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10 takeaways from Winter Classic: Blackhawks put on show, but outdoor struggles continue

10 takeaways from Winter Classic: Blackhawks put on show, but outdoor struggles continue

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Here are 10 takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium on New Year's Day:

1. Blackhawks remain winless in Winter Classic games

Going into Tuesday, the Blackhawks were 1-4-0 in outdoor games and 0-for-3 in the Winter Classic. They really wanted to turn that stat around and give fans something excited about on the ride home.

But they couldn't exercise their outdoor demons as the Bruins scored the go-ahead goal to break a 2-2 tie with 9:40 left in regulation and it held up as the game winner.

"In the big picture, I thought we did a lot of good things," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Second period I thought we were aggressive and relentless and hard-working and probably deserved better than we got. Unfortunate to come out of the period 2-2. Big picture, we're still on the right path. Unfortunate that we didn't get paid off more for the good things that we did. We had a little lull there in the third and we end up going down. Then it's hard. We're chasing from then on. Disappointing because I think we did enough to probably deserve more."

2. Too many penalties

The Blackhawks were certainly the better team through two periods of play. In the second period alone, they outshot the Bruins 16-10 and generated 19 scoring chances at even strength compared to Boston's six.

But the Bruins scored a late power-play goal — their second of the game — with 1:12 left in the period to tie it at 2-2, which was a killer considering the Blackhawks had dictated the pace of play to that point.

And in the third period, the Blackhawks committed three penalties in the opening 4:56. To their credit, they shut the door on all of them, but too much time was wasted trying to kill them off.

"You never want to take penalties on their half of the rink," Colliton said. "It's not something we want to do. We killed the penalties in the third, we give up 2 in the first two penalties. But we killed the penalties, we killed the 5-on-3. At that point you feel like, 'OK, we came through this. And we're going to get some energy out it.' But that's the stretch where we were at our worst — those four, five minutes after we got to even strength, we just couldn't get playing again. They scored before we could get it turned around."

3. Striking first again

For the sixth straight game, the Blackhawks scored the first goal. And that has usually ends well for teams that do so in outdoor games. 

In the previous 12 outdoor games, teams that scored first were 10-1-1 — and 15-7-3 all-time. This was the second time in the 13 such games that a team lost in regulation when scoring first.

4. Home team win streak ends

Another thing the Blackhawks had going for them was that home teams in the past six outdoor games were 5-0-1. The Blackhawks played really well and deserved at least a point, but couldn't crack Tuukka Rask for the equalizer as the Bruins netminder finished with 36 saves on 38 shots for a .947 save percentage.

"It sucks we couldn't get the win for our fans," Jonathan Toews said. "It's a memorable moment for everybody and you want to leave the game feeling a little bit better than you are right now. It's unfortunate, but it is a special opportunity to play in this building. It even exceeded my expectations. Just so much excitement to be out there and start that game. We all really enjoyed it."

5. Cam Ward's solid effort

When Ward was announced the Winter Classic starter and not Collin Delia, it didn't sit well with fans that thought the 24-year-old rookie had deserved the net. But as a sign of respect to the 14-year veteran, the Blackhawks gave Ward the start and he was terrific all afternoon.

The 34-year-old goaltender turned aside 32 of 35 shots and had a high-danger save percentage of .917 save during 5-on-5 play. He was arguably Chicago's best player.

"It would've been a lot sweeter if we got the victory in a game that was real close both ways," Ward said. "It could've gone either way, it's unfortunate that you come up short. You definitely want to walk away with a win and give the fans what they want, but I thought we played well.

"Just an unbelievable experience, I'm really thankful I got the opportunity to do it and you're just disappointed that you don't come away with the win."

6. Jonathan Toews ties all-time points leader in outdoor games

With a secondary assist on Dominik Kahun's goal, the Blackhawks captain climbed up the outdoor rankings with seven points in six career games outside. Only Henrik Zetterberg has as many points as Toews all-time in outdoor events.

7. Sellout crowd

The atmosphere at Notre Dame Stadium was incredible. Fans were into the game all day long, and it made for a terrific environment.

There were 76,126 fans in attendance, a sellout crowd that is the second-largest in NHL history and first in Blackhawks history.

"I wanted to soak it all in and enjoy it, and it gave me goosebumps right from the beginning when we walked in behind the marching band," Ward said. "I thought that was really neat. This is an experience that nobody will ever get. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity, especially here at Notre Dame, and we enjoyed it."

8. Gary Bettman compliments Blackhawks

The Blackhawks aren't expected to get an outdoor game next season as the NHL prefers to avoid giving teams one in consecutive seasons, but when the NHL commissioner spoke to the media during second intermission he had nothing but positive things to say about the organization and fanbase, and how far they've come.

"The Hawks in their current form — and I mean that over the last decade, particularly since Rocky Wirtz has been running the club with John McDonough — Chicago has always been a hockey city and passionate about the Blackhawks," Bettman said. "Even in the down years, people were just waiting for the opportunity to come back and I think there's no doubt that as not only one of the Original Six franchises, the Blackhawks are a storied franchise, great tradition, great former players who are still active with the club and great, great fans. You see the reaction. And you know what? The team's playing better."

9. Winter Classic first-timers

The Blackhawks have appeared in six outdoor games. The Bruins have appeared in four. But 26 of the 40 players that dressed on Tuesday were participating in an outdoor game for the first time, which says a lot about the state of the NHL.

