Boyling Point: 5 things on my mind entering Blackhawks training camp

Boyling Point: 5 things on my mind entering Blackhawks training camp

Here are the top 5 things on my mind entering training camp.

1. Corey Crawford’s health: I know, it’s your biggest concern, too. The Blackhawks were in the playoff mix last season when Crawford was injured in late December. The Hawks attempts at finding a reliable back-up to Crawford never worked out. Emergency goalie and CPA, Scott Foster, turned in the most memorable performance in the Hawks crease and that inconsistent net play was a major reason why the team finished in last place. With Crawford’s status uncertain, the Hawks signed Cam Ward to a one-year deal in hopes of avoiding another revolving door in the crease.

I saw Crawford earlier this week and he looked great. I was told Crow was on the ice last week for the first time since last February and that it went well. After seeing and talking to Crawford at the Blackhawks convention in July, I wasn’t optimistic that he would be ready for the start of training camp.

Hopefully we will get a clearer picture of where Corey’s head injury is at and a timeline for a possible return to game action on Friday. If I had to guess right now, I would expect the Hawks to be very cautious with Crawford and I would not be surprised if he was unable to start the regular season.

2. Is Hank ready for the NHL?: Next to goaltending, the Blackhawks blue line also played a major role in the teams struggles last season. Stan Bowman did not add a top four defenseman this offseason. He did add Brandon Manning and brought Brandon Davidson in on a PTO. The Brandons join an already crowded battle for 5th, 6th and 7th defensemen. Which brings us to Henri Jokiharju, the Hawks' 2017 first round pick is only 19, but he will be given a legit chance to make this team. If he is not quite ready and the Hawks see him spending more time watching games from the press box, it would make more sense to send him to Rockford where the 19-year-old is expected to be eligible to play.

3. Who is Kane’s wingman?: It’s time to make Patrick Kane’s left wing line-mate a top priority. It seems at times the Hawks feel they can put anyone with Kaner and that he will make them better. Which is probably true, but will that forward help Patrick return to his MVP form? I have been lobbying for Alex DeBrincat to be that guy since late last season. Joel Quenneville avoided putting DeBrincat with Kane and Schmaltz last year when he was experimenting and the season was lost. He probably has an issue with the lack of size on that line. I think DeBrincat can complement Kane’s east/west style of play and deliver or one-time cross ice passes, which are such a big part of 88’s game.

4. Make Special Teams “Special”: It’s so hard to score in this league 5-on-5 and with the way the game is being officiated, it’s absolutely paramount to have a productive power play. Last year the Hawks power play ranked 28th in the league. Meanwhile the final four teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs were all ranked in the top 11 (TB-3rd, WPG-5, WSH-7, VGK-11). Maybe load up on one of the units with DeBrincat, Toews, Kane, Schmaltz and Gustafsson? Follow the Capitals blue print, setting Kane and DeBrincat at opposite circles, have Toews and Schmaltz work the slot and blue paint and have Gustafsson quarterback at the top of the umbrella. Allow these units time to build chemistry and don’t hit the blender the first time they go 0-for-4.

5. Who’s hungry?: Looking up and down the Blackhawks roster, it’s hard to find a player who is NOT looking to have a bounce back season. If you are not in the bounce back category, chances are you’re a young player like DeBrincat or Schmaltz looking to take the next step in your budding NHL career. Then there is a group of players like Dylan Sikura, Victor Ejdsell and Henri Jokiharju who are looking to prove they belong in the NHL and can be counted on to contribute with consistency. Jonathan Toews said the team was humbled by missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade and that what they’ve accomplished is in the past. “It’s time to start over,” Toews said. The Blackhawks final four players that have been a part of all three cup runs (Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook) are extremely prideful players and don’t take losing lightly. Look for their leadership to unify a mostly unproven group and allow younger players like DeBrincat and John Hayden to assert themselves as new leaders in the room.

A recap of Kirby Dach’s AHL debut and Blackhawks explanation for conditioning stint

A recap of Kirby Dach’s AHL debut and Blackhawks explanation for conditioning stint

Kirby Dach made his pro debut on Saturday, but it wasn't with the Blackhawks.

