Five Things: Blackhawks' top line strikes again


Five Things: Blackhawks' top line strikes again

Win some, win some more: there really hasn’t been a “lose some” part of that phrase lately.

The Blackhawks, so uncertain and shaky through the first month plus of this season, are starting to look like the well-oiled machine of old. They were winning again on Sunday, when they claimed a 5-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens for their 11th consecutive victory. The streak has the Blackhawks sitting atop the Central Division, three points ahead of the Dallas Stars they were chasing the first few months.

So before we hit the road, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over Montreal.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

1. Jonathan Toews nets two more. Remember when we talked about the captain’s lack of scoring, at least outside of overtime goals? Yeah, that was adorable. Toews has been part of the top line’s resurgence in recent games, and he scored his 18th and 19th of the season in the second period on Sunday night. Toews said the chemistry between he, Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa is growing. “We're not having to work as hard at trying to get pucks back and when we get it, we keep it for longer,” he said. “We're keeping plays alive. We're able to find guys with time and space and get them away from pressure in the zone, and eventually we're going to get confidence.”

2. Marian Hossa gets closer to 500 career goals. Hossa thought he had what ended up being Toews’ first goal of the second period – “I thought it was in the net and Jonny had the quick hands,” Hossa said. But he did get career goal No. 494 in the waning seconds when Duncan Keith’s pass went off his stick. Hossa, who also added two assists, was in a rut as much as anyone earlier this season. He’s coming out of it now.

3. Erik Gustafsson continues to be a great find. The Blackhawks won the two games Gustafsson missed with a knee injury but there’s no doubt the impact the defenseman has when he’s in the lineup. He was barely back two minutes on Sunday when he laced a beautiful pass to Richard Panik, who scored for a 1-0 lead. Coach Joel Quenneville said Gustafsson is a defenseman who thinks like a forward. His crisp passes, eight of which have been assists this season, attest to that.

[MORE: Blackhawks tie franchise record with 11th straight win over Canadiens]

4. Corey Crawford ties a streak of his own. Crawford won his eighth consecutive game on Sunday, matching a streak he set during the 2010-11 season, his first full one with the Blackhawks. When the Blackhawks have been up and down offensively and defensively this season, Crawford was the constant. He also thwarted his hometown team once again, and improving to 5-0-2 against the Canadiens in his career.

5. The power play scores again. Oh, those days of the power play being a much-maligned mess are over. It’s not great at home – 20th in the league entering Sunday’s game – but it’s nevertheless producing. Even if it isn’t, it’s not draining momentum from the Blackhawks, as it has in years past. Again, when it’s all going right, it’s really all going right.

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?