Blackhawks

Marko Dano gets another shot at Blackhawks' top line

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Marko Dano gets another shot at Blackhawks' top line

The Blackhawks started training camp thinking Marko Dano, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa could be their top line entering the season.

It wasn’t. But after several weeks of trying pretty much everybody at that left-wing spot, the Blackhawks will take another shot with what looked promising in mid-September.

Dano practiced with Toews and Hossa on Friday, and it looks like he’ll get his first regular-season shot at helping the Blackhawks find their first-line answer. For Dano, who was recalled on Nov. 2 after starting the regular season with the Rockford IceHogs, it’s a second opportunity.

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“It’s good to be back with them on the same line and yeah, they’re trying to find someone to play on the first line and now I’m getting a chance,” he said. “It’s a big opportunity for me and we played well in training camp at Notre Dame and now hopefully it’s going to work again. I’ll just go there, have fun with them and hopefully it’s going to work.”

The 20-year-old forward was there in September, back when coach Joel Quenneville said, “that’s the lottery spot when you get to play on that line.” Apparently it should have been called the “lottery” spot for a different reason: the Blackhawks have constantly been pulling a new number out of the bag in the hopes of finding a winner.

Nothing has stuck. Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Garbutt, Andrew Shaw, Viktor Tikhonov and Bryan Bickell have all taken top-line whirls as the Blackhawks look find something, anything similar to what second liners Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane have done.

So now it’s Dano’s turn.

“We’ve tried everybody so far – not everybody but just about. So he gets an opportunity,” Quenneville said. “Whether it’s the line as a group, no matter what part, we’re looking to find some predictability, stability, consistent scoring. That’s the one line that’s traditionally been effective and you can count on for some production. Hopefully we can get something besides Arty’s line going.”

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It doesn’t sound like the most overwhelming endorsement but, hey, why not? Dano was noticeable against New Jersey on Thursday night, more aggressive than he’s been in previous games. He’s not out there for the physical game but he had four hits anyway against the Devils.

“I was trying to bring more energy on the ice and just play better than the games before. I think that’s the key to throw the body out there, play faster and do the simple plays,” Dano said. “I tried to do it last night and I’m going to keep working hard and do it the next game too.”

The Blackhawks have several issues they’re trying to work out. One is finding a top-line combination that works for more than a game. Dano was the guy the Blackhawks envisioned as part of that line in September. Now they’ll give it another look in the hopes it sticks.

“He has some nice hands, he has some finish to his game. Still think his overall game – we've got to continue to work on that area. But he made some nice plays last night; almost scored a goal as well,” Quenneville said. “But playing with those guys, hopefully there's some production.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."