Four takeaways: Jonathan Toews keeps winning streak alive for Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Jonathan Toews keeps winning streak alive for Blackhawks

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Jonathan Toews to the rescue

The Blackhawks didn't play their best game of the season. Not even close. But they're finding ways to win despite that. And their captain was the main reason why they earned the much-needed extra point against a Canucks team that went into the day sitting in the second wild card spot in the Western Conference was 5-0-0 in their previous five games against Chicago.

Toews was approaching the end of his second shift in overtime, but found an opening and went for it. His terrific individual effort speaks for itself, and it gave the Blackhawks their sixth consecutive win.

"I think maybe everyone else on the ice was as tired as I was," said Toews, who extended his point streak to six games and has 12 career overtime winners. "I was just trying to make one last play without it being too dangerous of a play and risking a turnover. But I was able to anticipate their D-man throwing his stick in there and was able to get a shot on net. It’s nice to see those go in." 

2. Special teams galore

For much of the first period, the Canucks looked like the better team. They generated 12 scoring chances at 5-on-5 compared to the Blackhawks' five, and eight high danger chances vs. only two allowed, according to

But after staving off the Canucks and killing off a 5-on-3 penalty for 1:10 along with the rest of the 50 seconds at 5-on-4, the Blackhawks were awarded a couple power plays of their own in the final four minutes. And they delivered.

With goals from Alex DeBrincat and Brandon Saad just 1:23 apart, the Blackhawks quickly went up 2-0 and went into intermission feeling good about themselves because they know they didn't have their best period. That's how important an effective power play is these days. 

"It was a weird game," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We go down 5-on-3, we kill it off, we get our own 5-on-3, we score twice. It's like, 'Wow.' We're finding ways to get it done. ... I think we feel like every time we go on the power play we're a threat. We're going to score sometimes, but the big thing is that we create momentum, create chances, keep moving it forward, keep them under pressure and we can build on it whether we put the puck in the net or not."

It's the eighth time in the past 16 games the Blackhawks have scored multiple power-play goals after doing so zero times in their first 39 games. The Blackhawks were 4-on-4 on the penalty kill before the Canucks scored on their fifth opportunity with 1:52 left in regulation.

3. Erie Otters connection strikes again

The DeBrincat and Strome chemistry is well-documented, dating back to their days with the Erie Otters in the OHL. Their on-ice connection was on full display against the Canucks.

Strome and DeBrincat connected twice, both of which were dishes from Strome and finished by DeBrincat. The second was a terrific no-look pass by Strome that summed up their night together.

"It's chemistry," Strome said. "He's usually over there. We've had a couple of close ones where we didn't really click on it, but it felt good. We felt good before the game and for whatever reason it clicked today." 

With two goals, DeBrincat matched his goal total (28) from his rookie campaign in 27 fewer games. He also stretched his point streak to seven games, which ties a season high, and become the eighth play in Blackhawks history to record at least 50 points in each of their first two NHL seasons.

4. Wild card picture

Unlike Tuesday, the Blackhawks didn't get as much help around the league on Thursday. All 15 Western Conference teams were in action, and a majority of the teams above them picked up points. 

The Avalanche earned a point by scoring a late third-period goal to force overtime in Washington before losing. The Oilers defeated the Wild in regulation. And the Blues beat the Lightning in overtime to move into the second wild card spot. The Coyotes were the only notable team that lost in regulation.

The good news? The Blackhawks have jumped Anaheim and Arizona in the standings in a span of 48 hours. Two down, four more to go.

"It’s hard not to," Toews said on standings watching. "I think that’s the fun of it, is seeing what’s going on around the league every night when our conference is as close as it is. We’ve been talking about that, too, is we’re going to focus on our job and that’s pretty much all that we can control, so that’s what we’ll worry about. But there’s no doubt you’re aware of what’s going on."

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

USA Today

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks divided practice into two groups on Thursday and Friday. One of them was filled with NHL players. The other was loaded with prospects.

Dylan Sikura found himself in the first group with the prospects, and it's hard not to read into what that could mean about his standing with the team as the coaching staff looks to finalize its 23-man roster over the next two weeks.

Once thought of as a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, Sikura put up strong numbers in the AHL last season but his offensive production hasn't translated to the NHL level.

Part of that is because he was put in favorable situations in college and Rockford, where he played first-line minutes and was the go-to guy on the top power play unit. It was difficult for him to get those same opportunities in Chicago when players like Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are viewed as the heavy lifters on offense.

When the Blackhawks traded Dominik Kahun to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June for defenseman Olli Maatta, GM Stan Bowman felt he was able to pull the trigger on that trade because he was confident that there were players in-house ready for bigger roles and that could fill Kahun's skates. Bowman singled out Sikura specifically.

“Looking at some of our young players that are getting ready to take on a bigger role, you can look at guys like Dylan Sikura,” Bowman said at the time. “He didn't have the offensive success at the NHL level but I liked the way he played when he was with us last year in Chicago. It felt like his game was real effective other than the production part. Then when he was in Rockford I really liked the way he was able to score down there. So I think he's not far from being a guy and he's got sort of a similar skill set that Dominik has.”

Bowman is right. When Sikura was on the ice at 5-on-5 last season, the Blackhawks controlled 55.4 percent of the shot attempts and 53.2 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. When he wasn't on the ice, those numbers dropped to 47.7 and 45.5, respectively. 

But through 38 career games with the Blackhawks, Sikura is still looking for his first career NHL goal and he knows it's a results-oriented business.

“It's obviously something you think about every now and then and it's tough but I thought there was spurts last year where I was really good," Sikura said. "And even though I wasn't scoring I was still playing and put in situations playing with top guys, so I think all that is going to help me in the long run. Coach always says you end up getting rewarded for what you deserve and I think if I continue to work away from the puck and work on that side of the game then the offense will come."

Sikura survived the first wave of cuts, which consisted of six players. But the next round is expected to be bigger and should come this weekend with the IceHogs training camp beginning Sunday.

Whether Sikura is part of that remains to be seen, but with a crowded forward group already and limited spots available, he might have to wait for his chance again mid-season.

“You always got to be ready, if it's going to be here to start the season or down there, you always got to be ready to go,” Sikura said. “You saw last year, I think when you're down there sometimes you don't think you're coming up then next day you get a call, so you always got to be ready and working on your game. It's a little bit of different hockey down there, but you've got to do the little things and I think my game kind of changes down there a little, but to stick up here I've got to do the little things and hopefully it all works out."

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Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

Detroit Red Wings

Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

After starting training camp with 55 players, the Blackhawks made their first wave of roster cuts on Friday and they weren't very surprising.

Forwards Nathan Noel, Graham Knott, Tyler Sikura, Tim Soderlund, Dylan McLaughlin, Kris Versteeg and defensemen Chad Krys, Jack Ramsey and Jake Ryczek were re-assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Goaltender Alexis Gravel was also returned to his junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Blackhawks training camp roster now sits at 45 players: 26 forwards, 14 defensemen and five goaltenders.

The IceHogs kick off their training camp on Sunday, so expect the Blackhawks to make more roster moves before then. Saturday's preseason game against the Boston Bruins could serve as the final opportunity for some of the bubble players to make an impression before the organization makes their next round of cuts.

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