Blackhawks

Deng's talents appreciated in Philadelphia

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Deng's talents appreciated in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA Not that he isnt appreciated in Chicago, but if Luol Deng ever needs a pick-me-up, maybe he should just catch a quick flight to Philadelphia. Doug Collins, the 76ers head coach and father of Chris Collins, an assistant coach at Duke, where Deng played in college threw heaps of praise upon the first-time All-Star following his teams Sunday-morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center.

We did not see Rip or Luol the last time. Lus having a terrific year. Hes really shooting the ball well, his three-point shooting is up, which really makes it difficult to guard Lu because hes such a slasher and a cutter, said Collins. What Rip has done and a little what Luol has done they were great mid-range shooters and they added some length to their shot to, I think, keep you a little bit more honest.

With Lu, he was such a slasher and a cutter, I think the one year Ive got to go back and look at my notes but when I was broadcasting, the one year he took quite a few threes and then, he came back the next year and really cut down on those threes. His shooting percentage went way up and then, little by little, he started adding the three more into it and when you play with a guy like Derrick Rose, he elevates your offensive rebounding because hes on top of the rim all of the time and your bigs are helping, so thats why Joakim and Booz and Gibson and Asik are on top of the basket rebounding. Then hes going to get you open shots because he penetrates, draws people and hes going to kick that ball, and hes very, very unselfish, continued the detail-oriented coach, not unlike, if more outgoing, than the Bulls Tom Thibodeau. You want to be able to surround him with shooters and thats why when I think Lu was 4-for-4 the other night against Cleveland; it looked they were all from the same spot when I was watching the tape you add that to your game, now you close out, now you can drive and you just expand your game. So, Rip has done that and both Lu.

Dengs former Bulls teammate and current Sixer Andres Nocioni also spoke highly of his fellow small forwards development, as well as the teams continual improvement.

Theyre doing great and theyre doing a lot. I think theyve got more experience, theyre playing really well every night and you know they have Derrick Rose, the MVP, and you know Luol is stepping up his game. Hes playing hard, too, so its really fun to watch their games and I think theyre doing a great job, said Nocioni, who was traded from Chicago to Philadelphia during Roses rookie season. Deng is playing really well right now. I think he deserved to be an All-Star. Hes the kind of guy who works hard every night and hes proud to be a Chicago Bulls player, and I think hes doing a great job.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."