Blackhawks

Five Things: Blackhawks take foot off gas pedal in loss to Blues

Five Things: Blackhawks take foot off gas pedal in loss to Blues

No matter what the season or the roster, you take Game 1 of a season for what it is: Game 1.

For the Blackhawks, who went through a good deal of turnover once again this offseason, there was some good, some bad. In other words, a typical Game 1 for a team that’s once again adjusting to changes in this salary-cap world.

Did those first two paragraphs come off as vague? Yeah, they were. The rest of this story clears things up. So as we wrap up another season opener, let’s look at five things to take away from the Blackhawks’ 5-2 loss to the Blues.

1. Shaky second period. This wasn’t the Blackhawks’ best frame last season, and it wasn’t in Game 1 either. They were outshot 15-3 in the period, got a little sloppy with passes and with penalties and gave up two power play goals (Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored on a 5-on-3). And while we’re on that subject…

2. Rough night on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks weren’t too thrilled with some of the penalties late in the second period – the Blues got two 5-on-3s out of them. But even at 4-on-5, the kill was lacking in its first showing of the season. It didn’t help that the Blackhawks were without Niklas Hjalmarsson (serving the final game of a suspension) and Andrew Desjardins (out 4-6 weeks). This was a sticking point for the Blackhawks too often last season, and it’s something they want to rectify this season.

3. A good night for Ryan Hartman, Tyler Motte. The two didn’t get much playing time in the first but a strange play in the second lifted the Blackhawks. Hartman lost his stick, over which Motte tripped heading into the Blues’ zone. Hartman got it back just in time to keep the puck in the zone and a few moments later had his first career NHL goal. It was a confidence builder for both. “Certainly put us in a great spot,” coach Joel Quenneville said of that goal. “Things weren’t going very well at that moment and it was a funny shift, we ended up getting a break and scoring. It was a momentum changer for us. those guys have done some good things throughout camp here, and we feel these [young] guys need to play and get better as we’re going along.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

4. Not challenging the Blues enough. The Blackhawks looked aggressive in the first period and then that went away. As Quenneville said, the Blues don’t allow much but the Blackhawks weren’t pressing the point until it was too late. They finished with just 19 shots on goal, and nine of those came in the first period. “We weren’t doing much of anything tonight, so we made it pretty easy on them in a lot of ways,” Jonathan Toews said.

5. Balancing the minutes more. Again, Wednesday's game was different given the amount of special teams the Blackhawks played, but the team has to get the bottom lines playing more than they did in Game 1. There’ll be growing pains with the young guys, but Quenneville expects that. “We want to make sure we’re playing the right way from start to finish,” he said. “There’ll definitely be some learning going on and we’ll be accepting mistakes form hard work, but that’s where you get better.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Seth Gruen (Big Ten Unfiltered) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel. 

The Blackhawks drop their 8th straight. So should their “One Goal” be to tank?

Plus, Jon Lester isn’t a fan of the new pace of play proposals. Is he right?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

After losing their eighth straight game and falling 12 points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks' playoff chances have dipped to a season-low 0.2 percent. It would take a miracle for them to extend their postseason streak to 10 at this point, where getting just one win seems like a monumental task.

The Blackhawks were probably never really going to be buyers before the Feb. 26 trade deadline even if they were still in the hunt, but it's hard to imagine they had plans to be sellers. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has reiterated over and over again that he's confident in this group, one that's getting younger and faster.

But now they've reached a territory where they have to consider selling off spare parts simply to coup some draft picks or prospects that they could perhaps retain or use as sweeteners in the offseason.

So which players could the Blackhawks realistically sell?

Let's start with the two players getting rewarded with top-six ice time as of late: Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels.

These are two players that play with high energy and go to the greasy areas, something that's important in the playoffs when scoring goals becomes more difficult. They can clean up rebounds. Wingels, particularly, likely has more value and it's showing given his recent success on the power play as a net-front presence guy. He also isn't a stranger to the playoffs with 54 games under his belt compared to Bouma's five.

Both of them are pending unrestricted free agents and are making $1 million or fewer, which certainly works in the Blackhawks' favor considering they won't cost much and their cap hits are easy to fit in on any interested team.

Maybe a team would like to take a flyer on Tomas Jurco, who's a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but that would be a move somebody makes as more of a longer term project than strengthening your depth for a playoff run this spring.

On the back end, Michal Kempny and Jan Rutta could be in play for a contender looking to ensure some depth as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Again, each of them are making less than $1 million so it's a low-risk situation for clubs whose Plan A or B fall through and may be interested in at least getting something.

While they don't have much NHL experience, they're both 27 years old and have played the sport long enough to know what they can bring to the table.

Once Feb. 26 passes and potential roster spots open up, expect the Blackhawks to start calling up the kids. 

Matthew Highmore deserves a look after leading the Rockford IceHogs with 20 goals and 32 points. John Hayden has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 15 games since joining Rockford, and belongs in the NHL. Even Anthony Louis, who's taken a step forward, should get a taste of the action as he continues his development.

Carl Dahlstrom is getting his shot now. Erik Gustafsson is in that process as well. Gustav Forsling had another extended look during the first half of the season before the team decided it would be wise to continue his development in Rockford, where he can play top-pairing minutes.

All of this would give the Blackhawks a better indicator of how they can approach the upcoming offseason, and which young guys they can possibly add into the mix for 2018-19. But first, we have to see how the end of February plays out before making those calls.