Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Is Antoine Vermette on outside looking in?

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Blackhawks: Is Antoine Vermette on outside looking in?

The Blackhawks rolled through their lines on Monday, the ones that included Patrick Kane and Brad Richards, both back from injuries.

But one player was absent from those top four lines: Antoine Vermette, whom the Blackhawks acquired prior to the trade deadline to help bolster their strength at center.

[RELATED - Patrick Kane could be ready to go for Game 1]

Vermette has had a tough go in his time with the Blackhawks; he’s been moved around the lineup, from center to wing, and is still looking for his first goal with his new team. So as the Blackhawks prepare for Game 1 against the Nashville Predators on Wednesday, is Vermette on the outside looking in?

“We’ll see,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We know he’s got some experience there in the middle. Depth is something organizationally you need and some guys are ahead of other guys now based on performance. We’ve got to make decisions.”

Vermette had several suitors prior to the trade deadline. The Blackhawks emerged victorious in that sweepstakes, giving the Arizona Coyotes their first-round draft pick from this year’s draft as well as defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. He started as the second-line center and went back to that spot when Richards suffered an upper-body injury late in the season. In between, however, he’s played third line and also wing. In the 19 regular-season games with the Blackhawks, Vermette had three assists.

[RELATED: Stanley Cup Playoffs: Full schedule for Blackhawks-Predators]

Asked if he expected to play in this series vs. the Predators, Vermette said, “yes I think so.” He admits the lack of production has been frustrating.

“Yeah, of course,” he said. “You don’t want to get over frustrated but it would’ve been nice to contribute more on the score sheet, that’s for sure. But I’m a big believer in the process and don’t try to focus on the end there. Hopefully I can turn things around in that department.

“You have to be consistent, take care of little details and small battles, bring that excitement, that focus,” Vermette said of what it takes to thrive in the postseason. “It’s a lot of fun. You bring that excitement, that intensity and try to make a positive impact.”

So when will Vermette play? The Blackhawks gave up a high pick and a prospect in the hopes of getting a player who could help them late in the regular season and in the playoffs. It would be hard to believe he wouldn’t play at some point against the Predators. At the same time, with Vermette not playing well, he may start this series watching from the bench.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Blackhawks fans!]

“We always say it doesn’t matter how much money you make or who you are: your performance is going to dictate everything you get and everything you’re going to earn," Quenneville said. "On a need basis, I think organizationally [with] depth you get tested and challenged as you move along here in playoffs. We’re going to need everybody and everything changes instantly in our game. That’s being prepared and having some versatility in your lineup choices is always something you got to look at. That’s kind of where we’re at.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."