Blackhawks

After facing early adversity, Blackhawks starting to believe they could be 'a dangerous team'

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AP

After facing early adversity, Blackhawks starting to believe they could be 'a dangerous team'

NASHVILLE — The Blackhawks were optimistic about their group going into the 2019-20 season because it was an offseason centered around changing the makeup of the roster. They were also on a 100-point pace from January-on to close out the 2018-19 campaign, and getting a full training camp under head coach Jeremy Colliton to build on that was supposed to pay off from the start of the season.

But after opening this season with a 3-6-2 record, the Blackhawks started to question themselves. They didn't have an identity and found themselves caught in the middle of wanting to be an offensive team but also stressing a defense-first mentality after they gave up the second-most goals last season.

Since making a schematic change on Nov. 7, the Blackhawks have earned nine out of a possible 10 points in their last five games and have scored 24 goals over that span for a goals-per-game average of 4.80. They had scored 33 goals total in the previous 14 games for an average of 2.36 per game.

The Blackhawks are starting to look like the hockey team Chicago was hoping they'd be this season, and the internal confidence is growing also.

"We got through a difficult time and being in the beginning of the year, it's magnified," Colliton said following a 7-2 win over the Predators on Saturday night. "If we would've went through that stretch in January, with 40 good games before, then maybe it's not as big of a deal. But when you come out of the gates like that, you put the team under pressure, everyone's under pressure. Happy that we were able to come out of it and stick together.

"Now there's definitely some belief that we're a dangerous team and we're going to be difficult to beat."

The first month of the season was difficult on everyone. The players, the coaches, the management group. Something needed to change, or the results wouldn't.

The Blackhawks are relieved that not only did they prevent things from spiraling out of control, but they're coming together as a team and stringing together wins. 

"It's more like urgency to get going in the right direction," Colliton said on whether he personally felt pressure after their slow start. "We like our team, we like our players, just wasn't working. So as a coach and our staff and the players too, we have a responsibility to turn over every rock. It doesn't mean going back and forth and zigzagging with what we want to do, but I think the guys have really done a good job of responding to adversity, and now we're on a run."

Having gone through the adversity this early in the season, the Blackhawks will be better for it in the long run knowing they can overcome whatever challenges are thrown at them along the way, as long as they continue playing the right way. Because if they do, the Blackhawks will give themselves a chance to win on a nightly basis, especially with the offense being unleashed and Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner serving as the last line of defense.

"We've had a great team, but we just had a little rough start at the beginning," Alex Nylander said. "We're coming together now and we're creating chances and we're shooting the puck more, so we've been doing a really good job the past couple games and we just need to keep going like this."

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What Blackhawks can learn from defending Stanley Cup champion Blues

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AP

What Blackhawks can learn from defending Stanley Cup champion Blues

ST. LOUIS — From 2008-17, the Blackhawks were the gold standard of hockey. Teams across the NHL tried copying their blueprint after nine consecutive playoff berths, five Conference Final appearances and three Stanley Cup wins.

But for the last two-plus seasons, the Blackhawks have been in foreign territory where they can no longer sleepwalk their way to a playoff spot. It's become an uphill battle just to stay in the race.

While there's a lot of hockey left in the season, the Blackhawks are at risk of missing the playoffs for the third straight year and they’re desperately searching for answers. Ironically, they could learn a lot from their arch rival St. Louis Blues.

The Blackhawks played the role of a big brother and bullied the Blues in the Central Division for years but watched them hoist the Stanley Cup last season for the first time in franchise history by overcoming ridiculous odds of sitting in last place on Jan. 3. The Blackhawks find themselves in a similar position, spiraling towards the basement of the Western Conference and trying to salvage a season in which they had legitimate playoff expectations.

The Blues know exactly what they're going through and how difficult it is to stay positive during those dark times.

"It's never easy, no doubt about it, especially when there's guys in that locker room that have won as many Cups as they have and know what it takes to win," Blues forward Brayden Schenn said of the Blackhawks' situation. "If you get the feeling sometimes of it's not coming easy ... I think obviously they're good enough pros in that locker room to find ways to keep positive and believe that they're going to turn it around."

When you go through long stretches without winning, it can feel like a chore coming to the rink every day. And when you're not at the rink, it's difficult for players not to take that frustration home and let it creep into your everyday life. That's where the Blackhawks are at right now.

"It's all part of the job, really," Schenn said. "It's not going to be, if you ask those guys in that locker room if they think they're going to win a Stanley Cup every year that they're going to play, I think they feel very fortunate to definitely win three of them but I don't think you come to the rink, you don't want to bring a negative attitude to the rink, no doubt about it, you want to be positive and upbeat and find ways to work through it."

The Blues' path to the Stanley Cup isn't exactly one teams are looking to emulate. Nobody plans on being at the bottom of the standings around Christmas. But it gives the clubs that are some hope that it can be done.

"It's not going to happen every year where the last place team comes out and dominates the second half and wins the Cup," Schenn said. "But I guess we showed the league and people that it's definitely possible."

Every team that's on the outside looking in will try to rally around the fact the Blues never stopped fighting even when a playoff berth seemed so far away last season. But the Blackhawks have to take it one day at a time and simply focus on what they can control or it's not going to matter.

"They showed it's possible but ultimately we have our own situation," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "They improved so that's what we need to do."

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Blackhawks won't loan Kirby Dach to Canada for 2020 World Juniors

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks won't loan Kirby Dach to Canada for 2020 World Juniors

ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks confirmed on Saturday that rookie forward Kirby Dach will remain in the NHL and not be loaned to Team Canada for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, which begins Dec. 26 and runs through Jan. 5 in the Czech Republic.

The Blackhawks weren't expected to send him, but their recent slide in the standings reignited the discussion as Team Canada was preparing to finalize its roster. Dach, who was taken No. 3 overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, would have played a significant role for his country, but the Blackhawks felt it was better for his development to stay in Chicago.

"Obviously, it was an opportunity that he had but he's playing really well," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I think he's getting better and better and his minutes are going up steadily and there's an opportunity for more if he continues to improve, so we didn't really want to lose that momentum. He's got an opportunity to take a bigger role as we go here and hopefully he can."

Dach has been a bright spot for the Blackhawks this season. He has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 26 games and is averaging 12:03 of ice time. But he's pointless in his last 11 and probably could've used a reboot by going up against his peers at the World Juniors and playing in all situations.

After all, the Blackhawks sent defenseman prospect Henri Jokiharju to do exactly that last season and he helped lead Team Finland to a gold medal by eating up top pairing minutes and serving in a leadership role.

While he may be bummed about not getting that same opportunity, Dach understands the privilege it is to play in the NHL at 18 years old and that's where his mind is at.

"Obviously World Juniors is pretty big in Canada and growing up it's always a thing you dream of doing," said Dach, who won gold with Team Canada at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and recorded seven points (two goals, five assists) in the tournament. "Growing up I remember the Jordan Eberle goal against Team Russia and that's the golden moment that most Canadian kids will remember, is the goal he scored and they want to be that guy. To represent your country is a huge honor. But at the same time, I've been focused on being with the Blackhawks and helping them win each and every night. Obviously timing didn't work out, but I'm happy to be here. It's the NHL and it's the best league in the world, so I'm excited for the opportunity that I have here and to keep producing.

"It's the management's choice and whatever they say goes, right? So you don't want to upset the boss. For me, it's just about playing good and feeling good on the ice, and obviously I've got a good coaching staff and support staff around me that is helping develop me here. If I was able to go back for the World Juniors, it would be a huge honor, but I've played for Team Canada in the past and it's a fun time."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

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