Blackhawks

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

connor_murphy.jpg
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.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night:
 
1. Surviving a crazy first period.

The Blackhawks committed four penalties in the opening frame within a 2:18 span, and escaped unscathed from it despite a pair of 5-on-3 opportunities for the Coyotes.

Of course, the only goal allowed in the period came from a fluke deflection off Jordan Oesterle's stick and slipped underneath Corey Crawford's five-hole.

Joel Quenneville likes to say the team that takes advantage of their 5-on-3 opportunities has a pretty good chance to win the game. It applied in this case, with the Blackhawks coming out victorious after surviving that stretch.

2. Power play comes alive early.

The Blackhawks got off on the right foot in an area that has been an issue for them this season, capitalizing on their first power play of the game 24 seconds into it when Richard Panik redirected a Jonathan Toews shot that tricked past Louis Domingue.

Good thing too, because it was the only man advantage they'd get. Well, excluding the power play they received with 17 seconds left in regulation when the game was already decided. 
 
3. Another controversial review in Arizona.

What's with it with controversial reviews in Arizona and the Blackhawks being on the wrong end of the call?

The Blackhawks appeared to have taken a 3-1 lead when Tommy Wingels converted on a penalty shot, but it was overturned after officials reviewed it and determined the Coyotes netminder got a stick on Wingels' initial shot. Replays didn't exactly show conclusive evidence, but the NHL released a statement proving otherwise:

Video review determined that Wingels shot the puck into the net after Arizona goaltender Louis Domingue made contact with the puck. According to Rule 24.2, "No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind."

Shortly after, the Coyotes scored in the final minutes of the period to even up the score at 2-2 in a big turn of events at the time.
 
4. ... But puck don't lie.

The overturned penalty shot didn't matter in the end though, because the Blackhawks came away with the victory and Wingels ended up getting his first goal after all on an empty netter that iced the game.

It was Wingels' first goal as a member of his hometown team, and it was well deserved for a guy who was part of the fourth line that turned in arguably their best performance of the season.
 
5. Lance Bouma rewarded with game-winning goal.

Speaking of which, it was fitting that Bouma scored the game winner with 4:24 left in the third period because that trio of Bouma, Wingels and John Hayden was around the net for the majority of the night.

They combined for two goals and two assists, had eight attempts shot attempts (five on goal), eight of the team's 16 hits and four blocked shots.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

1020_hawks_yotes.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.