Blackhawks

Rolling on four in a row, Blackhawks find early season success

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Rolling on four in a row, Blackhawks find early season success

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Tanner Kero will make his NHL debut and Corey Crawford will start as the Blackhawks face the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre tonight. 

The Blackhawks have been finding success despite losing Duncan Keith. They’ve won four in a row and enter Thursday night’s game fifth overall in the Western Conference (12 points). It’s been an interesting early schedule for the Blackhawks, who are finally playing in their first Central Division matchup this evening.

“We mentioned that this morning, so it was fresh,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s amazing. Here we are, you look at our division and look at how competitive [it is] and what’s it going to take at the end to make it. It could be a whole new number. It’s a meaningful game. We have to play well on the road and we know how good this team is and how challenging it’ll be in this building as well. It’ll make for a great divisional race from start to finish, and some great teams in our division. This is one of them.”

[MORE HAWKS: Tanner Kero's scoring touch could help Blackhawks]

Winnipeg is coming off a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Michael Hutchinson is expected to get the start tonight. Against the Blackhawks, Hutchinson is 3-0-1 with a 1.23 goals-against average and .961 save percentage.

The Jets will be seeing some different faces in this Blackhawks roster but, despite the turnover, the Jets aren’t surprised the Blackhawks are still finding early season success.

“I don’t think the team or structure’s changed a bit. So I don’t know if the look has necessarily changed at all,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. “The one thing they’ve been able to do… they had a stretch of games last year when they had a difficult time scoring with their lineup fine, everybody in it, and found a way to win. They played that game that served them well in the playoffs, so when you [lose players], they don’t have to change their identity or who they are.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!

The Blackhawks have won their last two games by identical 1-0 overtime decisions. They don’t want to change much in their game, especially on the defensive side. But they are certainly looking for more offense.

“I think we need to just start burying our chances,” Andrew Shaw said. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities. You can say we’ve run into some pretty good goalies but then again, we’ve had some opportunities we’ve missed and ones we should bury. I think if we just keep sticking to the game plan, eventually they’ll start going in for us.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Seth Gruen (Big Ten Unfiltered) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel. 

The Blackhawks drop their 8th straight. So should their “One Goal” be to tank?

Plus, Jon Lester isn’t a fan of the new pace of play proposals. Is he right?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

After losing their eighth straight game and falling 12 points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks' playoff chances have dipped to a season-low 0.2 percent. It would take a miracle for them to extend their postseason streak to 10 at this point, where getting just one win seems like a monumental task.

The Blackhawks were probably never really going to be buyers before the Feb. 26 trade deadline even if they were still in the hunt, but it's hard to imagine they had plans to be sellers. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has reiterated over and over again that he's confident in this group, one that's getting younger and faster.

But now they've reached a territory where they have to consider selling off spare parts simply to coup some draft picks or prospects that they could perhaps retain or use as sweeteners in the offseason.

So which players could the Blackhawks realistically sell?

Let's start with the two players getting rewarded with top-six ice time as of late: Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels.

These are two players that play with high energy and go to the greasy areas, something that's important in the playoffs when scoring goals becomes more difficult. They can clean up rebounds. Wingels, particularly, likely has more value and it's showing given his recent success on the power play as a net-front presence guy. He also isn't a stranger to the playoffs with 54 games under his belt compared to Bouma's five.

Both of them are pending unrestricted free agents and are making $1 million or fewer, which certainly works in the Blackhawks' favor considering they won't cost much and their cap hits are easy to fit in on any interested team.

Maybe a team would like to take a flyer on Tomas Jurco, who's a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but that would be a move somebody makes as more of a longer term project than strengthening your depth for a playoff run this spring.

On the back end, Michal Kempny and Jan Rutta could be in play for a contender looking to ensure some depth as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Again, each of them are making less than $1 million so it's a low-risk situation for clubs whose Plan A or B fall through and may be interested in at least getting something.

While they don't have much NHL experience, they're both 27 years old and have played the sport long enough to know what they can bring to the table.

Once Feb. 26 passes and potential roster spots open up, expect the Blackhawks to start calling up the kids. 

Matthew Highmore deserves a look after leading the Rockford IceHogs with 20 goals and 32 points. John Hayden has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 15 games since joining Rockford, and belongs in the NHL. Even Anthony Louis, who's taken a step forward, should get a taste of the action as he continues his development.

Carl Dahlstrom is getting his shot now. Erik Gustafsson is in that process as well. Gustav Forsling had another extended look during the first half of the season before the team decided it would be wise to continue his development in Rockford, where he can play top-pairing minutes.

All of this would give the Blackhawks a better indicator of how they can approach the upcoming offseason, and which young guys they can possibly add into the mix for 2018-19. But first, we have to see how the end of February plays out before making those calls.