Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Blackhawks return favor, rout Predators

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Blackhawks return favor, rout Predators

NASHVILLE — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 7-2 win over the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday:

1. Revenge

The last time the Blackhawks and Predators met, it resulted in one of the most lopsided scoresheets you'll ever see. The Predators dominated in shot attempts (87-41), shots on goal (51-20), scoring chances (42-14) and high-danger chances (16-3), according to Natural Stat Trick, en route to a 3-0 victory less than three weeks ago.

While the Predators led in most of the underlying categories on Saturday, the Blackhawks got their revenge on the scoreboard.

With the win, the Blackhawks improved to 4-0-1 in their past five games and moved above a .500 points percentage for the first time all season. They've scored 24 goals in their last five games after scoring only 33 in their first 14.

"It was a good response tonight I think we knew coming into this rink it was going to be a test for us and we wanted to respond and show that wasn't our team the last time we were here," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought that we did that and we've had a good stretch where we've been getting points and we want to extend that."

2. Blackhawks chase Pekka Rinne

Rinne was lights out for the Predators in his first eight starts of the season. He was 7-0-1 with a 1.74 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and two shutouts.

Since calling the 20-save shutout against the Blackhawks on Oct. 29 "one of the for-sure easier" ones of his NHL career, Rinne is 1-3-1 and has given up 20 goals on 112 shots for a save percentage of .821 over his last five starts.

Against the Blackhawks, Rinne gave up four goals on 14 shots for a save percentage of .714 before being pulled for Juuse Saros in the second period. And the Blackhawks bench let him hear it as he skated off.

"Yeah, it did," a smiling Erik Gustafsson said on whether it felt good to chase Rinne. "I don't think he had the best night today."

Robin Lehner was terrific yet again for the Blackhawks. He stopped 39 of 41 shots for a save percentage of .951.

3. Weathering the storm

Colliton said the morning of their last game against Nashville that the Blackhawks would likely need to weather the storm in the first 10 minutes because the Predators always start strong in their own building. They didn't and were never able to tilt the ice.

The Blackhawks did on Saturday night, though.

After giving up the first six shots on goal, the Blackhawks outshot the Predators 9-6 the rest of the first period and scored the first two goals for the fourth time in five games. It's exactly what the Blackhawks were hoping to do, and it turned the momentum quickly after the Predators dictated the pace of play to start.

"They were really good the first five minutes of every period," Lehner said. "We weathered the storm together. The D battled really hard. They're a really good offensive team as well. ... It was a nice win. Nice bounce-back and kind of shows the progress we made since the last time we were here."

4. Contributions from defensemen

The Blackhawks haven't gotten much offensive contribution from the back end this season. They had only three goals from their defensemen in the first 17 games (Adam Boqvist, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook).

But with Calvin de Haan finding the back of the net in Vegas, Gustafsson scoring a goal in back-to-back games after a 16-game scoring drought and Seabrook netting his second of the season, the Blackhawks have gotten four goals from their defensemen in the past two games. It helps take the pressure off the forwards when everybody is chipping in on offense.

"It's important," Colliton said. "We have some guys who can jump in and produce and Gus's goal was big. They had some chances then all of a sudden we're up 1-0. He can provide that and obviously he showed he can do it last year so hopefully he's got more in the tank."

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What Blackhawks can learn from defending Stanley Cup champion Blues

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AP

What Blackhawks can learn from defending Stanley Cup champion Blues

ST. LOUIS — From 2008-17, the Blackhawks were the gold standard of hockey. Teams across the NHL tried copying their blueprint after nine consecutive playoff berths, five Conference Final appearances and three Stanley Cup wins.

But for the last two-plus seasons, the Blackhawks have been in foreign territory where they can no longer sleepwalk their way to a playoff spot. It's become an uphill battle just to stay in the race.

While there's a lot of hockey left in the season, the Blackhawks are at risk of missing the playoffs for the third straight year and they’re desperately searching for answers. Ironically, they could learn a lot from their arch rival St. Louis Blues.

