Blackhawks

Can Jeremy Colliton unlock Nick Schmaltz's full potential?

Can Jeremy Colliton unlock Nick Schmaltz's full potential?

With a coaching change comes a fresh start for everyone. A clean slate.

Nick Schmaltz, in particular, is somebody the Blackhawks were counting on to take that next step in his development, especially in a contract year, and he has struggled to do so early on.

He entered Thursday with one goal, seven assists and 20 shots on goal in 14 games. He had three points in his past 11 games after having four points in his first three. Because of those inconsistencies, Schmaltz found himself sitting in the press box for one of the three games during their most recent road trip.

Schmaltz is a key piece to the Blackhawks puzzle this season, considering the majority of their scoring has come from three players: Patrick Kane (12 goals), Alex DeBrincat (8) and Jonathan Toews (8).

In his NHL head coaching debut against the Carolina Hurricanes, Jeremy Colliton was seen on the bench having several conversations with Schmaltz and even put his arm around him during an in-game second period conversation, showing the personal relationship Colliton is hoping to develop with each of his players. By doing so, the Blackhawks are hoping to unlock Schmaltz's full potential.

"We haven’t had much time with any of these guys, so any opportunity we have to get them some feedback, we’re going to take," Colliton said. "That’s how we’re going to going to speed up this process of learning what we have to do to have success. I thought he got better as the game went on, like a lot of our guys did."

The message Colliton gave Schmaltz? Don't focus too much on the production and simplify it by playing the right way, which, in turn, will lead to the desired results.

"Overall, not thinking too much out there," Schmaltz said of what came out of those discussions. "When you think too much and try to be perfect and be in the right place, then you get thinking too much and you mess up even more. So he just said don't think out there, play hockey. We know how to play hockey and we'll teach as we go."

That includes the defensive side of things. He was on the ice for a defensive breakdown as he and the team looks to get acclimated on the fly to the different style Colliton wants to play in their own end.

"We wanted more of a man-on-man," Schmaltz explained. "It’s an adjustment. We’re used to the zone, but that’s not an excuse. Just stick with your man, and then when there’s a time when there’s a loose puck you can create a battle, that’s when you go swarm them and out-man them 2-on-1 or 3-on-2, whatever it may be."

Schmaltz noticeably had a shoot-first mentality after that, finishing the game with four shot attempts (two on goal) and one of them going into the net. It was his second goal of the season and first at even strength.

"Hopefully he can use it as a springboard," Colliton said. "I'm not so concerned about what his production is. I want him to work away from the puck, I want him to skate, I want him to be aggressive, on his toes, use his speed to pressure the opposition and create turnovers and him and his linemates will have more offensive opportunities."

Opportunities will lead to scoring chances, and the more Schmaltz helps generate those, the more he'll see results on the scoresheet.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks make late push but fall to Hurricanes

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USA Today

Four takeaways: Blackhawks make late push but fall to Hurricanes

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the United Center on Tuesday:

1. Winning streak comes to a halt

The Blackhawks had picked up at least a point in eight of their past nine games and had the second-most points out of any team in November going into Tuesday's matchup. But they laid an egg against the Hurricanes, at least for the first 40 minutes.

The Hurricanes dominated the Blackhawks in every offensive category through two periods, including shot attempts (48-33), shots on goal (27-12), even-strength scoring chances (24-13) and even-strength high-danger chances (9-3), according to Natural Stat Trick. They also scored the first three goals of the game.

The Blackhawks made a big push in the third period by outshooting the Hurricanes 20-6 and scoring two goals in a span of 1:10, but they couldn't get that third one.

"Two bad periods, one good one," Lehner said. "We've been playing pretty good. Just gotta go win the next one. Don't lose two in a row. We're fine. We're fine. Everyone's just got to be a little bit better. I let in a bad goal and bad timing on the second one. Got a little bit unlucky. We've just got to try to get that push and we had a push. Unfortunately we couldn't tie it up."

2. A slow start

After scoring the first two goals in five of the past six games, the Blackhawks got off to a slow start and dug themselves too big of a hole to overcome. They registered only four shots on goal in the first period and allowed the Hurricanes to score three straight to open the game, with the second goal coming 53 seconds into the middle frame.

