Blackhawks

Three (months) down, three to go

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Three (months) down, three to go

The Blackhawks put together a very good first half, but the very end of it has raised a couple of red flags.

Between the leadership in the dressing room and the coaching staff, this team has a history of finding ways to right its ship when it shows signs of listing. Every team has its rough patches as it goes through a season, and the Blackhawks have matched their season-high three-game losing streak with none other than Detroit coming to town - trying to make it four (especially after losing here last Friday). After riding high through December, one has to wonder if the Dog Days surrounding the All-Star break have come a bit early for this team since that last meeting with the Wings that closed out 2011. We've been hearing "outworked" from players after recent losses. It's nice of them to admit it, but that doesn't really fly with the fans who show up. It's the bar they've set for themselves.

Aside from finding ways to become consistently good on the special teams that have been a roller coaster the first half of the season, allowing the fourth-most goals in the West has to be one of Stan Bowman's and Joel Quenneville's biggest concerns. Heading into the weekend, only the 12th, 14th and 15th teams in the conference (Calgary, Anaheim and Columbus) had allowed more.

It goes beyond the group that has "D" listed next to their names, because there have certainly been enough breakdowns that don't rest solely on their shoulders. The second pairing will be watched closely over the next few weeks, and judging by the revolving door, none of the three candidates to join Steve Montador on the third pairing has consistently distinguished himself. Barring any injury-related needs that must be addressed, that's certainly what Bowman will be shopping for, trying to outbid other teams looking for the same thing as he seeks a trade partner.

The other tough deal he'll seek to find ideally involves finding a second-line center. Short of that, though, just finding a player who'd provide consistent production beyond Toews, Hossa, Sharp and Kane would be a bonus. That quartet has been tremendous through 41 games, even with Patrick Kane not scoring goals at his expected rate. But they can't do it all themselves, all the time. The occasional offensive involvement from the blue line is always welcome. But if you look at the first half numbers of some of the players Bowman and Quenneville have been counting on to raise their stats, it makes you wonder how long the team is willing to wait for something that hasn't happened yet. Sure, the primary roles of some of those players isn't necessarily offense. But you'd have to believe the bosses are looking for more - earning Quenneville's trust, and allowing him to get four lines rolling without having to turn to The Big Four.

In dropping four of these last five games, those four individuals have combined for four goals and 11 points. Recent call-ups Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw and defenseman Brent Seabrook have combined for five of their other six goals in that stretch. Of the seven assists compiled by the other forwards in those five games, Jamal Mayers and the now-suspended Daniel Carcillo have two apiece.

These Blackhawks remain better than a lot of teams in the West. There are a handful of clubs certainly playing better than they have these last ten days, and it doesn't take a long slump to shift the standings and potential playoff seeding. As they showed for most of October and December, they're capable of being the best, even when they feel they're still not playing up to their potential. Who knows - maybe they have issues with odd-numbered months.

Now we get to watch whether this is as challenging as it gets for this team and they again show their resiliency. If that defense and goaltending tighten up again. Whether the special teams get consistent and climb the rankings. If they can get the offensive balance the brass envisioned. And if not, how patient, or bold, management will be with the roster in order to become the best team when April rolls around.

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.