The No. 3 overall pick from this past June was activated from his injured/non-roster designation and assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League for conditioning purposes and jumped right into the lineup. He didn't appear in any NHL preseason games because he was under the league's concussion protocol during training camp.

In his season debut, Dach recorded two shots on goal and had a minus-1 rating in a 4-2 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins. He centered the fourth line with Brandon Hagel and Nick Moutrey.

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton discussed the decision to send Dach to Rockford after Saturday's game against the Winnipeg Jets, and it sounds like the organization remains committed to giving him a look at the NHL level whenever his conditioning stint is over.

"He hasn't played in a long time," Colliton said. "Missed training camp, missed the exhibition season. We think he can help us so we're trying to set him up, give him the best opportunity so when he does get the chance here he'll be as ready as he can be. It's a good league down there and a chance for him to get his feet wet against men. And I think he's been getting better and better in his practice time here with us. So I'm excited. Hopefully, he can gain confidence down there and then be ready to help us."

Because he's not eligible to play in the AHL full-time this season due to Canadian Hockey League rules, Dach's conditioning stint in Rockford can last up to 14 days, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, before the Blackhawks are forced to either recall him or send him back to the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League.

Rockford has four more games over that span, with its next one on Monday against the Laval Rocket at BMO Harris Bank Center.

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Four takeaways: Blackhawks squander two-goal lead in overtime loss to Jets

Four takeaways: Blackhawks squander two-goal lead in overtime loss to Jets

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center on Saturday:

1. Squandering a two-goal lead

For the second straight home game, the Blackhawks jumped out in front and even built an early cushion by scoring the first two goals in the opening frame. But they allowed the Jets to score three unanswered, including the overtime winner by Mark Scheifele, to remain winless on the season (0-2-1).

"We did a good job in the first and they took it to us in the second," said Brandon Saad, who scored a shorthanded goal. "Lehnny made some big saves and the third was kind of even. But we definitely had chances to close it out and we didn’t. At least we got a point and we have to move on from it."

2. Another lackluster second period

If there's one thing you can point to that's been a trend in all three games so far, it's that the Blackhawks have been lackluster in the second period. And it's difficult to pinpoint why.

In the middle frame, the Blackhawks have 10 scoring chances for and 35 against at 5-on-5, two high-danger chances for and 10 against at 5-on-5 and a minus-19 shot differential, according to Natural Stat Trick. That's an area of the game they're trying to clean up and has been the downfall to their attempts of putting together a full 60-minute effort.

"Obviously it's been three in a row where we haven't been very good in the second period and to me that's where you show how good you are," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "The best teams, they dominate the second period, so it's a point of emphasis for us. We'd like to control the tempo of the game and control the territory, out-chance the other team. That's where you show how good you are, so we're not close to where we want to be in that area."

3. Robin Lehner's debut

After going two weeks without game action, the Blackhawks gave the nod to Lehner, who went into Saturday with a 4-0-0 record, 2.76 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in five career games against the Jets. He took the loss, but certainly did his part to deserve a win.

In regulation, Lehner stopped 30 of 32 shots for a save percentage of .938. The first goal was on the power play, the second came at 5-on-5 when Andrew Copp found himself all alone in front and the third was in overtime during 3-on-3 action. His 5-on-5 save percentage was .962, which will definitely work.

"I felt good," Lehner said. "I felt like I saw the puck well. I thought rebound control was good. Again, the first one is unfortunate, it squeaks through. But I was where I wanted to be in position and somehow it goes in. Gotta try to clean that up. And the third goal, it just dove on me. He missed his shot. It’s unfortunate. But I thought I made some good saves and felt comfortable. We got a point, which is something, but should’ve got a win today."

4. Penalty kill shows improvement

The Blackhawks gave up a power-play goal for the third consecutive contest, but this was close to being a perfect night for the penalty kill. They went 3-for-4 and gave up only four shots on goal in the 7:38 of shorthanded time.

On the first Jets power play of the night, Saad scored a shorthanded goal for his first of the season and the Blackhawks later generated two more scoring chances before the two minutes expired.

The power-play goal against should've been stopped by Lehner but he did everything right and had the shortside sealed, the puck just found a mini hole. The Blackhawks responded with a big kill and had one late in the third period also. No complaints.

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