John Hayden

Glass half full? There was something to be excited about in Blackhawks loss to Bruins

Glass half full? There was something to be excited about in Blackhawks loss to Bruins

There hasn't been much to cheer for this season if you're a Blackhawks fan.

It was another painful unraveling on Saturday after they allowed four power-play goals and suffered their second regulation loss (17-2-3) when leading after two periods in a 7-4 loss to the Boston Bruins.

But, taking a glass half-full approach, there was something to be excited about.

Matthew Highmore scored his first career NHL goal, added two blocked shots and two hits in a season-high 15:48 of ice time.

John Hayden, who was recalled from the AHL's Rockford IceHogs on an emergency basis, showed some fight — literally — by dropping the gloves in his second shift then scoring a goal the next period. He basically picked up where he left off in Rockford, where he had five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 22 games.

Erik Gustafsson had a career-high three points, and has two goals in three games since signing a two-year contract extension. He had only one goal in his previous 60 games, dating back to last year's rookie campaign.

Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz each registered an assist to maintain their position among the Top 4 scorers on the Blackhawks, while David Kampf also recorded an assist for the second straight game, had a team-high four takeaways and won at least half of his faceoffs for the seventh straight game — he's 52-for-86 (60.5 percent) over that span.

Notice a common theme?

Every single one of those players are aged 25 or younger and made an impact on the scoresheet. Even more encouraging, they did it against a team that is arguably the best in the NHL.

They're taking it upon themselves to stand out in this final month, which is essentially an open audition for next season and beyond.

Sure, the youth movement comes with bumps and bruises, and it's hard to look at this game and feel good about it, but it would be even more alarming if there weren't signs of development in those younger players. That sets franchise's back years.

That's not the case going on in Chicago.

It's about how quickly they can put it all together and make it work as a group, and moving past the developmental stages of the retooling process by 2018-19.

Fourth line adding a little of everything, including goals, for Blackhawks


Fourth line adding a little of everything, including goals, for Blackhawks

They know their role, what they have to do every time they’re on the ice. Fourth liners are out there to bring energy, to bring a physical presence, the sandpaper, the grit, all those familiar terms.

As for what fourth liners want to do? Well with that, they’re like every other hockey player.

“You know, we all play this game for one reason and that’s to score goals,” Tommy Wingels said recently. “Whether you’re a five-goal scorer or a 50-goal scorer, you go out there wanting to score a goal every shift. that being said, are we going to do that? No. But we’re certainly going to try every shift.”

For Wingels, Lance Bouma and John Hayden, who have comprised the Blackhawks’ fourth line for most of this season, the trying has yielded some good results lately. All three have scored in recent games; Wingels and Bouma provided the goals in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to Nashville on Tuesday night, with Wingels nearly tying the game late.

When the Blackhawks were experimenting with different line combinations during their scoring drought, the fourth line remained intact. That’s mainly because those three serve a certain purpose but it’s also because it’s been consistent. Bouma, in and out of the Calgary Flames’ lineup the last two seasons due to injury or lack of production, has found a steady role here. Wingels was expected to play mainly wing but has found his niche at center. Hayden brings skill and the physical element, mixing it up a few times this season.

It didn’t take long for the three to mesh and get familiar with each other’s tendencies.

“We played with each other for most of the year so we know where everyone’s going to be on the ice. And it’s a good combination,” Bouma said. “We have a good mixture on the line. We’re all gritty guys, we all want the puck and are hungry on it. If we continue to play like that we’ll have some success.”

The fourth liners know their role: bring the energy, the grit, the physical presence, all of that. But goal scoring is never frowned upon, and those three have brought that, too.

“It’s a lot of different things we try to do. We try to be physical, we try to draw penalties, we try to bring momentum in our favor, we try to play well defensively,” Wingels said. “It’s just doing anything we can to help this team win.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks 4-1 win over Panthers: Much-needed offensive breakout for Jonathan Toews

Five takeaways from Blackhawks 4-1 win over Panthers: Much-needed offensive breakout for Jonathan Toews

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night:
1. Another strong start.

The Blackhawks had arguably their best first period since Opening Night on Wednesday in Tampa Bay when they scored a pair of goals and killed off three penalties, but they topped that against the Panthers.

The Blackhawks registered 30 shot attempts (21 on goal), allowed only nine attempts (seven on goal) and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 13-4. White jerseys were flying everywhere.

John Hayden and Brandon Saad both buried their scoring chances at the doorstep, and helped the Blackhawks take a 2-0 lead into the second period.

Chicago now has 24 first-period goals this season, which ranks fourth in the league.

2. Saad-Toews-Panik line dominates.

Of the 30 shot attempts the Blackhawks compiled in the first period, the top line of Saad, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik combined for more than half of them. In fact, the trio was on the ice for 19 shot attempts for and zero against in their first six shifts, all of which were at even strength.

Saad had seven of the team's 21 shots on goal in the period, which alone matched his season-high going into the matchup. The last Blackhawks player to record seven shots on goal in a period was Dustin Byfuglien on Feb. 6, 2008 against Edmonton.

Saad was rewarded with a goal, just his second in his last 16 games, when he slammed home a Toews pass. Saad also had an assist and finished with eight shots on goal.

3. Kaner's feeling it.

Look out, folks. Here comes the 2016 Hart Trophy winner.

Patrick Kane has four goals in his last five games, including three in his last two, after going seven straight games without one. With seemingly no room, Kane found a hole top shelf snapped a shot past Roberto Luongo's left shoulder to put the Blackhawks in front 3-1 less than six minutes after the Panthers had cut their lead in half 1:06 into the second period.

It really helped squash any type of momentum for the Panthers, who outshot the Blackhawks 19-10 in the middle frame.

Kane also extended his point streak to six games, where he has four assists to go along with his four goals over that span.

4. So is The Captain?

Both of the Blackhawks' top weapons are starting to heat up. One of them already has.

Toews got off to a hot start when he had six points (three goals, three assists) in his first six games, but slowed down after he accumulated only seven points (two goals, five assists) in his next 16.

Well, that changed Saturday when he tallied a goal and two assists for his first three-point outing of the season. His goal was fluky, but one that certainly took terrific hand-eye coordination.

Hey, you take them any way you can get them, especially during a drought. The Blackhawks improved to 4-1-1 when their captain scores a goal this season.

If he gets going offensively on a consistent basis, the rest of the lineup will too because it simply takes pressure off the other three lines. Toews sets the tone.

5. Fourth line stays reliable.

If there's one line that's been consistent throughout the majority of the season, it's the Blackhawks' fourth consisting of Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels and Hayden. 

The trio turned in another solid effort, combining for eight shot attempts (seven on goal), three hits and also teamed up to score the game's first goal (Hayden, assisted by Bouma and Wingels), as mentioned above.

Bouma had another point, and increased in his point total to eight (one goal, seven assists) in seven career games against the Panthers.

It's got to be encouraging for Joel Quenneville that he can rely on his fourth line to play third-line minutes, and in any role, while he continues to tinker and figure out his top nine in an effort to get more consistency across the board. Although he hasn't gone to the blender much lately, which is a great sign because it means the Blackhawks are piling up wins.