Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Kirby Dach lifts Blackhawks to fourth straight win

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AP

Four takeaways: Kirby Dach lifts Blackhawks to fourth straight win

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks keep rolling

The Blackhawks were coming off their biggest win of the season, a 7-2 rout against the Predators just 24 hours ago in Nashville. And they followed that up with a strong 60-minute effort against the Sabres, who started out the season 8-1-1 but are since 1-6-2.

The Blackhawks have scored the first two goals in five of the past six games, and 21 goals during their four-game winning streak. They also improved to 4-0-0 on the second leg of a back-to-back this season.

"It’s nice to get on a little bit of a run here," Patrick Kane said. "It’s something we’ve been waiting for all season. We play pretty well in these back-to-backs so nice to put a little stretch together and feel good about our game. Obviously we’re getting production from all over the lineup right now and I think that’s key if you’re going to go on some winning stretches."

2. Corey Crawford stays hot

The Blackhawks are getting elite goaltending from Crawford and Lehner this season, especially as of late. Crawford came into the matchup with a 10-0-0 record, 2.04 goals-against average and .924 save percentage against the Sabres.

He improved those numbers on Sunday, turning aside 33 of 34 shots for a save percentage of .971. He is now 3-0-2 in his past five starts after starting the season 1-4-0.

"I thought we played great defensively," Crawford said. "Even after playing last night, we really didn’t give up that much, I thought. And then got a lot more goals, too. That seems to be rolling for us right now."

3. Kirby Dach extends point streak

After recording only one point in his previous seven games, the Blackhawks' top prospect is starting to heat up. He scored twice on Sunday night to tally his fourth goal in as many games and fifth of his NHL career. He also finished with four shots on goal.

With the goal, Dach extended his career-high point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists over that span, and is up to nine points (five goals, four assists) in 14 games on the season.

Dach is the third 18-year-old in Blackhawks history to record a multi-goal game (regular season or playoffs), joining Eddie Olczyk (two goals vs. Detroit on April 10, 1985) and Patrick Kane (two goals vs. Columbus on Oct. 23, 2007). And he really tried completing the hat trick on his final shift with the help of Kane."

“I obviously wanted it pretty bad," Dach said. "Kaner gave me a couple of nice chances and I might owe him a steak dinner for missing those ones.”

4. Henri Jokiharju returns to Chicago

For the first time since being traded to the Sabres, Jokiharju returned to the United Center and did so as a member of the visitors. In fact, on his way into the arena he briefly got lost trying to find the changing room.

The Jokiharju trade was a controversial one because he was one of the Blackhawks' best defensemen last season, especially at the beginning of the season, and was traded for Alex Nylander, who was viewed as a reclamation project.

Jokiharju led the Blackhawks in even-strength ice time in his first 15 games under Joel Quenneville. But after the coaching change, Jokiharju's ice time averaged slipped and he was eventually sent to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

"I think it's a little bit how the coach see you as a player and as a person," Jokiharju said. "I think that was one of the issues in here."

Whether that's true or not, both teams seem to be benefitting from the trade so far. Jokiharju has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 19 games with the Sabres. Nylander has nine points (four goals, five assists) in 18 games.

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3 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 4-3 against Blues

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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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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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