The first goal of the game came on a 2-on-0 in which Lehner had no chance of stopping. It could've been a much more lopsided first period on the scoresheet, with the Hurricanes generating 13 scoring chances to the Blackhawks' three.

"Obviously, disappointed in the first two periods, the result of the game of course, but we didn't have a good start and I thought we got worse in the second so that was disappointing," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I liked that we didn't quit, that was a positive, and I liked that we showed some fight in the third and we got going and put a scare into them.

"But it's frustrating because we showed that was a winnable game if we played, if we turned on a little bit earlier. We've had a good stretch and that was a setback and now we've got to respond on Thursday."

3. Too little, too late

Since the calendar flipped to November, no team had scored more goals than the Blackhawks (36) going into Tuesday. They had 21 goals in their previous four contests for an average of 5.25 goals per game.

It didn't look like the Blackhawks had much hope until the third period when they peppered the Hurricanes with 32 shot attempts, 19 scoring chances and 13 high-danger chances. Erik Gustafsson and Connor Murphy scored within a span of 1:10 to pull the Blackhawks within one, but it was too little, too late for the offense.

"We were just hungry," Murphy said of the third period. "We were embarrassed at home to give up the chances that we did and to get outplayed for a lot of it just as far as the races and seemed like a lot of those battles. We knew at home we wanted this year to be a prideful team and we have guys that want to push to make sure that we can come back. We know the power that we have, we can score three goals and we almost did."

4. Rough night for DeBrincat-Strome-Kane line

The Blackhawks' second line of Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome has been lights out since being reunited on Nov. 2 against Anaheim. But it had a tough night together vs. Carolina. 

When the three of them were on the ice at even strength, the Blackhawks had three shot attempts for and 14 against, two shots on goal for and nine against, three scoring chances for and six against and one high-danger chance for and two against in 8:45 of ice time. 

They were separated in the third period with Kirby Dach taking Strome's place on the second line, and the line changes sparked the entire team. Kane recorded two primary assists in the third period to extend his season-long point streak to 10 games, marking his sixth career NHL point streak of at least 10 games. Only Denis Savard has more (13) in a Blackhawks sweater.

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Erik Gustafsson on his first NHL fight and Blackhawks reaction to it

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USA Today

Erik Gustafsson on his first NHL fight and Blackhawks reaction to it

Towards the latter stages of the second period in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Sabres, Alex Nylander received a pass at the Buffalo blue line and fed it to Jonathan Toews, who nearly connected with Brandon Saad that would've put the Blackhawks up 3-0. Then the whistle blew.

Penalty? Injured player?

Nope. 

A scrap ensued in the neutral zone and Chicago's eyes lit up once it became clear which player got involved: Erik Gustafsson, who had zero career NHL fights before dropping the gloves with Sabres forward Jimmy Vesey. So what the heck happened?

"I don't know, I felt like he was coming late," Gustafsson said. "Got his hands up in my face when he hit me and kind of crosschecked him after and he slashed me. I didn't say anything, I was just looking at him, he looked at me and we dropped 'em."

It's easy to figure out what Vesey was trying to accomplish. The Blackhawks had just scored to make it 2-0 and he's looking to change the momentum of the game.

The surprising part was the fact Gustafsson engaged, which he normally doesn't do unless it's warranted. It threw his teammates and everyone on the bench off guard because he's not known to be a physical player.

As soon as the fight began, the TV cameras panned to Saad on the ice and the confused look on his face told the story.

"I haven't talked to him about it yet," a laughing Gustafsson said. "I have to go ask him why he looked so surprised. It was kind of funny, I got to show him that too."

Said head coach Jeremy Colliton: "I didn't see what happened before. I just saw he was fighting and I just, you know ... wondered what could have happened. But, hey, you've got to stick up for yourself."

The only other fights Gustafsson has had in his professional career came with the Rockford IceHogs during the 2016-17 season. He dropped the gloves twice, and both came against Manitoba Moose forward J.C. Lipon, who's profile on hockeyfights.com is significantly longer than Gustafsson's. Each of those scraps started because Gustafsson was unhappy with a hit that was laid on him.

Gustafsson was credited with the takedown in both of those fights against Lipon, but he didn't have as much luck against Vesey.

"Your adrenaline is going up pretty quick," Gustafsson said. "I wanted to keep going there but he dragged me down hard. But it was good to have the first one."

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