Blackhawks

Michael Latta finding his niche and game again in Rockford

Michael Latta finding his niche and game again in Rockford

ROCKFORD – When the Rockford IceHogs traded for Michael Latta in January, Twitter mentions went a little crazy for what was a minor-league deal. Latta earned some social-media darling status a few seasons ago with the Washington Capitals on "Road to the Winter Classic," when he and then teammate/roommate never had anything but ketchup in their fridge.

Good news is, when he was traded here for defenseman Cameron Schilling, Latta's lack of food wasn't an issue.

"Yeah, I took Schilling's place so he left me a bunch," Latta said with a laugh. "So thank God."

All kidding and Costco levels of condiments aside, Latta is in a good place these days. Coming from the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings affiliate), where things didn't go so well, Latta is now playing a lot of minutes, getting a lot of responsibility and recording a lot of assists. Coming off a three-point game on Saturday, Latta now has seven assists since making his Rockford debut on Jan. 25.

The change of scenery was a welcome one for the 25-year-old, who's been playing with Tyler Motte and Mark McNeill.

"It's been great," Latta said following the IceHogs' practice on Tuesday. "They've given me a lot of chances, a lot of opportunities. And this last weekend I started feeling really comfortable. I get along with the guys and [I'm learning] the system so it's been good. It's going well so far."

The IceHogs were happy to take Latta; Rockford coach Ted Dent said Latta was a thorn in the IceHogs' side when he played with the Milwaukee Admirals from 2010-13.

"He's the type of guy you hate to play against but you love to have him on your team. We lived through the not having him on our team for two years and he was very effective against us, scrappy and in your face and he shows up to play. All coaches respect that and want guys like that on your team," Dent said. "He has a little skill as well that some people may not know about, but if you give him an opportunity he's definitely showing he can play with some high-end players as well."

Latta started the season at the Los Angeles Kings' training camp but was assigned to the Reign in early October. Not much was happening there, so Latta was thrilled at the trade.

Sometimes players go and you think it's going to be a good fit but it doesn't work out," he said. "But I'm happy here, I think I'm a good fit here and I hope they think so, too."

Naturally, Latta would love an opportunity with the Blackhawks. He knows there's plenty of competition for whatever chance there would be but he keeps it in the back of his mind.

"They don't know me very well so it'd be nice to go up there and get a shot," he said. "Just get a chance to show the and see what they think."

If or when that happens, who knows. Right now, however, Latta is happy to get more playing time and more of a chance to get his game back.

"I know he wasn't playing a lot in Ontario, it wasn't going well," Dent said. "He wanted an opportunity. The fact we know him and have seen him play helps out. I've seen him, management's seen him, everyone liked him and [know] the intangibles he brought to the table. Right away he's playing with our top-nine forwards, between 14-17 minutes of ice time a night. I think he's like, 'wow this is fun,'" Dent said. "We just brought the fun back into the game for him at the beginning and now he's getting to know the guys and feels a lot more comfortable."

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night:
 
1. Nick Schmaltz returns but sizzle doesn’t.

You didn’t expect the fireworks of the season opener but you figured Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane would connect pretty quickly again. The speed was certainly there. The connections on passes were not. It wasn’t just that second line, though: it was another night on which the Blackhawks’ offense was sluggish. 
 
2. Tripping along.

I joked that tripping is the new slashing. Maybe that’s not the case league-wide but it was for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks took five tripping penalties overall, including three in the first period. It was a clear sign that the Blackhawks were trying to play catch-up all night, and they didn’t fare well at it.
 
3. Power play gets something but…

It took until late in the third period (when the Blackhawks’ offense seems to get going lately). The Blackhawks got two late power-play goals, a reminder of what they can do when they battle for the puck and show some spark.

“Our sense of urgency in the puck area, be it 5-on-5 or on the power play, that’s the differential of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and making plays off it is one of our strengths,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t do that very often and we haven’t won many battles.”
 
4. Starting slow.

Why these are happening is a mystery, and they’ve been most evident in the Blackhawks’ last three games, which have all come against division opponents. Too much relying on Corey Crawford again and not much in terms of shots, be it quality or quantity through the first two periods. The Blackhawks were outshot 17-8 through the first 40 minutes on Wednesday. While they created little they gave up way too much.
 
5. Patrick Sharp OK?

Sharp was injured late on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks-Blues game got chippy in the final five-plus minutes. Quenneville thought Sharp was fine but he wasn’t positive at the time of his postgame press conference.

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks’ first tripping came barely a minute into the game. Then came another one. And another. And another. And another. Despite welcoming one of their fastest players back into the lineup, the Blackhawks were overall flat-footed and playing catch-up all night, be it on the ice or on the scoreboard, to the St. Louis Blues.

Nick Schmaltz returned but the effect on the second line and the Blackhawks overall wasn’t immediate. Instead the Blackhawks looked sluggish. Their offensive opportunities were few – a one and done here and there but no sustained zone time or pressure on Blues goaltender Jake Allen – their passing was off and they were on the defensive all night.

And then there were the tripping penalties. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill held up through it, nullifying all five Blues power-play opportunities. But the Blues found other ways to inflict their damage.

“They played well and we were brutal,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was a bad start, a bad middle and even [though] it was a little excited at the end it wasn’t very good. That’s as close to brutal as you can get.”

The Blackhawks’ last three games have common themes: they’re outshot for a good part of the game, they’re giving up a good amount of quality shots and then the urgency hits them midway through the third period. For the third consecutive contest the Blackhawks scored two goals late and in two of those three games it wasn’t nearly enough.

“Obviously it wasn’t good enough for two periods. If you take any positives out of this game, it’s the way we played in the third,” Patrick Kane said. “At least we know we can do it. Just gotta do it before our backs are against the wall.”

Why it’s taking the Blackhawks so long to get going, however, is the question. Obviously the Blackhawks’ late third-period pushes show how capable they are of producing when necessary. Said Alex DeBrincat, who assisted on Ryan Hartman’s goal late in regulation, “If we’re would’ve been crashing the net like that all game it may have been a different story.”

But they didn’t. The Blackhawks welcomed back a teammate that’s injected speed into their lineup but the team was once again stumbling out of the gate.

“We’re supposed to be out there, giving our all every minute we’re out there and every shift, go out there and take it a shift at a time and give it all you got every shift,” Hartman said. “We have four lines that can roll so there’s no excuse for not going out there and putting all your energy out there for a shift and getting ready for the next one.”