Richard Panik

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime loss to Maple Leafs

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime loss to Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night:

1. Anton Forsberg stands on his head.

Due to Corey Crawford's remarkable numbers against Montreal, Joel Quenneville elected to go with Forsberg between the pipes in Toronto and it turned out to be a solid decision despite the overall result.

He stopped 39 of 43 shots (.906 save percentage) in his official team debut, and essentially stole a point for the Blackhawks, who were outshot 43-21. The only blemish was a soft goal he allowed on Toronto's first goal of the game, when Nikita Zaitsev slipped a shot past Forsberg's five-hole.

Other than that, he picked up exactly where he left off in preseason.

2. Saad-Toews-Panik line continues to impress.

We're already running out of things to say about this trio. They've been one of the best lines in hockey to open the season, and they were far and away the best line for the Blackhawks in this one again.

Jonathan Toews scored his second goal in as many games, which was assisted by linemates Richard Panik and Brandon Saad, that gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead in the first period. Panik added a power play goal in the third, giving the three of them a combined nine goals and six assists through three games.

They were also the only three players on the Blackhawks to finish with positive even-strength possession numbers against a Maple Leafs club that absolutely dominated in that area.

3. Nick Schmaltz's absence felt.

The Blackhawks got away with not having their second-line center in Saturday's game against Columbus, but they couldn't overcome it Monday.

Patrick Kane (minus-25 Corsi), Ryan Hartman (minus-20) and Artem Anisimov (minus-18) had the worst even-strength possession numbers among all skaters, and were all held pointless.

Schmaltz is a huge part of this Blackhawks team. His speed changes the way that line plays, and his absence is magnified when he's not in there because it puts more offensive responsibility on the bottom six centers who have a defense-first mentality and are pushed up into the lineup.

4. Forsling-Rutta pairing strong again.

The Blackhawks spent a lot of time in their own end, but Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta had to be the best pairing in the loss.

Rutta scored a goal for the second straight game, and added an assist later on for his first multi-point game in the NHL. He now has two goals and two assists during his three-game point streak.

Forsling has also recorded a point in three consecutive games, all of which have been assists. He slapshotted a perfect pass off the end boards that ricocheted right to Panik, who buried home Chicago's third goal. Forsling finished with five shot attempts, tied for the team lead with a pair of blocked shots and logged 16:23 of ice time, 3:26 of which came on the penalty kill.

5. Busy evening for special teams.

There were 13 penalties committed between the two teams, leading to plenty of whistles and man advantages.

The Blackhawks had six power-play opportunities and cashed in on one of them, while the Maple Leafs also converted on one of their eight chances. Toronto has scored a power play goal in each of its first three games, and lead the league with a 37.5 percent success rate.

And it probably could've added one or two more if it weren't for Forsberg's strong play in net.

Big leap from OHL to NHL no big deal to Alex DeBrincat

Big leap from OHL to NHL no big deal to Alex DeBrincat

When Alex DeBrincat first came to Blackhawks training camp he was eyed with some caution. Sure, he had been a great and productive player in the Ontario Hockey League but this was the NHL. This was a big leap. This was a transition that would require DeBrincat to spend some seasoning time in the AHL at the start of the season.

The only Rockford assignment DeBrincat will be taking right now will be for paperwork purposes.

The 19-year-old was strong from the start of training camp and he’s expected to be in the Blackhawks’ starting lineup when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. The Blackhawks assigned DeBrincat to Rockford on Tuesday but that’s just a cap-compliant formality. Coach Joel Quenneville confirmed that the Blackhawks can place Marian Hossa on long-term injured reserve, and they’ll do that on Wednesday. Once that’s done the Blackhawks will free up cap space, allowing them to recall DeBrincat (and Gustav Forsling, who was also assigned on Tuesday).

So DeBrincat has made it. And he’s earned it.

“Getting up here against better players, he just seems to have that knack of knowing where the puck is and he does some great things in tight areas against better players and doesn’t change. Having that ability shows the upside is real there at this level,” Quenneville said following Tuesday’s practice. “He immediately showed he could handle playing against good players and playing with good players.”

