Blackhawks

What Erik Gustafsson hopes to learn from healthy scratch

12-5_erik_gustafsson_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

What Erik Gustafsson hopes to learn from healthy scratch

ANAHEIM — When Erik Gustafsson came into training camp, he looked like a new man. His confidence was high, and both he and the Blackhawks expected him to take on a larger role this season, which he's done.

Gustafsson has seen his ice-time spike to 21:46 from the 18:33 it was a year ago and 15:27 during his rookie campaign. He's playing top-four minutes, is a regular on the power play and is put in any offensive situation — whether it's an offensive zone draw or late in the game when the Blackhawks are trailing — to maximize his best abilities. He's also tied among team defensemen with 11 points.

So when he was told he'd be a healthy scratch on Sunday against the Calgary Flames, Gustafsson was a little surprised by it.

"It was tough," he said after Wednesday's morning skate in Anaheim, where he will draw back into the lineup against the Ducks. "You want to play every game you can, but what are you going to do? You just go forward and try to help the team win and show that they maybe made a mistake and try to be better out there. I know I've struggled a little bit in our own zone the last four or five games, so I got to be better."

It perhaps made it a little more surprising considering it came one night after he logged a career-high 27:02 of ice time — because of a Duncan Keith ejection in the first period — and had a three-game point streak going into Nashville, along with three goals in his previous four games.

But he was on the ice for two of the Predators' three even-strength goals within the first 4:11 of that game, which magnified some mistakes in his own end, both systematically and being tougher to play against.

"We know he can make plays offensively, we know he can help us in that area," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We just want him to really focus on gap, defending the rush hard, defending lines hard and then, of course, in his own end, around his net but he knows that. That's not a new conversation and I expect he'll respond."

When you're a healthy scratch, sometimes it can be beneficial to see the game from up above. You may notice things more when you're paying closer attention to the details that you maybe wouldn't see from ice level in the heat of the battle. Gustafsson made sure to take note of that.

"Stick together as a team," he said. "Now we're playing man-on-man, if one guy beats the other guy it's going to be tough for the other four guys out there. We got to stick together and if we don't have anything, just get closer to our net and protect our net. That's what I saw."

The Blackhawks don't want him to change anything he does on offense. That's his strength.

But shoring up how he plays away from the puck, particularly in the defensive zone, could lead to fewer scoring opportunities allowed, which has been a weak spot for not just Gustafsson but the Blackhawks as a whole.

"He told me today I have to have a better gap, tougher in front of our own net, help [Corey Crawford] a little bit," Gustafsson said of Colliton's message. "Obviously it's a new system we play, but I got to go out there and play harder and have better gap tonight and try to shoot some pucks and try to score a goal."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Blackhawks are now tied for the final playoff spot in the West

jeremy_colliton_road_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Blackhawks are now tied for the final playoff spot in the West

Mark Carman and Patrick Finley join Kap on the panel.

0:00- Duke and the worst teams in the NBA breathe a big sigh of relief after Zion Williamson suffers just a Grade 1 knee sprain. After dodging this bullet, should Zion shut it down and prepare for the draft?

7:00- After seeing what happened to Zion, there have been more calls for the NCAA to pay players more than just tuition. Will it ever happen?

10:00- The Blackhawks are now tied for the final playoff spot in the West. Does Stan Bowman need to make a big trade before Monday's deadline?

12:30- Manny Machado is a San Diego Padres. Patrick Finley is huge Padres fan. He gives his reaction to the big free agent signing.

16:00- WGCI's Leon Rogers joins the guys on the panel to talk about Zion's injury, the Bears offseason plans. They also discuss the controversial finish in the Georgia-Mississippi State game when a stuffed animal decided the outcome.

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

Sports Talk Live Podcast

Subscribe:

A look at how far Blackhawks have come to battle themselves into playoff picture

A look at how far Blackhawks have come to battle themselves into playoff picture

For a brief moment on Wednesday night, the Blackhawks found themselves sitting in the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Then the Avalanche won, bumping them out because Colorado owns a higher points percentage by having a game in hand.

But it was enough for the city of Chicago to look at the standings and go to sleep wondering: How the heck did the Blackhawks get here?

Think about this: Just 32 days ago, the Chicago Blackhawks were in the basement of the entire National Hockey League. Dead last. And now they're knocking on the door.

To put it all into perspective, let's visualize it. Here's a look at the Blackhawks' day-by-day playoff percentage change this season, courtesy of sportsclubsstats.com:

At one point, the odds were as low as 0.05 percent, which came on Dec. 16 after a 7-3 loss to San Jose. It eventually reached 1.43 percent on Jan. 6 following a 5-3 victory over Pittsburgh, but regressed back to 0.3 percent on Jan. 19 after losing their fifth straight against the New York Rangers.

Since that point, the Blackhawks' chances have increased to 19.6 percent. It's the first time the odds are above 18 percent since Nov. 7, which was the day after Jeremy Colliton took over as head coach. It's truly amazing how far they've come, and how poor the West has been that has allowed a playoff berth to be remotely possible.

To make things even more exciting in Chicago, the Blackhawks have a gigantic weekend with pair of home games against the Avalanche and Dallas Stars, both of whom occupy the two wildcard positions.

Imagine the updated graph if the Blackhawks can turn those into regulation wins...

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.