Blackhawks

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."

Collin Delia ready to turn page after early pull: 'I'll be better next time'

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AP

Collin Delia ready to turn page after early pull: 'I'll be better next time'

Collin Delia has been a steady presence in net for the Blackhawks this season, given the circumstances. He's given his team a chance to win every night, and his sustained success in the pros earned him a three-year contract extension. 

But Monday he faced his first real adversity in the NHL.

After giving up six goals on 37 shots in Boston in his previous start, Delia allowed three goals on 10 shots against the Ottawa Senators in a high-scoring affair and was pulled just 7:55 into the game. All three goals went five-hole, and he was quick to take ownership of it.

"It's easy to be positive when everything's going good for you," Delia said after practice on Tuesday. "But you really test your character when things are tough. Definitely was tested last night. A lapse in preparation for me, so to speak. Just felt like a little bit nonchalant out there and that's not the case. You have to be on every night and you have to be sharp. I'll be better next time."

Asked whether he'd ever been yanked that quickly, Delia had to dig deep into memory bank.

"It's been awhile," Delia smiled. "It's been awhile. I think the last time was junior. It's definitely a lesson you only want to have to learn once."

Even after Delia was removed from the game, the goals still poured. The Blackhawks scored six more times while the Senators scored four, with Anders Nilsson also being pulled before the first period ended. But Delia didn't find any solace into the fact it turned into a track meet. He felt he was part of the reason why.

"No, you just feel like the catalyst that kind of led to that," Delia said. "Maybe stop those shots and it's hopefully it's a more controlled game. Not to put that much on me, but that definitely sets the tone. It's definitely a wide-open game. I got to be better."

Corey Crawford has appeared in more than 500 NHL games and has two Stanley Cups on his resumé. He'll be the first to tell you life isn't easy as a goaltender, and games like this will happen. 

"There's nothing to worry about after a game like that," Crawford said of Delia. "He's been great. He's helped us get to this point. Every goalie's going to have that game every once in a while. It wasn't the first one I'm sure, and it won't be the last one. He's fast in the net, he's got good hands, sees the puck well. I wouldn't be worried about that at all."

Jeremy Colliton has also been around Delia long enough to know he's got the mental toughness to overcome a tough night here and there, and showed zero concern about what transpired on Monday. It's part of the growing pains for a 24-year-old trying to work through the ups and downs in the NHL.

"If you don’t do it, then you’re going to have a tough time staying in the league," Colliton said on Delia putting the performance quickly behind him. "He has it in him. He’s got that maturity and mental toughness, and there’s going to be bumps in the road here. But we believe in him."

Delia is quick to turn the page on games, good or bad. He stresses not getting too high or too low. But he had to take a look at what went wrong on his three goals against before his head hit the pillow.

"Yeah, I looked at them that night," Delia said. "I just wanted some closure. The first one I just misread the play. I thought he was looking to pass down low and he kind of curved his stick at the last second and just completely caught me off guard. Bad read on my part. The second one I didn't get my knees down fast enough. My feet weren't under me so it was kind of hard for me to slide my knees down. On the third one, just tried to make one more save instead of popping out and trying to cover it, and he poked it over my glove.

"It's unfortunate but it's a new day. Sun comes up and back to work."

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What is Blackhawks' approach leading up to trade deadline?

What is Blackhawks' approach leading up to trade deadline?

It's trade deadline week. Rumors will begin to intensify around the NHL with teams finalizing which of their unrestricted free agents are available and which are not.

For example, there were 12 scouts/representatives at Monday's Blackhawks-Senators game in Chicago because Ottawa possesses two of the most coveted players on the market in Matt Duchene and Mark Stone. The Senators essentially hold all the cards. Once that big domino falls, the rest will follow, perhaps rather quickly.

But that's more for the buyers. What are the Blackhawks?

With another win on Monday, they pulled within one point of the final wild card spot and have important games on the horizon, most notably home tilts against Colorado and Dallas.

It’s unlikely the Blackhawks will be buyers. They’re not in a position yet to be giving up future draft picks or prospects for rentals, even if they find themselves sitting inside the playoff picture on trade deadline day Feb. 25. The question is, will they avoid being sellers?

The Blackhawks have three players on their current 23-man roster who are set to become UFAs this summer: Marcus Kruger, Chris Kunitz and Cam Ward.

Six will be restricted free agents: Carl Dahlstrom, Gustav Forsling, David Kampf, Slater Koekkoek, Brendan Perlini and Dylan Sikura. John Hayden, who has another year on his contract before he becomes a RFA, has drawn interest.

Some of those players could be appealing to teams trying to fill out their depth for a low price.

Artem Anisimov, whose name has been floated out there, is probably more likely to be moved in the summer when his modified no trade clause turns into nothing on July 1. He also will earn a $2 million signing bonus on July 1, meaning his remaining salary will be only $5 million but cap hit remains $4.55 million over the next two seasons. That may become an attractive type of contract to take on for a lower budget team trying to meet the floor because Anisimov can be an effective player in the right situation.

Perhaps the Blackhawks will stay the course and sell off their spare parts, gather futures and create roster spots for the young guys down the stretch. Or maybe they’ll stand pat and ride it out with this current group. The underwhelming depth of this year's Western Conference has allowed themselves to ask these questions they maybe didn’t think they’d have to answer.

"It's been an interesting year for sure," Patrick Kane said. "If you talked to a lot of us 15-20 games ago, you'd probably think we all thought we'd be out of playoffs or we'd have to go on some big runs and some crazy numbers to get ourselves in. It's pretty crazy how everything's unfolded here. But what a great position we're in — a few points behind a wild-card spot and we play some of these teams down the stretch, too. So it'll be an interesting finish to the season."

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