Blackhawks

Patrick Kane believes Blackhawks might be better than last year ... on paper

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AP

Patrick Kane believes Blackhawks might be better than last year ... on paper

After initially struggling to cope with the reality of losing linemate and close friend Artemi Panarin, along with teammate Niklas Hjalmarsson to trades his offseason, Patrick Kane is slowly starting to like Chicago's reformed roster the more he looks at it.

The Blackhawks reacquired top-line winger Brandon Saad, brought back three-time Stanley Cup champion Patrick Sharp, got 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy in return to help ease the loss of Hjalmarsson on the back end, and made several depth signings up front such as Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels via free agency.

But will it translate into on-ice success? 

"It's tough to say," Kane said at the Chicago Hockey Charity Classic at Fox Valley Ice Arena on Saturday. "I think time will tell, obviously. But I'd like to think on paper we're a better team."

GM Stan Bowman wasn't kidding when he said changes would be coming to the organization after a first-round sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators, and his moves helped extend the Blackhawks' championship window a few more years despite making the short term a more challenging task.

At the same time, the Blackhawks did finish the 2016-17 campaign as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with 109 points before getting bounced in the opening round for the second straight year. There's a fine line when you're evaluating the season as a whole.

"If you look at our season last year, I mean, we had a pretty good season," Kane said. "We just kind of collapsed there at the end. Disappointing finish, but when that happens, you know there's going to be changes. You can't really ask for much more from a management standpoint, as far as asking for them to make moves to help us win. They did that."

Now the question is whether they can put it all together.

Getting the new (and old) faces acclimated to the Blackhawks' style of hockey as quickly as possible and ironing out the wrinkles before April will be key to avoiding another quick postseason exit.

"Obviously, there's some faces that have been here for a long time, and some faces you didn't want to see go that are maybe kind of the cause of some of those moves, but it's disappointing," Kane said. "At the same time, we've got some guys coming back in, like Sharpie and Saad, [and] they're pretty high on this Murphy kid, as well.

"We have guys that are going to come in. It looks great on paper, but we need to go on the ice and do it and make sure that we're playing the game of hockey we know how to play."

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.