"This is a young man's league and it's changing every year," Bowman said. "There's more young players playing big roles on their teams. Some teams, 19-year-old players are their best players, so when that happens there's obviously cause and effect, and the guys that are moving out of the game are the older players, so teams are skewing younger. When that happens it's also harder to keep teams together year after year, the way the system we play under. 

"The younger players they obviously have speed and skill in abundance, and those are the things that tend to wear down when you get into your 30s and that's probably why the league is skewing younger. But I think there's never been a better time to be an NHL fan. The product on the ice is outstanding. For new fans to the game, to watch the game of hockey now, when you see these young guys, they're electrifying players and it makes it fun to watch."

10. Wounded Warriors skate with Blackhawks

The day before the Winter Classic, the Blackhawks got a chance to skate with the Wounded Warriors, a group of wounded military personnel, which is something the organization does annually. It was a neat idea to have them participate in the Winter Classic festivities and have them be a part of the experience as well.

"It's awesome," Alex DeBrincat said. "I mean, those guys are heroes and they're heroes to us. So it's definitely cool to be able to skate with them and maybe help their day. They brightened our day, so hopefully we did the same for them. It was just a fun time."

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Four takeaways: Standouts from Blackhawks first preseason win against Red Wings

Four takeaways: Standouts from Blackhawks first preseason win against Red Wings

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 preseason win over the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center on Wednesday:

1. Alex Nylander gets a shot on the top line

After having a goal and an assist in his preseason debut on Monday, Nylander was rewarded by the Blackhawks coaching staff by starting on the first line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. And he certainly didn't look out of place.

The trio logged 14:28 of ice time together at 5-on-5 and generated 18 shots for and only five against, according to Natural Stat Trick. They also teamed up on Duncan Keith's eventual game-winning goal in the second period.

Nylander finished with a secondary assist, three shot attempts (two on goal) and one takeaway in 20:44 of action. He’s going to give the Blackhawks management something to think about.

"I thought he was good," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Again, we're looking for his play without the puck. We know he's going to do a lot with the puck. It's their first time playing together so there's always going to be some kinks you're working out as far as the plays they're making and what not but he had a great net drive on Dunc's goal. Those are the things that people don't notice but opens up ice.

"We want to open up ice for those skill guys he's playing with. I thought he had a couple really good tracks. He was forechecking, he was skating. That's what we're looking for and if he continues to do that then he can be effective at this level no matter who he's playing with."

2. Individual standouts

— Dominik Kubalik was given a top-six role again after his two-goal night in his preseason debut on Tuesday in Detroit. And he was noticeable. He recorded three shot attempts (one on goal) and had a game-high four takeaways in 14:29 of action.

— The Olli Maatta and Brent Seabrook pairing turned in a strong showing together. They were on the ice for 20 shot attempts for and seven against and eight scoring chances for and two against in 13:28 of 5-on-5 ice time.

— Brandon Hagel was named the second star of the game after scoring a goal and tying Keith with a game-high four shots on goal. He also logged 11:58 of ice time and won both of his faceoffs.

— Adam Boqvist showed why he was drafted No. 8 overall in 2018. He's flashy and has elite offensive skill, which you can see in the video below. He also earned some praise from his head coach for his defensive play, which is the part of his game that's going to be a constant work in progress.

3. Penalty kill still ironing out some kinks

The top priority for the Blackhawks this summer was to shore up their defensive issues, and that included the penalty kill. And even though we shouldn't put too much stock into overall team performance and results in the preseason, the Blackhawks have given up at least one power-play goal in each of their first three games.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, these games and stats don't count, but it obviously would be nice to head into the regular season with some positive momentum. Once the Blackhawks start to finalize their 23-man roster we should get a pretty good idea of what the special teams units could look like on Opening Night and beyond, and more chemistry will develop among the everyday players.

4. Roster cuts looming

In the last four days, the Blackhawks hosted their team scrimmage at the United Center and followed that up with three consecutive preseason contests. That was a significant evaluation period for the coaching staff and management.

Colliton said the Blackhawks are expected to make their first wave of roster cuts between now and Saturday, which is when their next preseason tilt is. The 23-man roster should start to take shape in the coming few days.

"We’re going to start," he said. "I don’t know exactly the timeline and how many and which day, but I can tell you it won’t all be in one day. And we’ll sort of work up to the game Saturday and we’ll have a tighter group, and especially for next week."

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Five Blackhawks make top 100 prospect list

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USA TODAY

Five Blackhawks make top 100 prospect list

After missing the playoffs for two straight seasons, the Blackhawks are in a transition period coming off the team’s long run as a Stanley Cup contender. There is hope for a relatively quick return to contention with a number of highly-regarded prospects.

ESPN ranked the top 100 NHL prospects on Wednesday and the Blackhawks have five skaters on the list.

Leading the way for Blackhawks prospects is Kirby Dach, who was the third pick in this year’s draft. He is ranked No. 6 overall. The top two picks from that draft, Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, are the top two prospects in the rankings.

Adam Boqvist is the second Blackhawks prospect, coming in at No. 29 overall. The defenseman was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 draft.

Defensemen Ian Mitchell (No. 68) and Nicolas Beaudin (No. 82) and right winger Alexander Nylander (No. 88) round out Blackhawks prospects in the top 100. Mitchell opted to return to the University of Denver for his junior year. Beaudin was the Blackhawks’ second first-round pick in 2018, picked No. 27. Nylander was acquired in the offseason in exchange for young defenseman Henri Jokiharju.

With five prospects on the list the Blackhawks had more than most teams. The Los Angeles Kings had the most prospects on the list with seven while the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers each had six.

ESPN also ranked the Blackhawks pool of prospects as ninth-best in the NHL.

 

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