Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Alex DeBrincat salvages divisional game for Blackhawks in overtime on Duncan Keith’s special night

Four takeaways: Alex DeBrincat salvages divisional game for Blackhawks in overtime on Duncan Keith’s special night

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on Saturday night:

1. Special night for Duncan Keith — and Brent Seabrook

The Blackhawks celebrated Keith's 1,000-game milestone in the perfect way. Every player wore a No. 2 jersey during warmups, his family was on the ice for the pregame ceremony, and Patrick Sharp made an appearance to present Keith with a silver stick. Seabrook was also paired with Keith among the starters, a great touch by Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff.

But it was also a historic day for Keith's partner and close friend Seabrook, who became the franchise leader in games played by a defenseman, surpassing Bob Murray who previously held that mark at 1,008. It's only fitting Keith and Seabrook shared that moment together.

"We've been riding shotgun together for our whole careers," Keith said. "I couldn't imagine my career, my 1,000 games without him and all the experiences and memories that I've had winning and even losing, and the fun times we've had off the ice. I owe a lot of my success, and I think the team does as well, to Brent and what he means to the team and what he brings to our friendship and as a teammate."

To put a bow on the game, Keith had a vintage Keith moment on the game-tying goal in the third period when he intercepted a pass in the neutral zone on his backhand, then fed Toews a dart leading him into the offensive zone that set up DeBrincat's goal. 

2. Alex DeBrincat's torrid start

The Blackhawks continued to get contributions from their top players such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom extended their point streaks to five games to open the season. But DeBrincat has propelled himself into that conversation as a top player on this team.

He had a multi-goal effort for the second straight game, upping his goal total on the season to a team-leading six. His overtime winner is the first of his NHL career in that fashion.

DeBrincat didn't score his sixth goal until Nov. 12 last season, which was the 18th game. And he still finished with 28. While it's hard to envision him continuing to score at more than a goal-per-game pace, it's not hard to see him continuing to be one of the best players on the ice and generating offense and scoring chances on a nightly basis.

"I think I'm getting pretty lucky right now," DeBrincat said. "I'm playing with [Toews] and [Dominik] Kahun, they're making great plays and getting me the puck. It's pretty easy when you have those guys as your linemates. Even on that last goal, [Erik Gustafsson] made a great pass backdoor to me. Pretty easy tap in."

3. Squandering another two-goal lead

The Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead for the third straight game. And they squandered it for the third straight game, in large part because they committed five straight penalties in the second and third periods.

It's no longer a blip at this point and is becoming an alarming trend, even though the Blackhawks have come back to force overtime in each of those three games. That will be something the Blackhawks work on all season long.

But Quenneville would have liked to have seen the Blackhawks keep their foot on the gas pedal and cash in on their opportunities to make it a 3-0 game.

"Score the third goal," he said. "I loved the way we were playing. We had a lot of good things going. Eventually they’re going to get chances, get opportunities. But we had some great chances to get it to three. It was one of those nights, every game is kind of different how the leads changed."

4. Brotherly love

For the first time in the NHL, the Schmaltz brothers finally got their chance to go up against each other at the highest level. There had been a handful of other opportunities in the past, but it never lined up for a variety of reasons. 

They didn't see much of each other while on the ice — they were on together for only 1:30 of the game — but Nick did commit a penalty that led to Jordan assisting on the Blues' first goal on a delayed call. 

The best battles between Jordan, who turned 25 on Oct. 8, and Nick, 22, came when they were kids.

"We had a little roller rink downstairs in our house growing up," Nick said. "It would be me vs. my sister (Kylie) and my brother. Those were probably the best battles. Someone would usually come up crying or high-stick or puck to the face or something like that. A lot of good memories. Looking back at it, it was awesome to have that and work on each other’s game and push each other to get better."

Blackhawks know development won’t be linear for Henri Jokiharju

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AP

Blackhawks know development won’t be linear for Henri Jokiharju

The Blackhawks couldn't have been more pleased with how Henri Jokiharju performed at the 2019 World Juniors. He was one of Finland's best and most reliable players, and played a crucial leadership role for his country that won gold.

But he hasn't been as effective on the blue line as he was before he left. 

In four games since returning to the Blackhawks, Jokiharju has one assist, two shots on goal, a minus-3 rating and is averaging only 14:47 of ice time. He averaged exactly 20:00 minutes of ice time per game in his first 32 contests and was among the top Chicago skaters in 5-on-5 ice time.

On Sunday against the Washington Capitals, he will be a healthy scratch.

"I think as a 19-year-old, we're pleased with his progression," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "It's not going to happen overnight where he becomes a dominant player at this level. There's going to be ups and downs, and that's part of the journey as a young player. You got to go through some adversity, and it's not going to be perfect and that's fine. It's up to us to give us to give him the feedback he needs to continue to improve and up to him to work as hard as he can."

To be fair, Jokiharju hasn't exactly been put in the best positions to succeed as of late. In one of the games, he was moved to the left side as an experiment for the Blackhawks, who organizationally have a surplus of right-handed shot defensemen. In another, the team rolled with seven defensemen, which makes it difficult for any defender to get in a groove.

The other part of the equation is that the Blackhawks are currently at seven defensemen, and have another on the way when Gustav Forsling returns from his upper-torso injury. Somebody needs to come out. Two guys, actually.

The Blackhawks aren’t looking at this stretch for Jokiharju as a setback. They know player developments aren’t linear, especially with young defensemen. So they’ll be patient with him and make sure he’s growing into the player they all want him to become at his own pace, even if it means cutting back his ice time.

"I'm not sure the way to go is to play them until they drown," Colliton said. "I think we try to give them what they can handle and sometimes maybe give them less than they can handle while giving them feedback, whether it's off-ice work or video work or extra practice time. That can be part of the picture. We could end up with a rotation on defense with some of the young guys we have. That wouldn't be a bad thing either. We have some young players. It's tough to play 82 games at this level against top competition night in and night out. It could be an option to lighten the load somewhat."

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After skating with Blackhawks, when could Corey Crawford return?

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USA TODAY

After skating with Blackhawks, when could Corey Crawford return?

The Blackhawks are in the middle of a five-game losing streak, but there was a positive development at practice on Saturday.

Corey Crawford was on the ice 30 minutes beforehand working with goaltending coach Jimmy Waite, along with Collin Delia and Cam Ward. He has been in concussion protocol since Dec. 16 after smacking the back of his head on the post and leaving in the second period against San Jose.

"Positive that he was out there, but I'm not sure it means a ton," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Hopefully he continues to feel better."

This wasn't the first time Crawford had been on the ice since the injury, according to a source, which is also great news because it indicates he's responding well to the workouts. But he didn't fully participate with the team in practice, so there are still hurdles that he needs to overcome before getting cleared to play.

The good news is, Crawford hasn't been sidelined very long. It's been only a month, so it shouldn't take him too long to get back into game shape compared to this summer when he was off the ice for more than six months and spent all of training camp getting his conditioning back. Crawford went straight into drills on Saturday, with several teammates getting in on the action to help simulate game-type scenarios.

The Blackhawks host the Washington Capitals on Sunday and then the New York Islanders on Tuesday before going on a nine-day break. The team isn't putting a timeline on his return, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Crawford between the pipes again shortly after they return.

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