Ryan Hartman

Five Takeaways from Blackhawks' high-scoring loss to Devils: Disappearing act in the second

Five Takeaways from Blackhawks' high-scoring loss to Devils: Disappearing act in the second

Here are Five Takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 7-5 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

1. Disappearing in the second.

The Blackhawks couldn’t have asked for a better first period, when they took a 4-2 lead. But they did a 180 in the second. Part defensive lapses, part New Jersey opportunism, but by the end of the period the Devils were up 6-5. The Blackhawks have had their second-period struggles in the past – and not just relegated to this season – and Patrick Kane’s power-play goal at the end of it took some of the sting away. Still, the Devils were dominant through those 20 minutes.

2. Alex DeBrincat looks good again.

It was a nice weekend for the 19-year-old, who finished with three goals and an assist in the last two games. DeBrincat wasn’t on any specific line – the Blackhawks went with seven defensemen, and we’ll expand upon that in the next takeaway – but no matter who he’s been with, DeBrincat has made things happen.

3. Ryan Hartman scratched.

The Blackhawks changed things up on Sunday, going with seven defensemen. Sitting was Hartman, who didn’t play the final eight-plus minutes against the Carolina Hurricanes, either. Asked if there was something specifically Hartman did or didn’t do, coach Joel Quenneville said, “we just have some guys who are all comparable and we make decisions on who’s in and out of the lineup. And we wanted to try the seven [defensemen] look with double-shifting a couple of guys with Cat whether it was anybody off Arty’s line, particularly Kaner, was the thought process with that.”

4. A bad night for Corey Crawford.

The Blackhawks have the points they do in large part due to Crawford’s work this season. But Sunday was not his night. Crawford was as shaky as the defense in front of him, allowing six goals on 25 shots through the first 40 minutes. Anton Forsberg replaced him to start the third period.

5. Great game for the Devils.

New Jersey could’ve faded late in the first period, when the Blackhawks took a 4-1 lead. Instead the Devils buckled down and outplayed the Blackhawks through the final 40 minutes. We talked about their second period above. They were just as good to start the third, peppering Anton Forsberg with eight shots in the first 2:21 of the period and scoring a power-play goal for a 7-5 lead (Miles Wood completed the hat trick).  

Joel Quenneville's latest line changes: Will they jump-start low-scoring Blackhawks?

Joel Quenneville's latest line changes: Will they jump-start low-scoring Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks’ unveiled their latest forward lines on Thursday, the response to the team struggling to find the same offense they had in their first two games of the season.

“I think we can be better with the puck, more comfortable with it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That way you can have the puck in the offensive zone instead of defending it on more shifts than we’d like. But we’ll see.”

And that’s really the point here. Whether the Blackhawks move players up and down the lines, keep lines the same for a while or switch them constantly, the way they play is ultimately what has to improve.

For grins, let’s look at a few of the notable changes:

— Alex DeBrincat gets a chance with the top line, joining Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews. He’ll still be on the right side — keep in mind DeBrincat played on the left side during most of his time in the Ontario Hockey League.

“On the left I can open up for a one-timer right away. On the right I just gotta find space in the middle and try to have a quick release. That’s the biggest difference,” DeBrincat said.

— Richard Panik moves to the second line with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane, so the line keeps a heavy hitter/net-driving player presence.

— John Hayden moves up to the third line, while Ryan Hartman goes to the fourth line. Breaking up the fourth line, arguably the Blackhawks’ best the last two games, is interesting. But Hayden has been strong from the start of the season and deserves a bump up. Is Hartman getting demoted for recent penalties? Hartman has five minors through the first 10 games this season; last season he had five minors in his first 33 games.

“With him, that’s an ongoing challenge, knowing the balance, the attention with the referees and the way the game’s being called,” Quenneville said. “You gotta be aware, and I think he knows the limitations and boundaries and scrutiny.”

But back to the Blackhawks’ overall game. From puck possession to zone time to shot opportunities, the Blackhawks aren’t getting enough. So no matter how things stack up among the lines, their usual strong suits have to return.

“We definitely need to switch up. Fresh ideas can be good. But to me, playing in the offensive zone, being relentless on the puck, bringing the puck to the net, (we have to) do all the little things better and score ugly goals,” Artem Anisimov said. “If you can make a play, make the play. If you have a lane to the net, bring the puck to the net.”

The Blackhawks gave these lines a solid chance. The changes could help stoke the offense, but no matter how you arrange the personnel, the Blackhawks have to get back to the game that’s always worked for them.

“We haven’t generated much 5-on-5,” Quenneville said. “We’d like to have some predictability for longer stretches but on a need basis, sometimes change can be good.”

Blackhawks offense sputtering? Break out the line blender

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AP

Blackhawks offense sputtering? Break out the line blender

When the Blackhawks pummeled the Pittsburgh Penguins 10-1 on Oct. 5 a very optimistic, albeit misguided, phrase was bandied about in certain circles.

“This was a statement game!”

Sure, if you’re super positive that’s one way to go but it was presumptuous. That one game was an anomaly. It was one big, beautiful anomaly for the Blackhawks, who were facing a team that was not only likely tired from two consecutive Stanley Cup runs but also tired from a game the previous night. But it was an anomaly nonetheless.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when the Blackhawks were the latest to fall to the upstart expansion Vegas Golden Knights. It was the latest in a series of games in which the Blackhawks’ offense has sputtered; asked by The Athletic’s Scott Powers if it’s time to consider different lines, coach Joel Quenneville said, “it’s definitely something we can look at.”

If the line blender is utilized at Thursday’s practice it won’t be a surprise. In their first two games the Blackhawks scored 15 goals (7.5 per game); again, that wonky first game skews everything. The Blackhawks’ offense has since come back to earth, recording 19 goals in their last eight games (2.375 per game). The Blackhawks’ best line over the last two games has been the fourth line. Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels and John Hayden have each scored in those contests. That’s great for the fourth line but not positive for the other three lines.

The top line has probably been the most consistent but has had its off nights. Many figured (myself included) that once Nick Schmaltz got healthy/back in the lineup that he, Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman would snap right back into Game 1 form. That really hasn’t happened yet. The third line of Patrick Sharp, Artem Anisimov and Alex DeBrincat hasn’t produced much, either. Anisimov, especially, has been struggling.

Regardless of the line the issues have been the same: too many one-and-done opportunities, not enough zone time and not enough puck possession. The last two used to be such consistent parts of the Blackhawks’ game and they had a lot of success because of them. Getting back to dominating zone time and puck possession can be done, but the Blackhawks need to find the right combinations to do so.

There was nothing wrong with celebrating the Blackhawks’ eye-popping, opening-night victory against the Penguins. Calling it a “statement game” was getting a little ahead of things. There has been more of a statement made in the Blackhawks’ recent trend of games, and it’s a reminder that this season is going to be a work in progress.

Break out the blender.