Blackhawks

Blackhawks avoid the penalty box

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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.

Briefly

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.

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets blockbuster trade from the 2017 offseason is always a hot topic in Chicago when things aren't going great. It especially is when the two teams square off against each other, like Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season.

If it wasn't already apparent in Chicago, Artemi Panarin has emerged as a real NHL superstar and is set for a giant payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points in a single season and has nine points (three goals, six assists) through six games this season.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, had a challenging first year back with the Blackhawks in 2017-18 after netting only 35 points in 82 games and is off to a slow start this year as well with zero goals and two assists through six games. After a demotion to the fourth line, he was close to being a healthy scratch on Thursday, which only magnifies where things are at as the two get ready to clash.

But Saad was never going to be able to replace Panarin's offensive production. Everybody knows that. Yet, the offensive comparisons will always be there as a barometer and that's something Saad doesn't think about, no matter how much fans talk about it.

"I don't think I do it," he said. "We're different players. He's a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but at the end of the day you've got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table. He's a great player around the league. You can see his highlights and his goals, he's definitely a special player. But at the end of the day I've got confidence in my abilities too. We both bring different attributes, but they're going to make comparisons regardless."

A big reason why the Blackhawks reacquired Saad, other than his ability to play a 200-foot game, is because he carries a $6 million cap hit through 2020-21, which is two years more than Panarin at the same cap hit. (It's also important to note that the Blackhawks hoped they were getting a reliable, young backup goaltender in Anton Forsberg, but the injury to Corey Crawford thrust him into a role he wasn't exactly prepared for.)

It's not all rainbows for Columbus right now regarding where things stand with Panarin, who has made it clear he's not ready to sign a long-term extension. All signs point to the 26-year-old winger hitting the market, putting the Blue Jackets in a tricky situation ahead of the trade deadline. The Blackhawks very well could have found themselves in this position, too, had a deal not been made.

Both sides are dealing with their own challenges of the trade. Saad is still a key piece to the Blackhawks' puzzle and they're hoping to get more out of him, for no other reason than the team's overall success.

"You want to have success regardless of who you're playing for, who you're traded for, things like that," Saad said. "Naturally, just as competitors, you want to bring that excitement and you want to have success with the team and personally."

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."