Blackhawks

Upcoming road trip could be turning point for Blackhawks

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AP

Upcoming road trip could be turning point for Blackhawks

Five games past the halfway point the Blackhawks have been as up and down as their 20-20-6 record would suggest. The Hawks have only had two streaks of three-plus game winning steaks, with their longest being four-straight victories in mid-November against the Maple Leafs, Golden Knights, Predators and Sabres.

Chicago needs to put another streak together soon to get above .500 for more than a couple games and they need several if they want to make a playoff push. Right now the Hawks are seven points out of a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference behind the Edmonton Oilers.

"I think we've been playing really good lately," Blackhawks defenseman Olli Maatta said. "I know the scores haven't been there, the results haven't been there, but if you look behind it, we've been playing way better than we did at the beginning of the season. 

"I think we would have deserved a little better [out of] those games we haven't won, but you can't do anything about it now. We just have to keep building on the good things we're doing."

Their road trip to Eastern Canada, with a first stop Tuesday in Ottawa to take on the struggling Senators who are 16-22-7 and second to last in the Eastern Conference, is a prime opportunity to step on the gas and build momentum to climb the standings.

Next up is the Canadiens (19-20-7) in Montreal on Wednesday, another winnable game against a team eight points out of a Wild Card spot in the east. Last on the trip is the Toronto Maple Leafs (24-16-6), third in the East's Atlantic division. 

Despite a higher spot in the standings - and impressive, young talent - the Hawks beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 on Nov. 10 in Chicago to start their only four-game winning streak of the season. 

Looking back at last week's four-game homestand, in which the Blackhawks went 2-2-0, there were plenty of positives they can harness to grab some much-needed points in Canada.

Rookie forward Dominik Kubalik is tied for the rookie lead in goals with 16 after recording eight points (five goals, three assists) in five games. Kubalik has been heating up while playing with Jonathan Toews on the top line and has been going nuclear when Patrick Kane is tossed on the right wing alongside them.

"Very happy with Kubalik's progression," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said following the rookie's two-goal performance in Saturday's 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. "Does a lot of things away from the puck that allow him to be put in a situation to score. He's going to the net, he's being a shooter, and it's great to see."

Kane is riding a six-game point streak with 10 points (four goals, six assists) and is alarmingly close to his 1,000th career point. He's currently at 995. 

Goalie Robin Lehner was back to his old self after missing three starts with a right-knee injury. Lehner saved 35 of 37 shots to help the Hawks beat the Ducks.

"It was a great win for us to build on," Lehner said. "Going on a road trip and finish off two at home before the break. We have five games left now until the break and one game at a time, but we have to do some damage in those five games and hopefully get going there."

When they return to home ice from Canada, the Blackhawks take on the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday and the Florida Panthers (Q reunion!) next Tuesday. 

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Stan Bowman lays out big picture plan for Blackhawks

Stan Bowman lays out big picture plan for Blackhawks

ST. LOUIS — The NHL trade deadline has passed, and the Blackhawks sold off two key pieces from their roster who were on expiring contracts to recoup some draft picks and prospects to their pipeline. They had no choice to if neither player was going to be part of their long-term plans.

The return was underwhelming in large part because of how the market played out, but that isn't the real problem. It's the fact the Blackhawks are in a position where they subtracted from the roster because they're at risk of missing out on the playoffs for a third straight season.

GM Stan Bowman met with the media in St. Louis before Tuesday's game and was asked to provide an outline of the big picture plan going forward. Here was his full answer:

"The biggest thing in today's game is having young players play an important role," Bowman said. "The last couple years we've picked in the top 10. We hadn't picked there since we picked Patrick [Kane in 2007]. So I think that's where you get some of those high-end players. The challenge is to try to get as many as those as you can and then build from that way out. Luckily, we still have some other established players that are difference-makers.

"But to answer your question simply, the way you become a really dominant team is you have some high-impact players and you need to have as many of them as you can assemble, but they're not easy to come by. Certainly hard to trade for. I guess it happens rarely when they become available. You typically have to draft them or develop them. Maybe trade for them or sign them as free agents. When you're signing a free agent, unless it's a European guy, they tend to be older and they might have some good years left, but their best years are probably behind them. There's no shortcut to it other than drafting and developing those players, so then the question is how do you acquire those? And that's what we've been trying to do.

"We've been trying to acquire either young prospects or draft choices that we can use to hopefully find that next group. And then there's a little bit of a lag where you have to allow them to develop. Some of them, obviously Kirby [Dach] is the exception to be able to come right in. Usually it takes a little bit of time. Adam [Boqvist] it took one year, now he's already in the NHL. For defensemen, that's a pretty quick ascent to the top. But we have to have a little bit of patience for those players to have time to develop. But you need to have those high-value assets, and we're trying to get as many as those as we can."

To summarize it best: the Blackhawks are in a "lag" period.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are still at the top of their games at age 31, Duncan Keith has a lot of hockey left in him and Corey Crawford is showing no immediate signs of slowing down. Alex DeBrincat is part of that second wave, and you figure Dylan Strome is too. Dominik Kubalik is playing his way into that conversation as well.

And then there's Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach, both of whom broke into the NHL this season as teenagers and have the highest ceilings of them all to turn into elite difference-makers because of where they were drafted. The challenge is balancing patience in their development while helping them get to their prime level as quickly as possible so it coincides with whatever high-level years of hockey Kane, Toews and the other core veterans have. 

There will surely be conversations within the organization over the offseason about the direction of the Blackhawks. Kane hopes the players can provide input to some degree.

"I think it's good to ask the players what they think, to be honest with you," Kane said. "We're the ones who are playing every night. We see what's going on in the locker room. We see who's tough to play against in the league, what teams are tough to play against. That would be a good road to go."

Bowman said he doesn't believe it's necessarily fair to bring the players into the decision-making process but admitted the leadership group has earned the respect to have their voices heard based on what they've accomplished in Chicago.

"If we knew exactly what the future held then you could have that conversation, but it's just a lot of guess work on everybody's part as far as nobody knows what our team's going to be year to year," Bowman said. "You have a plan on what you're doing, but then life happens, and things change. You have to have the willingness to adapt to what's in front of you, so I think that's why their job is to play hockey and they're very good at that and we let them do that.

"The other stuff, you might have conversations in the offseason more-so; day to day, talking to players about the management of the team, that's not the way sports work."

The Blackhawks are taking a long-term approach to their retooling process and it's difficult to predict when everything is going to line back up to not just be battling for a playoff berth but become perennial Stanley Cup contenders again. Are the Blackhawks on board with that?

"I mean, that’s the goal," Toews said. "Anything less than that is disappointing and frustrating."

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4 Takeaways: Blackhawks power up but fall in high-scoring affair to Blues

4 Takeaways: Blackhawks power up but fall in high-scoring affair to Blues

The Blackhawks scored three power-play goals, but lost 6-5 to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues in St. Louis on Tuesday. Here are four takeaways: 

Crow's net

After trading goalie Robin Lehner to Vegas ahead of Monday's trade deadline, Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said Corey Crawford will be the team's lone starter the rest of the year, likely with Malcolm Subban (return from Lehner trade) backing him up.  

After a rough start to the game, allowing the Blues to draw first blood, Crawford made some big saves in the first period to keep the Hawks in it and allow them to answer back. 

Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy was tagged with a tripping penalty 11 seconds into the game that produced a Brayden Schenn power-play goal 33 seconds into the contest, which had Chicago trailing 1-0 early. 

Murphy later redeemed himself by scoring off a wrist shot at 14:09 of the first to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead. 

After a four-goal third period, Crawford finished the game with 31 saves on 37 shots. His performance wasn't indicative of the score. The Blackhawks defense had a rough game and the penalty kill went 2-for-4. 

100 for Duncs

Duncan Keith scored on a Blackhawks power play at 10:55 of the first period. 

He became the 100th defenseman in NHL history to score 100 goals. Keith joins Bob Murray, Doug Wilson and Brent Seabrook as the only defensemen to reach the milestone with the Blackhawks.

He later added two assists in the game.  

The two-time Norris Trophy winner recorded his 500th assist in Wednesday's 6-3 loss against the New York Rangers. Keith is the 40th defenseman in NHL history to reach 600+ points. 

RELATED - Duncan Keith reaching elite career milestones this season

Powerful

With Keith's marker, the Hawks picked up a power-play goal in three straight games. They were 0-for-17 on the man advantage in their previous six.

Patrick Kane added another power-play goal for the visitors, scoring 1:13 into the second period. Brandon Saad scored the Blackhawks' third power play of the game at 8:16 of the third to put Chicago ahead 5-4. 

The Hawks only had three power-play goals in the entire month of February before Tuesday. It was only the second game this season in which Chicago had at least two power-play goals. The other was against Vancouver on Nov. 7 in a 5-2 win in which they scored two. 

D breakdowns

Like the majority of the time the Blackhawks have been scored on this season, a couple of the Blues' goals on Tuesday were a result of defensive breakdowns. In the third period, St. Louis scored two even-strength goals in 16 seconds. 

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