Blackhawks

Pressure on Blackhawks reminiscent of 2012-13 season

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USA TODAY

Pressure on Blackhawks reminiscent of 2012-13 season

On Monday afternoon NHL Network broadcast their review of the Blackhawks’ 2013 Cup run. Once that season did finally begin in January of 2013 you all remember what happened: the insane 21-0-3 start, the consistency throughout that shortened regular season, the scare against the Detroit Red Wings and the eventual Cup.

Considering the end result it’s easy to forget how much uncertainty there was entering that season – past the uncertainty of if there even would be a season. The Blackhawks were coming off two consecutive seasons that ended with first-round losses, their attempts to bolster roster depth had fallen short in both of those seasons and the chances of the core group getting another Cup didn’t look promising.

Sound familiar?

Fast forward to this fall with the Blackhawks facing a lot of uncertainty again. They’ve once again looked to free agency to try and boost their depth. They’ve once again looked to former players (Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad) to help rekindle what worked so well from 2012-15. And once again, the pressure is on to get back to where they were not so long ago.

But there are a whole lot of differences between then and now. Hindsight confirming now what we weren’t sure of then, that 2012-13 team was pretty deep. Bryan Bickell had a career year. Johnny Oduya, acquired the previous season, bolstered the Blackhawks’ defense. Andrew Shaw came into his own. So did Saad. Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger became steady and reliable penalty killers. The core players were in the prime of their careers and still had a lot of hockey in front of them.

Can the Blackhawks have a rebound season like 2012-13? Right now, it would be a surprise. Key players have logged a lot of hockey since the 2008-09 season, including two conference finals and three Stanley Cup runs. Marian Hossa is gone. The Blackhawks’ depth past the top two lines is a concern. So is the defensive lineup. While the Blackhawks surged to claim the Central last season, others have increased their chances of taking the top spot. Nashville made its statement last spring, starting with that first round against the Blackhawks. The Dallas Stars enter this fall having addressed their most pressing concern (goaltending).

To say this Blackhawks season is going to be interesting is an understatement. They could live with the seven-game, first-round elimination against St. Louis in 2016 but they couldn’t stomach the first-round sweep to Nashville in April. The pressure the Blackhawks are feeling now is very much like the pressure they felt entering the 2012-13 season. Alleviating it this time around is going to be a lot tougher to do.

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.