Five questions as the Blackhawks near the All-Star break


Five questions as the Blackhawks near the All-Star break

MIAMI – The Blackhawks would probably like to forget about their latest trip, an 0-for-2 outing against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, respectively. Their game went from so-so to worse over those back-to-back nights.

But in what’s proven to be a very successful midseason stretch for the Blackhawks, consider it a blip on the radar. It’s been a busy run for the Blackhawks but they’ll right the ship. Hey, nothing like a game against the St. Louis Blues to shake those mid-season blahs, right?

So with the Blackhawks facing two more games before a much-needed All-Star break, let’s look at Five Questions for now and the immediate future.

1. Should Corey Crawford start being included in Vezina Trophy talk? Crawford had a hiccup in November but he’s otherwise been stellar this season. He’s been great especially of late, accumulating a career-high nine-game winning streak that the Lightning snapped on Thursday night. Crawford still leads the NHL with six shutouts this season. He’s also second in victories (27) and fourth in save percentage (.931). There have been a few Blackhawks games this season that could be called “goalie wins” thanks to Crawford. Washington’s Braden Holtby and Florida’s Roberto Luongo have been part of the Vezina discussion quite a bit this season, and deservedly so. Crawford should be added to it.

2. Is it so bad a bunch of Blackhawks aren’t going to the All-Star game? Crawford figures prominently in this topic, too, considering his numbers. As Duncan Keith said earlier this season, it’s always nice when players are recognized for their accomplishments. At the same time the Blackhawks are starting to look gassed. They’ve been playing a lot of hockey – when the break begins the Blackhawks will have played 53 games – from Crawford on out. Last year’s game was a snooze-fest and even with the game’s alterations this year, these guys will still be going through the motions. So instead of five Blackhawks going to the All-Star game a majority of the team gets a well-earned rest. They need that more than a "yay-us" weekend.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Where does Jiri Sekac fit into the Blackhawks’ lineup? Yesterday the newest of the Blackhawks played on the team’s fourth line. Maybe he stays there a bit to get ingrained into the system but is there a potential for more? Sekac is in his early 20s and is on a one-year deal, two reasons why the Blackhawks acquired him from the Ducks in exchange for Ryan Garbutt. But Sekac is also a guy looking to latch on with a team after jumping around a few times since 2014. Could he work his way up? If the top line falters with Andrew Shaw at some point, does Sekac become the latest to get an opportunity there? We’ll see how it shakes out.

4. Can the Blackhawks ward off the Central Division competition? They’re back on top in the division, so they’ll be targeted even more than usual. But does it matter if the Blackhawks win the division title? Hardly. We’ve all seen this movie before, folks: the Blackhawks don’t need to be atop the division; they just need to get in. They need to be playing their best hockey as the playoffs approach. If they take the title, fine, but they have bigger prizes in mind. Keep as good a pace as possible and save the best for the end.

5. Will the Blackhawks have the appropriate amount of gas in the tank on Sunday? It’s St. Louis. They hate the Blues, the Blues hate them and these two never disappoint when they square off. The Blackhawks will also be home again – albeit for a short time – where they’ve excelled this season. They’ll find the energy for this one.

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?