The Blackhawks played the role of a big brother and bullied the Blues in the Central Division for years but watched them hoist the Stanley Cup last season for the first time in franchise history by overcoming ridiculous odds of sitting in last place on Jan. 3. The Blackhawks find themselves in a similar position, spiraling towards the basement of the Western Conference and trying to salvage a season in which they had legitimate playoff expectations.

The Blues know exactly what they're going through and how difficult it is to stay positive during those dark times.

"It's never easy, no doubt about it, especially when there's guys in that locker room that have won as many Cups as they have and know what it takes to win," Blues forward Brayden Schenn said of the Blackhawks' situation. "If you get the feeling sometimes of it's not coming easy ... I think obviously they're good enough pros in that locker room to find ways to keep positive and believe that they're going to turn it around."

When you go through long stretches without winning, it can feel like a chore coming to the rink every day. And when you're not at the rink, it's difficult for players not to take that frustration home and let it creep into your everyday life. That's where the Blackhawks are at right now.

"It's all part of the job, really," Schenn said. "It's not going to be, if you ask those guys in that locker room if they think they're going to win a Stanley Cup every year that they're going to play, I think they feel very fortunate to definitely win three of them but I don't think you come to the rink, you don't want to bring a negative attitude to the rink, no doubt about it, you want to be positive and upbeat and find ways to work through it."

The Blues' path to the Stanley Cup isn't exactly one teams are looking to emulate. Nobody plans on being at the bottom of the standings around Christmas. But it gives the clubs that are some hope that it can be done.

"It's not going to happen every year where the last place team comes out and dominates the second half and wins the Cup," Schenn said. "But I guess we showed the league and people that it's definitely possible."

Every team that's on the outside looking in will try to rally around the fact the Blues never stopped fighting even when a playoff berth seemed so far away last season. But the Blackhawks have to take it one day at a time and simply focus on what they can control or it's not going to matter.

"They showed it's possible but ultimately we have our own situation," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "They improved so that's what we need to do."

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Blackhawks won't loan Kirby Dach to Canada for 2020 World Juniors

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks won't loan Kirby Dach to Canada for 2020 World Juniors

ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks confirmed on Saturday that rookie forward Kirby Dach will remain in the NHL and not be loaned to Team Canada for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, which begins Dec. 26 and runs through Jan. 5 in the Czech Republic.

The Blackhawks weren't expected to send him, but their recent slide in the standings reignited the discussion as Team Canada was preparing to finalize its roster. Dach, who was taken No. 3 overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, would have played a significant role for his country, but the Blackhawks felt it was better for his development to stay in Chicago.

"Obviously, it was an opportunity that he had but he's playing really well," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I think he's getting better and better and his minutes are going up steadily and there's an opportunity for more if he continues to improve, so we didn't really want to lose that momentum. He's got an opportunity to take a bigger role as we go here and hopefully he can."

Dach has been a bright spot for the Blackhawks this season. He has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 26 games and is averaging 12:03 of ice time. But he's pointless in his last 11 and probably could've used a reboot by going up against his peers at the World Juniors and playing in all situations.

After all, the Blackhawks sent defenseman prospect Henri Jokiharju to do exactly that last season and he helped lead Team Finland to a gold medal by eating up top pairing minutes and serving in a leadership role.

While he may be bummed about not getting that same opportunity, Dach understands the privilege it is to play in the NHL at 18 years old and that's where his mind is at.

"Obviously World Juniors is pretty big in Canada and growing up it's always a thing you dream of doing," said Dach, who won gold with Team Canada at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and recorded seven points (two goals, five assists) in the tournament. "Growing up I remember the Jordan Eberle goal against Team Russia and that's the golden moment that most Canadian kids will remember, is the goal he scored and they want to be that guy. To represent your country is a huge honor. But at the same time, I've been focused on being with the Blackhawks and helping them win each and every night. Obviously timing didn't work out, but I'm happy to be here. It's the NHL and it's the best league in the world, so I'm excited for the opportunity that I have here and to keep producing.

"It's the management's choice and whatever they say goes, right? So you don't want to upset the boss. For me, it's just about playing good and feeling good on the ice, and obviously I've got a good coaching staff and support staff around me that is helping develop me here. If I was able to go back for the World Juniors, it would be a huge honor, but I've played for Team Canada in the past and it's a fun time."

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