Blackhawks

DeBrincat-Schmaltz-Kane second line opens its (potential) show vs. Red Wings

DeBrincat-Schmaltz-Kane second line opens its (potential) show vs. Red Wings

Coach Joel Quenneville has seen the second line of Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane in a few practices and scrimmages thus far. Now he’ll test them against the opposition.

The trio is expected to be together when the Blackhawks face the Detroit Red Wings tonight at the United Center. Whether this becomes a line in the near future or further down the road (the more likely scenario), it’s a chance to see what the combination of speed and skill can do against another lineup, albeit against a prospect-laden Red Wings roster.

“Yeah, looking forward to seeing that group, Schmaltzy with Kaner is something I want to see as well,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You’re looking for how guys connect as a pair or as line mates. Maybe there’s some chemistry you develop during a game like this.”

Quenneville’s additional look at Schmaltz and Kane is another reminder that the second-line, left-wing spot is the Blackhawks’ new “lottery spot.” DeBrincat is there now and he Schmaltz and Kane are definitely worth a look at this point of the preseason. The plusses are evident: some speed and plenty of skill. The biggest minus would be the lack of size on that line and faceoffs, which are going to be a work in progress for this team overall this season.

Still, the focus right now is what that line could do, be it in the immediate future or later down the road. While Kane is the veteran of the line, he doesn’t foresee having to do a lot of tutelage.

“Sometimes they ask a lot of questions throughout scrimmages and different things,” he said. “Right now you tell them to play their own game. The coaches will take them aside and tell them how to play and as time goes on, when they get more comfortable and even before the season you start talking about things you can work on or things that may be effective throughout the game. But not too much now. I just let them do their own thing.”

DeBrincat said he learned a lot from last year’s training camp that he tried to apply in his final season with the Erie Otters, from improving his overall game to taking better care of himself off the ice. As far as teaming with Kane and Schmaltz, he’ll go with what’s worked for him up to this point.

“Those two guys are very skilled players and for me, I’m just trying to find some open ice and get into open areas to where they can pass to me because both are tremendous passers,” he said. “I just have to find my areas and read off them.”

Thursday’s preseason home opener was about getting good looks, the one Quenneville will take of that whole second line – and of Kane and Schmaltz – and to see if that combination can generate anything off the good looks they’ll get against the Red Wings. For DeBrincat it’s a chance to see what he can do at the next level and whether it earns him something big now or later.

“I just wanted to get my chance and I think they’re giving me as many chances as they can,” DeBrincat said. “Hopefully I can just run away with it and do what I do.”

Five takeaways from Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Five takeaways from Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

We're going to be a little honest. The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs could've been better.

It didn't help that the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks swept their series', wiping out those West Coast games for the last week and a half. There were also only five overtime games, four of which came in the Washington-Columbus series, compared to 18 in the first round last season.

But having said all that, we might be in for one of the most entertaining second rounds in recent memory.

Before we get to that, here are five takeaways from Round 1:

1. Artemi Panarin is a playoff performer.

We're not going to rehash whether the Blackhawks made a mistake in trading away one of the best offensive players in the league.

Instead, let's talk about how the Bread Man proved to skeptics that he's a superstar in his own right, yes, even without Patrick Kane.

It was fair to wonder whether Panarin's production would be on par with what it was in his first two seasons in Chicago, because it was also fair to do the same for Kane, who put up his best point totals in each of those two seasons as well playing alongside Panarin — 106 points in 2015-16 and 89 in 2016-17, respectively.

But the idea that Kane made Panarin was always a lazy narrative, because they both benefited from each other. In fact, Panarin set a Blue Jackets record by registering a 82 points in a single season without Kane, proving he could thrive in a role where he was "The Guy."

Panarin finished the regular season with five straight multi-point games, and opened the playoffs with seven points (two goals, five assists) in three games, including the overtime winner in Game 1. He went pointless in the final three games, but he admitted after the Blue Jackets were eliminated that a knee injury sustained early in Game 5 played a role in his effectiveness — or lack thereof — over the final two contests. That's not an excuse, just a fact.

