Blackhawks avoid the penalty box


Blackhawks avoid the penalty box

The Chicago Blackhawks are behaving themselves.

Exhibit A: their penalty box on Saturday night. The official there had a lonely night because no Blackhawks went in there all evening. Its the first time since last March the Blackhawks went a whole game without taking a penalty.

OK, that may be an anomaly. But the Blackhawks have kept their penalty totals down during this early season. In seven games theyve taken just 20, an average of 7.7 penalty minutes a contest. Both numbers are the lowest among NHL teams.

Its helped the Blackhawks avoid the penalty kill and the fatigue that goes along with that job. Their goaltender doesnt mind avoiding power plays, either.

It makes a huge difference when youre not killing penalties, said Corey Crawford, who only had to face Colorados highly ranked power play twice in two games. And it saves guys legs, too; guys arent as tired. When youre killing six or seven penalties a game it wears on you. Were playing every two days; it may not get you tired for that game but itll drag on for maybe the next couple.

Patrick Kane said fewer penalties are becoming a league norm.

It seems like a lot of teams are becoming more disciplined, maybe more accustomed to the rules, he said. If you take bad penalties youll sit a few shifts. Weve been really good as far as not taking penalties.

There may be something to that. But one thing remains certain: stay out of the box, improve your chances of winning. Just look at the leagues top four in low penalty minutesgame:

Team PIMG Record

Chicago 7.7 4-1-2

Washington 8.1 7-0-0

Colorado 8.5 6-2-0

Detroit 9.0 5-1-0

And this is coming from a Blackhawks team that made a concerted effort and deals to get more physical this season. Theyve done that, but theyve nevertheless avoided major penalties.

We have more guys who are more physical this year, but that doesnt give anybody a green light to take penalties just because were being more physical or harder to play against, coach Joel Quenneville said. I think the last few years weve been aware of what the standard is and adapting to that is how we want to play.

Shootout work

The Blackhawks are 0 for 6 in two shootouts this early season, so it was one of the first drills they did on Monday morning. Patrick Kane said perhaps they need to just take a simpler approach.

Sometimes you have so many moves in your head you think can work, maybe you have to just try to stick with one, maybe see what the goalies give you, said Kane, who doesnt foresee this being a long-term issue. Its a matter of time before we get better at that. Theres too much talent in the room and too many players who should score who arent. Well be fine.

Quenneville said the coaches are discussing everything from shooting order to shooters to figure out a solution.

Its something you want to talk about but you dont want guys having more anxiety, he said. Their strength is being comfortable. Its a recent trend; were not as effective as we were. Were visiting all phases. When things dont work we look at options.


Corey Crawford will start against Anaheim on Tuesday night.

Jamal Mayers celebrated his 37th birthday on Monday.

Brandon Saad, who started this season with the Blackhawks, was named the Ontario Hockey Leagues player of the week on Monday. In three games with the Saginaw Spirit last week, Saad tallied six goals and four assists, as well as a plus-2 rating.

Was Dennis Gilbert's Sunday scrap the right move for Blackhawks?

Was Dennis Gilbert's Sunday scrap the right move for Blackhawks?

When Blackhawks defenseman Dennis Gilbert skated after Jason Demers, hitting him into the boards, challenging him to fight and beating the doors off him in the second period with Chicago leading 3-2, he was sticking up for a teammate and trying to give the Hawks some life, but it cost them a puck in their own net.

So was it the right move?

"It is if we kill it," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said of the Hawks being forced to kill Gilbert's instigator penalty. "And I think it sends a good message to the rest of the players that we're in this together and we're going to take care of each other. 

"But I would have liked us to react better the rest of the game after that and that's what we should do to protect each other. I thought that the penalty kill, we were looking for goals at times and when we had the chance to get the puck 200 feet down the ice, we didn't always do that. And I'm not against scoring goals, but let's be smart about it. It cost us."

Gilbert was responding to Demers' hit on Alex DeBrincat in front of the Coyotes' bench near center ice that caused DeBrincat to fall hard into the wall.

"Well, I think it was [a] pretty blatant [penalty] that was missed," Hawks defenseman Calvin de Haan said. "Alex's head went right off the boards. I don't know how they didn't call that one. But good on Dennis to step up and sometimes it takes a big set of cajones to do that. 

"He tried to get a spark for us and I think trying to stick up for your teammates is still part of the game, especially on a hit like that. Kudos to him and I think it was a key time in the game for us and he tried to turn the tables for us."

Gilbert received the instigator for going after Demers, which resulted in a Coyotes' power-play goal from Carl Soderberg. It was Gilbert's second fight in two games. 

"I think it fires us up," DeBrincat said. "I think he’s protecting me. I think he obviously thought it was a dirty hit and takes control of the play. 

"I think it makes a good play for me. I like that he does that. Obviously, at the same time we get a penalty out of it which is not always the best. 

"I think our bench can roll with that and try to kill that off. Unfortunately, we didn’t. Any other penalty we can probably kill off from that one."

Sticking up for a teammate in that fashion goes a long way. The Hawks have been missing a player that makes the opposition answer for their sins the way Gilbert does. You'd like to avoid taking an instigator, but the Blackhawks had an issue with a dangerous hit not being penalized.

It's up to the penalty kill to make that a good penalty. Unfortunately for Gilbert and company, they didn't get the job done. 

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Blackhawks are who we think they are: 'We're inconsistent'


Blackhawks are who we think they are: 'We're inconsistent'

Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton has always preached focusing on the performance and letting the results take care of itself. Over time, water eventually finds its level.

The Blackhawks are a hard team to figure out.

When they're clicking, the Blackhawks look like a group that can compete with anyone because they can outscore any opponent and win the goaltending battle with either Corey Crawford or Robin Lehner between the pipes. When they're not, they look like a team that's closer to the basement of the NHL than the playoff bubble.

Take the past four games as an example.

The Blackhawks outshot the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues 38-30 but lost 4-0 in a game that didn't feel very close. Then they went to Boston, where they knocked off the NHL's best team 4-3 in overtime despite squandering a three-goal lead in the third period.

Next up was New Jersey, where the Blackhawks and lowly Devils looked to be on the same playing field before the visiting team won 2-1 in a shootout. And on Sunday, the Blackhawks led 30-24 in even-strength scoring chances but racked up 27 penalty minutes and it proved to be the difference in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes, who are now tied for the Pacific Division lead.

It's challenging to evaluate who the Blackhawks are as a team because it changes on a nightly basis. So who are they?

"Well for now that is what we are," Colliton said. "We're inconsistent. And it's up to us to commit to doing the things shift-to-shift that will allow us to turn into something more. Simple as that." 

The good news for the Blackhawks is only six points separate themselves from the second wildcard spot and last place in the Western Conference. The bad news is the numbers show they're exactly where they should be.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have a PDO — a metric that combines on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage — of 100.7 during 5-on-5 play, according to Natural Stat Trick. The league average is 100, which suggests this is who the Blackhawks are through 30 games.

"We've just got to keep building on it," Robin Lehner said. "We got a point today, this time we've just got to respond. Next game is the most important game of our season because we've got to keep getting points here now."

Sunday marked the start of another tough stretch where the Blackhawks play seven of the next eight games against teams currently sitting in a playoff spot, all of whom are in the Western Conference, which only heightens the importance of these games.

The Blackhawks will take it one game at a time, but which team shows up for each of them is anybody's guess.

"They're all big," Colliton said of the next game. "It is important how we respond. Because we've had this up and down with our game and we can't expect to get where we want to go if that continues. ... You can have off nights, but then it's how you respond. So we got to respond."

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