Blackhawks

Blue line finding consistency with Murphy and Dahlstrom

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USA TODAY

Blue line finding consistency with Murphy and Dahlstrom

Hearing a pair of young defensemen say they “take pride in defending hard” and “being reliable defensively” must be music to the ears of Jeremy Colliton.

But it strikes a much nicer chord when the play of those defensemen on the ice matches the words coming out of their mouths.

Those words came from Connor Murphy and Carl Dalhstrom, the Blackhawks most consistent defensive pairing of late.

“Him and Murphy have done a great job playing hard minutes against really good players,” said Colliton. “I view it as a huge positive - the progression they’ve shown. I think they’re a big part of why we’ve been getting a lot more points lately.”

Murphy returned early in December after missing an extended period of time due to a back injury, while Dahlstrom missed making the team out of camp and later was recalled from Rockford. They’ve been paired together since Dahlstrom made his season debut on December 12th against the Penguins and there is no doubt that their consistency has paid dividends on the Blackhawks blue line.

“Connor is a great guy and an even better player. I really like playing with him,” said Dahlstrom. “I think both of our type of games really suit each other, really trying to break up plays early.”

As a team, the Blackhawks allowed 3.7 goals per game in their first 30 contests of the season. Since Murphy’s return, they have allowed 3.44 goals per game as a team. A lot of it has to do with better defensive play all around, as the team gets settled in with Colliton’s new systems. But Murphy and Dahlstrom have played a big part. In 16 games, Murphy has a +8 rating while Dahlstrom owns a +5 in his 14 games.

“It’s nice to take pride in playing defensive roles. I think I’ve had good chemistry with Dahlstrom and playing against some good forwards,” said Murphy after the Winter Classic. “We just take pride in defending hard.”

And while they may not be putting up the offensive stats like fellow defenseman Eric Gustafsson has been, Colliton has noticed their play on both ends of the ice.

“They’re competing hard, they’re winning battles, they’re willing to be physical, they get us out of [the] d-zone, and then those are the times you can potentially create offense,” said the 33-year old head coach. “That’s a huge benefit to our team.”

For Dahlstrom, getting a taste of the NHL last season helped him boost his confidence, knowing he can hang with the game’s best. Dahlstrom spent a majority of last season in Rockford under Colliton, and that familiarity has helped his transition this season as well.

“I know what he wants from me, what the whole coaching staff wants from me,” said Dahlstrom. “It’s nice to get the trust from the coaches to play against the top lines.”

Dahlstrom even went as far as claiming that he has an even greater comfort level in the NHL than he did playing in the AHL with the IceHogs.

“I don’t know why I seem to find a better level up here,” said Dahlstrom. “Obviously the players up here are better, and you’re playing with better players, but you’re also playing against better players. Really just focusing on defense and being reliable defensively might be a big key from me.”

And the Murphy-Dahlstrom pairing has been a big key in steadying the Blackhawks blue line…just like everyone predicted.

Four takeaways: Strong start wasted as Blackhawks winless streak extends to five games

Four takeaways: Strong start wasted as Blackhawks winless streak extends to five games

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday:

1. Strong start wasted

The Blackhawks came out of the gates flying. They recorded the first nine shot attempts (four on goal) and didn't allow the Rangers to get their first shot on net until the 6:35 mark.

The Blackhawks were rewarded when Brandon Saad scored at 5:41 to put his team up 1-0. But the Rangers responded with a pair of goals within 4:18 of each other towards the latter stages of the frame to go up 2-1.

It was a tough way for the Blackhawks to go into the first intermission, happy with the start but not the result.

2. High-quality scoring chances

The Blackhawks gave up three goals at 5-on-5 and one empty-netter. And they'll quickly realize when reviewing the tape that they didn't do Collin Delia any favors.

Each of New York's first three goals came from the lower slot area, and they were seemingly all preventable. That's the positive, but also the negative because the Blackhawks are making it tough on themselves.

The Rangers finished with 14 high-danger chances at even strength compared to the Blackhawks' three. Below is a heat map of the shot chart at 5-on-5, courtesy of naturalstattrick.com:

3. Power play stays hot

The Rangers aren't a great team in the penalty kill department. They went into Thursday's game ranked 26th with a 77.1 percent success rate. But they were coming in hot, having killed off 14 in a row in the last three games.

That wasn't enough to stop the Blackhawks' scorching power play, which potted two more on three opportunities (goals by Saad and Alex DeBrincat). It's the seventh straight game the Blackhawks have scored at least one power-play goal, upping their percentage to 37.2 (16-for-43) since Dec. 18 — a span of 14 games, which ranks first over that stretch.

The power play continues to be a bright spot, and the Blackhawks have to be pleased with the consistency of it over the last month now.

4. Strome vs. Strome

For the third time in his NHL career, Dylan Strome went head-to-head with older brother Ryan, the latter of whom had gotten the best of his younger brother in the first two meetings — once when Ryan was with the Islanders and the other when he was with the Oilers, both against Dylan's Coyotes.

But Ryan stayed 3-for-3 against Dylan even though they were both on different teams this time.

Dylan was on the ice against Ryan for 8:46 of 5-on-5 time, which is the most he faced against any other Rangers skater. Ryan's line generated nine scoring chances and allowed only one during that time.

Dylan did get the better of his older brother in the faceoff department (58.3 percent vs. 53.3 percent), but it was Ryan that came away with the result that matters to both of them and that's the two points in the standings.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox prospects trip to the Dominican Republic

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox prospects trip to the Dominican Republic

Thirteen of the White Sox top American born prospects are in the Dominican Republic this week for a cultural exchange trip organized by the White Sox, giving players like Dylan Cease, Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins and Dane Dunning a first-hand experience to learn about the country where many of their Latin teammates like Eloy Jimenez call home. Chuck Garfien speaks with Ryan McGuffey who is covering the trip for NBC Sports Chicago. They talk about the White Sox training academy in the Dominican Republic (3:50), what the players are learning and how they're bonding on the trip (6:30), the crazy atmosphere going to a Dominican Winter League game (11:10), going with Reynaldo Lopez to the home where he grew up (14:40), personal stories from the trip (23:15) and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: