Four takeaways: Blackhawks penalty kill 'excellent' in overtime win over Blue Jackets

Four takeaways: Blackhawks penalty kill 'excellent' in overtime win over Blue Jackets

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center on Friday:

1. Blackhawks stringing together points

The Blackhawks turned in their best 60-minute effort of the season on Monday and they wanted to build on that performance after a three-day layoff. The start was slow against Columbus, but the finish was strong and it ended on a Jonathan Toews overtime goal.

After starting the season with back-to-back losses in regulation, the Blackhawks have picked up five out of a possible six points in their past three games. They're starting to climb in the standings.

"That's a hard-working team," Toews said. "They've got some skill, they played well as a team and they didn't give us much room out there. It's probably not our best start, there's a lot of things that we know we can do better, but for us to hang in there and tie things up, give ourselves a chance in overtime, get the crowd into it, you've got to find ways to win those games, can't let them slip, so it's nice to get two points."

2. Penalty kill 'excellent'

The Blue Jackets came into the game with a bottom-third-ranked special teams, converting on 17.8 percent of their power plays and killing off 73.7 percent of their penalties. This was an area the Blackhawks could exploit, and they did.

The Blackhawks went 1-for-4 on the power play thanks to an Alex DeBrincat goal, but it was the penalty kill that allowed the team to be in it till the very end. The Blackhawks killed off all four penalties, including a crucial one late in the third period to keep the game knotted up at 2-2.

"I thought the penalty kill was excellent," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We were really good. At any point, if they score and they had multiple chances, it really changes the game. It allowed our power play, in the end, to come through and make a difference for us. That was big, and I thought they were full value for not getting scored on, too. We didn’t give up much. Just as likely to score going the other way."

3. Coming out on top in the first period 

The Blackhawks were outplayed in the first period, which hasn't usually been the case this season. The Blue Jackets led in every statistically category except the one that matters the most and that's the scoreboard. It easily could've gone the other way.

But the Blackhawks survived when they weren't at their best, and Drake Caggiula opened the scoring with a beautiful shot at the 15:35 mark of the opening frame. It's the fourth straight game the Blackhawks have scored first.

"Didn’t love our first period," Colliton said. "I think we were fortunate to be in the lead. I did like our response in the second. Even though they tied it up I thought we played much better in the second period. And after that, I thought we were reasonably solid. ... It wasn’t perfect but it’s also a positive that we found a way to win anyway."

4. Robin Lehner turns in another strong effort

The Blackhawks don't get out of the first period with the lead without Lehner, who finished with 37 saves on 39 shots for a save percentage of .949. He stopped all 13 shots in the first 20 minutes, a majority of which were high quality.

The first goal to Pierre-Luc Dubois, Lehner committed to the poke-check but then got caught too far out of the net. Otherwise, he was strong between the pipes for the Blackhawks.

"I felt really good," Lehner said. "Feel like I see the puck well but the first two games I've played I've also made some mistakes and the good thing those mistakes are pretty easy to clean up. So I felt like the first goal is unacceptable but I made up for it. So just got to go and keep trying to get better.

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Blackhawks hit new low after epic collapse in St. Louis

USA Today

Blackhawks hit new low after epic collapse in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks needed something to feel good about going into a Central Division showdown against the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. A solid 60-minute effort would've sufficed, but a win would've trumped all, no matter how they got it. Two points translates into confidence and confidence turns into belief.

Well, both the Blackhawks' confidence and belief are starting to run thin after hitting a new low in Saturday's 4-3 loss.

For the second time in 10 days, the Blackhawks squandered a three-goal lead in the third period by giving up four unanswered goals in a span of 13:16 to a Blues team that, quite frankly, dominated the entire game. The Blues led in shot attempts (65-40), shots on goal (38-22), even-strength scoring chances (34-13) and even-strength high-danger chances (14-2), according to Natural Stat Trick, but couldn't crack a red-hot Corey Crawford until the third period. 

It was an epic collapse for the Blackhawks, who lost their fourth in a row and for the 10th time in 13 games. And there are no words to describe it.

"It shows where we're at," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We're not good enough in those situations. All we can do is continue to talk about and show the team and work together to make it better. That's the only way it gets better. We recognize the problem. We've got to find a way to take a step. I think we have taken steps at times, but it's not consistent enough."