He now has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 17 postseason games for his career, which is nearly a point-per-game average. Panarin is a big-game player, and anybody that thinks otherwise is reading too much into the Blackhawks' first-round sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators last season, where every single member struggled.

2. Do the Penguins have what it takes to three-peat?

The Penguins became the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Now they can become the first to make it three in a row, and there's a realistic chance of that happening after they became the sixth team in NHL history to win nine straight playoff series following their first-round win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

There's one major caveat, as there is to almost anything: Can they stay healthy?

Evgeni Malkin will miss Game 1 against the Washington Capitals with an apparent leg injury, and Carl Hagelin has already been ruled out for the first two games.

That's a huge factor in all this, because the Penguins still have three more rounds to go if they want to make history and would need to do it with their second-best player clearly not at 100 percent and probably won't be for the rest of the playoffs.

If there's a year the Capitals can finally slay the dragon having lost nine of their past 10 playoff series against Pittsburgh, it's this one. They've got home-ice advantage, they're healthy, playing well in all phases and don't have the expectations that have seemed to weigh on their minds in the past.

3. Vegas, baby.

Has there been a more fun bandwagon to be a part of than the Golden Knights' during their inaugural season? They racked up 109 points, won the Pacific Division and swept the Los Angeles Kings when many perceived that to be a coin flip.

Marc-Andre Fleury was ridiculous, recording a 0.65 goals against average, .977 save percentage and two shutouts in four games against the Kings. Vegas as a team allowed only three goals and scored seven, with each of those seven goals coming from a different player.

It's been an incredible story.

The next stop will be against the San Jose Sharks, which certainly won't be a cakewalk. Expect that to be an evenly-matched series between two teams that aren't satisfied with how far they've come already, especially the Golden Knights. They want to make history by winning a Stanley Cup in Year 1 of existence.

Would it surprise anyone at this point?

4. Boston-Toronto lives up to the hype.

The script was set up perfectly.

Five years after the Maple Leafs overcame a 3-1 series deficit but collapsed in Game 7 at TD Garden by squandering a three-goal lead in the third period, the opportunity to rewrite history was right in front of them.

The Maple Leafs again fell behind 3-1, rallied back to win two straight, had three separate one-goal leads in Game 7 at TD Garden but couldn't seal the deal. It also could've served as a healing moment for the city of Toronto, which was hit with tragedy when a van drove onto a sidewalk and killed 10 people and injured 15 others, the same way Boston came together following the marathon bombings in 2013.

Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, destiny did not prevail and they're still seeking a first-round series win in the salary cap era.

It was as riveting a Game 7 as you'll see, and the hockey gods rewarded fans after a dull first round. But...

5. Get ready for Round 2.

Nashville vs. Winnipeg. Vegas vs. San Jose. Tampa Bay vs. Boston. Washington vs. Pittsburgh.

Close your eyes and pick a series and that could be the most entertaining of the second round. Each of them have the potential to be great.

It's the first time in NHL history the final eight teams standings compiled at least 100 points in the regular season, meaning it truly is the best of the best that's left. So enjoy it.

And good luck with your predictions, because going 0-for-4 looks more likely than 4-for-4.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Attempting to rebuild Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Attempting to rebuild Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish joins Pat Boyle to answer your mailbag questions. Among the questions they tackle: What was your favorite moment from the Blackhawks’ past season and were you surprised that Joel Quenneville didn’t make any changes to his coaching staff? 

They also discuss re-signing Vinnie Hinostroza, backup goalie options for Corey Crawford and who do they like in the Jets-Predators second-round series?

Plus, Burish looks at the Penguins roster and sees some similarities to the Blackhawks’ situation and attempts to rebuild a Stanley Cup contender.

Listen to the full podcast right here: