Blackhawks

Rocky Wirtz acknowledges changes could be coming for Blackhawks: 'Nothing lasts forever'

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AP

Rocky Wirtz acknowledges changes could be coming for Blackhawks: 'Nothing lasts forever'

Since winning three Stanley Cups in six years, the Blackhawks have had back-to-back first-round exits and followed that up by missing the playoffs altogether for the first time since 2007-08.

It's unfamiliar territory for the Blackhawks. At least under Rocky Wirtz, it is.

The Blackhawks Chairman opened up about the team's recent struggles in an interview with Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago Business, and was asked to weigh in on what he believes has contributed most to the underachievement over the past three years.

"The better players all had off years," Wirtz said. "There were lots of reasons. ... We're not going to have a knee-jerk reaction. You can't let your emotions be in control."

Perhaps the main reason why it's important not to have a knee-jerk reaction is because Corey Crawford missed the final three and a half months with an injury, and that alone changed the entire complexion of the second half of the season.

Wirtz said Crawford "tells me he's OK," which is encouraging, but there's still that uncertainty about how the 33-year-old star goaltender will respond once he gets back into game action and whether he can be reliable for an 82-game season. Nobody can know for sure until it happens.

But the most revealing part of the interview came when Wirtz acknowledged changes could be coming if the results are status quo next year, and hinted he wouldn't necessarily wait for the end of the season to make them:

Overall, "I think the team will be fine." But, "if things are off at the beginning of the year, that's a different story. ... Nothing lasts forever."

Asked if that means changes could occur right after the holiday season if the team is doing poorly, Wirtz had a short answer: "Yes."

It's not surprising that jobs may be on the line up and down the organization — players, coaches, front office — depending on how the 2018-19 campaign unfolds, but it's telling when it's coming from the top that nobody is safe and the patience is running thin.

It only magnifies how important this offseason is for the Blackhawks.

Four takeaways: Strong start wasted as Blackhawks winless streak extends to five games

Four takeaways: Strong start wasted as Blackhawks winless streak extends to five games

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday:

1. Strong start wasted

The Blackhawks came out of the gates flying. They recorded the first nine shot attempts (four on goal) and didn't allow the Rangers to get their first shot on net until the 6:35 mark.

The Blackhawks were rewarded when Brandon Saad scored at 5:41 to put his team up 1-0. But the Rangers responded with a pair of goals within 4:18 of each other towards the latter stages of the frame to go up 2-1.

It was a tough way for the Blackhawks to go into the first intermission, happy with the start but not the result.

2. High-quality scoring chances

The Blackhawks gave up three goals at 5-on-5 and one empty-netter. And they'll quickly realize when reviewing the tape that they didn't do Collin Delia any favors.

Each of New York's first three goals came from the lower slot area, and they were seemingly all preventable. That's the positive, but also the negative because the Blackhawks are making it tough on themselves.

The Rangers finished with 14 high-danger chances at even strength compared to the Blackhawks' three. Below is a heat map of the shot chart at 5-on-5, courtesy of naturalstattrick.com:

3. Power play stays hot

The Rangers aren't a great team in the penalty kill department. They went into Thursday's game ranked 26th with a 77.1 percent success rate. But they were coming in hot, having killed off 14 in a row in the last three games.

That wasn't enough to stop the Blackhawks' scorching power play, which potted two more on three opportunities (goals by Saad and Alex DeBrincat). It's the seventh straight game the Blackhawks have scored at least one power-play goal, upping their percentage to 37.2 (16-for-43) since Dec. 18 — a span of 14 games, which ranks first over that stretch.

The power play continues to be a bright spot, and the Blackhawks have to be pleased with the consistency of it over the last month now.

4. Strome vs. Strome

For the third time in his NHL career, Dylan Strome went head-to-head with older brother Ryan, the latter of whom had gotten the best of his younger brother in the first two meetings — once when Ryan was with the Islanders and the other when he was with the Oilers, both against Dylan's Coyotes.

But Ryan stayed 3-for-3 against Dylan even though they were both on different teams this time.

Dylan was on the ice against Ryan for 8:46 of 5-on-5 time, which is the most he faced against any other Rangers skater. Ryan's line generated nine scoring chances and allowed only one during that time.

Dylan did get the better of his older brother in the faceoff department (58.3 percent vs. 53.3 percent), but it was Ryan that came away with the result that matters to both of them and that's the two points in the standings.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox prospects trip to the Dominican Republic

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox prospects trip to the Dominican Republic

Thirteen of the White Sox top American born prospects are in the Dominican Republic this week for a cultural exchange trip organized by the White Sox, giving players like Dylan Cease, Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins and Dane Dunning a first-hand experience to learn about the country where many of their Latin teammates like Eloy Jimenez call home. Chuck Garfien speaks with Ryan McGuffey who is covering the trip for NBC Sports Chicago. They talk about the White Sox training academy in the Dominican Republic (3:50), what the players are learning and how they're bonding on the trip (6:30), the crazy atmosphere going to a Dominican Winter League game (11:10), going with Reynaldo Lopez to the home where he grew up (14:40), personal stories from the trip (23:15) and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: