Blackhawks

Hawks leaning on each other during slump

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Hawks leaning on each other during slump

NEW YORK Jonathan Toews gave a few smiles on Wednesday, an expression thats been hard to display considering the Blackhawks past few weeks of games.

Trouble sleeping, conversations on hockey and nothing but hockey, Toews and the Blackhawks are experiencing a lot of that right now. Nobody understands the life of a struggling athlete more than another struggling athlete. So with the pressure to win leaning on them heavy, the Blackhawks are leaning on each other.

The Blackhawks will look to snap their nine-game winless streak on Thursday, when they take on the surging New York Rangers. Its been a long haul on an already long road trip for the Blackhawks, who are dazed at whats happened the last three weeks. But theyve tried to take advantage of their time around each other, talking it out and trying to keep each others spirits high.

Every day were reminding each other that were teammates, friends and family. Well pull through it together, Toews said. Were not holding any of the bad luck or discouraging things against each other. Thats the biggest thing.

Dave Bolland said hes never been through a skid like this, dating all the way back to his junior hockey days. Keeping spirits high has been difficult, at best. But he said the team dichotomy has to pull the Blackhawks out of this off the ice as well as on it.

We go down as one and we win as one, he said. When one guys down, you boost him up. Were always helping teammates. Thats the one thing with this team: were a family. If anybodys down and anything happens, theres another guy to bump him up or say something.

And for those who think the Blackhawks are just turning off the hockey thoughts as soon as they leave the rink, guess again. Toews talked about having some sleepless nights lately. Patrick Sharp said the conversation is all hockey all the time, from on the ice to at the dinner table its not like you punch out of the rink and clear mentally, Sharp said. We take our job seriously.

The Blackhawks say theyre pulling together during this slump. They have to. Other teams are still gunning for them and nobodys feeling sorry for them.

They were a tight group when they were winning. They have to be just as tight, if not tighter, to start winning again.

It does get to be tough when youre losing to come to the rink. Nobody likes talking about it; everybody likes to stay away from it. But we do talk about it, Bolland said. Its never fun being in one of these and its tough. For us, talking and anything we can do to get out of it is positive.

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.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.