Blackhawks

Hawks' ability to maintain edge proves successful once again

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Hawks' ability to maintain edge proves successful once again

As the Chicago Blackhawks tried to figure out ways to beat Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen on Thursday night, they couldnt help but admire the guy.

It was almost fun to watch how good he was playing, just making acrobatic save after save, Patrick Kane said afterward.

Sure, that came after the Blackhawks came back to beat said goaltender, 3-2, in overtime. But what strikes me about that comment is this: the Blackhawks saw what Lehtonen was doing, they respected him for it, but they never lost their edge or stopped trying to beat him. And eventually it paid off.

Theres a certain calmness, a team-wide focus to these Blackhawks through the first four games. Theres no panic, no massive worry and no apprehension coming through in their play.

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It was a really good game for us and I think their tender was amazing tonight, goaltender Corey Crawford said. We just kept sticking to the same play, kept going, and our guys did a great job not getting frustrated. The missed opportunities or big saves sometimes get to you. But tonight was great. We kept going, got some big goals and an amazing play by Kaners at the end there.

The Blackhawks are off to their best start in 40 years, thanks to a combination of solid team play, better special teams and, yes, those four rolling lines that recently had Marian Hossa reminiscing all the way back to 2010. Its a familiar group, one that hasnt changed much since last season. But thats proving to be a good thing.

You look at the team we have now, its pretty much the same as last year. Its a team that had a good season, had over 100 points, underachieved in the playoffs and thought we couldve had a better season, Kane said. You put the same group together, theyre going to have a chip on their shoulder to come back and prove to everyone that it can be the team to do something special. Hopefully thats what we have in here.

Yes, there are going to be bumps in the road and (gasp) losses at some point. But the Blackhawks are playing like a cohesive, confident group with something to prove; and thats going to help them plenty through this 48-game sprint of a season.

The power play takes a positive turn

Patrick Sharp recently talked about the Blackhawks special teams, including that power play that was so beleaguered last season.

Yeah, its been a topic of conversation for a long time, he said.

Well, it still is. Except this time, its for a good reason. The Blackhawks power play, a glaring Achilles heel last season, has been a boon in the early going. Theyve scored at least one power-play goal in each of their first four games, including all three of their goals in Thursday nights 3-2 overtime victory over the Dallas Stars.

Six power-play goals in the first four games: not bad for a team that managed 42 man-advantage goals in 82 games last season.

Duncan Keith to the rescue

Corey Crawford was solid in getting his third victory of the season, stopping 21 of 23 including a penalty shot. But a little help never hurts.

An Alex Goligoski shot trickled through Crawfords pads and toward the goal as the final second-period seconds ticked away. Duncan Keith stopped it, clearing the puck as the horn sounded.

That guy, hes aware all over the ice, he gets to things so quick, Crawford said of Keith. He saved my rear end. I owe him one now, I guess.

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

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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.