DeBrincat has said that he credits one last season in the OHL with the Erie Otters was very beneficial to him. He played a lot of hockey, which was a good prep for the 82-game grind of an NHL season and he worked on his two-way game, improving his defense. DeBrincat knew what the Blackhawks wanted from him, and he’s gotten there.

“I think just in this past year since I’ve been drafted, all the staff has really helped me develop my game and got me to this point to play here. They wanted me here just as bad as I wanted to be here,” he said. “I know I’ve said that before but I really mean it, and they’ve really helped me with my development.”

If Tuesday’s practice was any indication DeBrincat will start Thursday’s game on the third line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Sharp. But he’s moved around plenty already this preseason. He also played some with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane on the second line and a preseason game with top liners Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. Good thing DeBrincat is familiar with frequent changes.

“There was a good amount,” DeBrincat said of his Erie days. “Coach [Kris Knoblauch] liked to try new things; if something wasn’t going right, he’d change it. I’m pretty used to the line changes.”

DeBrincat admitted there was a little nervousness the past two weeks. If he didn’t make the team right out of the gate it wasn’t the end of the world but this was nevertheless the goal. He talked often with former Otters teammate Dylan Strome, who made the Arizona Coyotes roster on Tuesday.

“We’re going through the same thing and we talk a lot,” DeBrincat said. “It’s cool to go through it with someone else and take the same kind of road.”

DeBrincat’s parents will be at the United Center on Thursday when he makes his NHL debut. There’ll be ups and downs – every player goes through them regardless of experience – but this was DeBrincat’s goal and he’s made the jump from the OHL to the NHL look easy.

Not satisfied: Richard Panik wants to improve off career season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Not satisfied: Richard Panik wants to improve off career season with Blackhawks

Entering this season, Richard Panik is enjoying a security he hasn’t had much in his professional hockey career. After a few years of uncertainty, he enters this season knowing he is definitely part of an NHL roster. He’s coming off a career season and didn’t hesitate to sign the two-year deal the Blackhawks offered him in the summer.

Feeling secure of where he is? After being uncertain his first few years in the league, sure. Feeling satisfied with where he is? Oh, not at all.

“I don’t want to be satisfied with the contract and everything from last season. It’s the past,” he said following Wednesday’s practice. “Now I have other goals I want to achieve and I’m just focusing on that.”

Panik is coming off an impressive season in which he found good chemistry and production with Jonathan Toews on the top line. He’ll be starting there again this season with Toews and Brandon Saad, and the three have been feeling more comfortable as camp has progressed. As far as his individual stats, Panik’s career-high numbers in goals (22), assists (22) and points (44) are all nice and good, but that was last season. It would be easy to feel pressure with the bigger contract and bigger expectations but Panik isn’t feeling it – at least when it comes to focusing too much on numbers.

“I think that’s going to be the biggest problem, if I focus on that,” he said. “I’ll keep it simple, do what got me here and just go from there. As soon as I don’t think about points they come in a game. If I’m going to play on a good side every time on the ice, chances will get to me and hopefully something will go in. Do the small things on the ice, help teammates and go from there.”

Panik likely felt as much pressure – maybe even more – last season when he was on a one-year deal and hoping to stick around longer. It came through in his play, from the points to his drive-the-net style, of which the Blackhawks always want more.

“It works both ways, whether it’s pressure when you get the contract or pressure trying to earn one. So I think as pros, with some guys that focus is secondary. Their motivation to be as good as they can be on a daily basis is what they’re all about and that’s what gets them to our level,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Bringing a consistency with his game is probably something he seemed to be doing over the last little while and we hope he can continue on. He provides us with an element of physicality as well as skill and net presence. He does a lot of good things for us.”

Panik is in a more secure place this season but he’s not satisfied with what he’s done to this point. The Blackhawks’ top line could be a strong one again and Panik hopes to keep adding to it.

“Those last [few] years I was on the edge; I didn’t know if I’d play in the AHL or NHL. I had to make a team. Now it’s a different situation. I have a contract and I think I earned it last season,” Panik said. “Now I have to prove it this season.”