Four takeaways: Second line drives Blackhawks to seventh straight win

Four takeaways: Second line drives Blackhawks to seventh straight win

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings in front of the largest crowd of the season (21,941) at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Second line shines

The Blackhawks' first line and power play have dominated the headlines during the team's winning streak. But it was the second line that stole the show on Sunday.

Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kahun and Dylan Strome combined for three goals and six assists, giving each of them three-point outings. DeBrincat extended his point streak to a new career-long eight games while Strome stretched his to four games, three of which have been multi-point efforts.

Kahun scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season, giving the Blackhawks seven double-digit goal scorers. They had seven all of last season. 

"Our chemistry’s pretty strong, so it’s good," DeBrincat said. "Me and Stromer have played together for a while now. I think just hanging out all the time off the ice helps, too. That’s a big thing, and Dom’s a good player, too. He makes it easy on us, he wins pucks back and we go from there. 

"He’s such a good player, like I said. He can just make those little plays so well and he makes the game easy. He’s a very good passer and as you see today he can still bury the puck, too. To have that double threat is pretty great."

2. Showtime answers

Things got interesting late in the third period. The Red Wings cut the Blackhawks' deficit to 3-2 with 4:30 left in regulation. There was a little tension in the arena.

But it didn't last long to marinate because it's hard to keep both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews off the scoresheet for a full 60 minutes. The dynamic duo connected twice within a span of 1:32, with Kane scoring his 33rd goal of the season and Toews sealing the deal with an empty netter for his seventh goal in as many games.

Toews extended his point streak to seven games while Kane stretched his to 14 when it looked like both were going to end. Instead, two points for each.

"The puck found him there at the end," coach Jeremy Colliton said of Kane. "I know he's got the streak going, so glad he was able to get it. Some nights it's hard. I think there were some plays out there for him to make and the puck didn't go in the net for him, but he's always involved. When he's on the ice, the other team knows he's a threat and that's nice for us to have."

3. Cam Ward continues to roll

The Blackhawks are giving up the most high-danger chances at 5-on-5 this season, according to The Red Wings are allowing the sixth-most. But they've both gotten strong goaltending in those areas.

The Blackhawks have the fifth-best high-danger team save percentage at .850 and the Red Wings are right behind them at No. 6 with a save percentage of .847. On Sunday, that continued for the Blackhawks.

Cam Ward stopped 43 of 45 shots and had a high-danger save percentage of .944 in all situations. He now has an overall save percentage of .940 in his last four starts, all of which have resulted in wins.

"Let's keep this thing rolling," Ward said. "Winning's fun and the guys worked hard once again. It's a little bit different with the matinee to get up for and obviously we had a real good first period, took a little bit of a step back in the second. Overall, it was a big two points on the line and we were able to get 'em."

4. Heavy scouting presence

The Blackhawks and Red Wings are two teams near the bottom of their respective conferences, which means playoff contenders are certainly looking at both of these teams as potential trade partners before the Feb. 25 deadline. There were 13 NHL scouts listed for Sunday's game, including three from Nashville.

And there are some attractive pieces on each side.

Most notably on the Red Wings, looming unrestricted free agents Jimmy Howard and Gustav Nyquist would serve as solid rentals with nice value. For the Blackhawks, it depends on which direction they want to go in. After winning their seventh straight, could they look to add and try making a push for the playoffs or will they declare themselves sellers? The next two weeks will be interesting.

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

The London Knights set high expectations for themselves going into the 2018-19 OHL campaign. They always do. Their roster is usually loaded with top NHL prospects and this season was no different.

After finishing No. 1 in the Western Conference with 99 points, the Knights looked poised to go on a deep run. They got off to a roaring start in the playoffs by sweeping the Windsor Spitfires (4-0) and kicked off the second round by winning three straight against the Guelph Storm. But then, for the first time all season, the Knights lost four in a row to squander a 3-0 series lead and were eliminated just like that. It was a disappointing finish for a team with Memorial Cup aspirations.

One of the bright spots of the postseason was Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist. He was tied for first among all skaters with 10 goals through two rounds; no other defenseman had more than six. And he finished with 13 points in 11 games for a points-per-game average of 1.18.

To summarize his season: Boqvist scored one goal in his first 15 games. From that point on, he finished with 29 goals and 60 points in 50 games, including playoffs. He became an offensive driving force.

It's unclear what his future holds, but with Evan Bouchard expected to turn pro and secure a full-time roster spot on the Edmonton Oilers next season, returning to London would put Boqvist in a position where he could be the No. 1 defenseman in all situations.

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