The Blackhawks are a fragile team right now and you could see it in their body language from the opening faceoff, almost as if they're starting the game already down a couple goals. Can you remember the last time they opened a game by dictating the terms?

In dark times like these, your best players have to step up and take control and they did that on Saturday.

Brandon Saad scored twice, Jonathan Toews registered two primary assists, Patrick Kane ended a six-game goal drought and Crawford stopped the first 32 shots he faced before the Blues' third-period onslaught. And yet it still wasn’t enough.

Brent Seabrook and Toews — two members of the Blackhawks’ leadership group — were sitting at their stalls after the game awaiting the media and made no excuses. They accepted responsibility and acknowledged being in this position is unacceptable.

"Being out there in those situations, you got to take pride in it," Seabrook said. "I know I take a lot of pride in it. ... I know I'm on there for two [goals], the second and third one. It's a critical part of the game and I've got to be better in those moments."

"That sucks to blow that one with the lead that we had," Toews said. "But there's situations where we've got to get pucks out and I lost my check a few times."

So what now? Where do the Blackhawks go from here? Will it get worse before it gets better? 

Is the season even salvageable?

"Why not? One game at a time," Toews said. "We had a rough week. ... It's easy to look at the storyline and get really discouraged and come up with the wrong mentality in your mind about what can happen going forward, but it's the wrong way to go about it. We've just got to focus on tomorrow night and build off the things we keep doing well. Each guy has to look at himself and try to find ways to bring more out of himself every night."

The Blackhawks have been searching for answers all season and they’re not getting any closer to finding a solution. They’re getting further away from it.

A drastic change might be necessary, but the frustration stems from the Blackhawks knowing what the problem is on the ice and still not doing anything about it.

"We need to, when the game's on the line, buckle down, stop and start, make the right read,” Colliton said. “I know they know and I know we as a group know what we have to do to have success and it's just a matter of doing it."

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3 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 4-3 against Blues

USA Today

3 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 4-3 against Blues

The Blackhawks lost 4-3 to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. Here are three takeaways: 

Blackhawks blow three-goal lead 

After Patrick Kane's beautiful stick-side snipe at 4:16 of the third period, the last place Hawks led the defending Stanley Cup champs 3-0 in St. Louis. It was going to be a huge moral victory for Chicago, who had lost three straight games and been outscored 10-3 in their past two. 

Twenty four seconds later, Tyler Bozak scored the first of four unanswered Blues' goals to give St. Louis their first lead of the game, and the final score in regulation, 4-3.

"Sucks to blow that one with the lead that we had, but there's situations where we've got to get pucks out, and I lost my check a few times," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said after the game. "Those guys can make plays when you turn the puck over and you lose your check, so just got to keep going back to the drawing board."

Alex Nylander turned the puck over in Chicago's D zone to Robert Thomas near the high slot, who gave the puck to Bozak for the Blues' first goal of the game which sprung three more. 

“If we benched every player who made a mistake, we wouldn’t have any players," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said after being asked if he thought about benching Nylander after the mishap.

Shot suppression has to happen

As they've done a lot this season, the Hawks allowed the opposition way too many shots on their net. The Blues were able to pepper Corey Crawford with 38. 

"I thought we had a good start to the third, obviously," Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Crow was huge for us all night, really kept us in the game the whole game and I think we let him down."

Crawford and Robin Lehner have been leaned on too much this season by a struggling defense who's definitely missed Calvin de Haan (right shoulder) and Duncan Keith (groin) the past few games. Even before the pair's injuries, the netminders facing around 40 shots was happening too frequently. 

"We all take responsibility," Colliton said. "With the coaches, we have to find a way to prepare these guys better so that they can execute those types of reads when the game's on the line. So, that's it."

Colliton also said Keith began skating in Chicago. There's no set timetable for his return, but it should be sooner rather than later now. 

Saad doubles down

Forward Brandon Saad scored his ninth and tenth goals of the season in St. Louis on Saturday. His first goal came 19 seconds into the first period, assisted by Toews.

Saad's second goal of the game came 30 seconds into the third period. Toews used his body to maintain possession on the boards and feed Saad the puck in front of the net for his second helper. 

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