Patrick Sharp

Power play woes continue for Blackhawks in OT loss to Oilers

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USA TODAY

Power play woes continue for Blackhawks in OT loss to Oilers

Mark Letestu raised his arms in celebration, his 4-on-3 power-play goal giving the Edmonton Oilers an overtime victory over the Blackhawks. The home team could only look on in frustration, knowing that if it could have just converted one power play on Thursday it may have been a different result.

Five more power plays, five more opportunities that yielded nothing for the Blackhawks, who are now 6-for-39 (15.4 percent) in that department on the season. The 5-on-4 chances were tough enough but coach Joel Quenneville and several Blackhawks pointed specifically to the 5-on-3 the Blackhawks had for 56 seconds.

“The 5-on-3, we had some great looks around the net,” Quenneville said. “A lot of loose pucks that we just didn’t find the handle [on], we’re not anticipating or sniffing them out around the net. Some close looks but no finish.”

It’s been a recurring theme for the Blackhawks on the power play, and not just this year. Again, in the past the Blackhawks didn’t sweat any power-play issues much; their 5-on-5 scoring was usually strong. This early season, however, things have quieted on that front. On Thursday the Blackhawks cleaned up a lot of the mistakes they made against the St. Louis Blues the previous night. Anton Forsberg was terrific. The Blackhawks’ second line of Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane was looking like it did prior to Schmaltz’s injury. But the power play remained the same.

“Yeah, we had a lot of chances, we made plays to the net. We just didn’t capitalize on the power play which would’ve been the difference,” Ryan Hartman said. “We have a chance on the 5-on-3, which would’ve been nice. Just some chances all around, like [Jonathan] Toews’ shot that just squeaked by. Just some missed opportunities.”

The Blackhawks have looked at ways to get their power play going. They’ve tinkered with personnel – the latest was keeping the top two lines together for their respective power-play shifts. Usually it’s come down to the problems that have hampered them before: not enough movement, not enough shots, not enough hunger around the net for loose pucks. The final issue was especially prevalent on Thursday.

The chances were there on the power play. The home team had the bulk of the opportunities. The visiting one had the finish.

“The 5-on-3 we had some decent looks but that was a chance to get a huge goal for us,” Quenneville said. “The power play late in the second was decent, the third was ordinary, but we’ve been moving personnel around. We have the ingredients to make it work but a lot of loose pucks we didn’t get in our 5-on-5 game comparable around the net on the power play as well. We didn’t smell anything out around there.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night:
 
1. Nick Schmaltz returns but sizzle doesn’t.

You didn’t expect the fireworks of the season opener but you figured Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane would connect pretty quickly again. The speed was certainly there. The connections on passes were not. It wasn’t just that second line, though: it was another night on which the Blackhawks’ offense was sluggish. 
 
2. Tripping along.

I joked that tripping is the new slashing. Maybe that’s not the case league-wide but it was for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks took five tripping penalties overall, including three in the first period. It was a clear sign that the Blackhawks were trying to play catch-up all night, and they didn’t fare well at it.
 
3. Power play gets something but…

It took until late in the third period (when the Blackhawks’ offense seems to get going lately). The Blackhawks got two late power-play goals, a reminder of what they can do when they battle for the puck and show some spark.

“Our sense of urgency in the puck area, be it 5-on-5 or on the power play, that’s the differential of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and making plays off it is one of our strengths,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t do that very often and we haven’t won many battles.”
 
4. Starting slow.

Why these are happening is a mystery, and they’ve been most evident in the Blackhawks’ last three games, which have all come against division opponents. Too much relying on Corey Crawford again and not much in terms of shots, be it quality or quantity through the first two periods. The Blackhawks were outshot 17-8 through the first 40 minutes on Wednesday. While they created little they gave up way too much.
 
5. Patrick Sharp OK?

Sharp was injured late on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks-Blues game got chippy in the final five-plus minutes. Quenneville thought Sharp was fine but he wasn’t positive at the time of his postgame press conference.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 10-1 win over Penguins in season opener

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 10-1 win over Penguins in season opener

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 10-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Thursday's season opener:

1. Brandon Saad makes it rain

How's that for a return? Saad announced to Chicago that he's back by netting a hat trick for the second time in the last couple weeks, but this one actually counted.

He scored a pair of first-period goals at even strength, then found the back of the net in the third period to cap it off thanks to a terrific pass by Jonathan Toews, the United Center crowd of 21,705 showering the ice with hats. 

"The puck was finding me tonight," said Saad, who finished with a team-high five shots on goal. "I'll take it."

2. Patrick Kane in MVP form

Who needs Artemi Panarin? Seriously though, Kane put on an absolute clinic in his season debut, tying a career high with a four-point game (one goal and three assists).

His first two assists — a no-look pass and a spin-o-rama — will be on his highlight reel, and so will his goal, where he roofed a ridiculous backhander past Matt Murray, who made a relief appearance after former Blackhawks netminder Antti Niemi allowed four goals on 13 shots in the opening period.

"It's almost like it wasn't a real game," Kane said of the 10-1 rout. "It was amazing."

3. Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz shine ... and Blackhawks dodge a bullet

Schmaltz backed up all the preseason hype that surrounded him by scoring two goals and adding an assist in the win. He backchecked hard, he led the rush and buried his scoring chances. Kane went as far to say after the game that Schmaltz's speed through the middle of the ice reminds him of Connor McDavid.

Staying on the same line, Hartman had himself a career night as well, recording five points (one goal and four assists) in the victory.

That trio of Hartman, Schmaltz and Kane was simply dynamic.

"It was amazing watching the speed, whether it was Schmaltzy going through the middle of the ice, playmaking, patience in the offensive zone, be it off the rush, cross-ice passes, they were doing it all tonight," head coach Joel Quenneville said. "One of those nights where they were outstanding. All complemented one another, all hit open spaces and they all hit those little holes and were extremely dangerous. It was a great start for them."

There was a bit of scare at the end of the third period when Schmaltz left the Blackhawks' bench favoring his leg. Quenneville said after the game that Schmaltz is fine and that he will "likely" play Saturday, along with Tanner Kero, who suffered an injury in the win.

4. Patrick Sharp gets in on the action, too

Oh yeah, it was a nice welcome home for the Sharp Shooter as well. He scored the team's fifth goal to cap off the monstrous first period, which happened to be his 600th career NHL point.

He finished the game with seven shot attempts and logged 19:34 of ice time, which led all Blackhawks forwards.

5. Artem Anisimov's success at the dot

Getting away from all the scoring and looking deeper into the box score, something that flew under the radar was Anisimov's success at the faceoff circle. That was a huge concern for him last season, when he won only 45.1 percent of his draws. 

Consistency is his biggest issue, but he won 15 of 21 faceoffs (71.5 percent) in a third-line role to open the season. Great start.