win at the United Center since Jan. 12. 

Though the Blackhawks will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were rookies, a blowout win over the leaders of the Metropolitan Division Capitals had to have felt great.

"It’s a nice way to get over the hump," Toews said. "Sometimes you might just win a 2-1 game or just kind of grind it out, but it was nice for us to fill the net the way we did tonight."

Added Joel Quenneville, "Certainly feels 100 times better than coming in and trying to explain how we had a lead and were unable to sustain it. The complete 60 minutes, three periods the right way, more consistency in our game, way more pace than we’ve seen recently, composure with the puck, shooting around the net. It was fun but that’s one. Let’s see how we respond to this because there’s a lot of hockey left."

The Blackhawks are 25-26-8 with 58 points, and are 11 points out the final wild card spot, currently held by the Minnesota Wild.

Among the highlights:

— Seven different Blackhawks scored: Toews, Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Artem Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman

— The Blackhawks are 74-6-4 in the regular season in which Kane and Toews both record a goal — and 41-0-0 in their last 41 games, according to NBC Sports Chicago stats guru Chris Kamka.

— Kane registered career assist No. 500, becoming the sixth Blackhawk with 500 or more. Kane is also the seventh U.S.-born player with 300-plus goals and 500-plus assists, joining Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Pat LaFontaine, Joe Mullen and Phil Housley, according to Kamka.

"You think about the amount of great Americans that have played the game, how many players actually play hockey in the United States... Growing up all I wanted to do was play hockey," Kane said. "That means a lot, especially when you talk about American-born players."

— DeBrincat's 22nd goal of the season has him tied for the rookie-lead with Tampa Bay Lightning's Yanni Gourde. DeBrincat and Kane also lead the Blackhawks with 22 goals.