Blackhawks

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

Ulf Samuelsson saw the changes the Blackhawks made this season, his hiring as assistant coach being one of them. Soon he’ll be working with the team’s defensemen, another area that’s had some upheaval.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, some uncertainties and some moving parts that I probably, typically haven’t seen going into a season. So that makes it even more interesting and challenging,” Samuelsson said. “So I’m looking forward to this opportunity to really develop and work with some of the younger players.”

From its immediate coach to its personnel, the Blackhawks’ defense is dealing with plenty of change that will continue when the season begins this fall. The Blackhawks have had some addition (Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta and Jordan Oesterle) but dealing with the subtraction (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk) will nevertheless be tough. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday that pairings are a work in progress.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we're going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” he said. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

For Murphy, who was acquired in the deal that sent Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, there are no set expectations as to where he fits yet.

“With any team you go into training camp proving where you’re going to be. Everyone has to come in and earn certain positions, especially me being a guy who they’re not as familiar with; I have to show what I can do,” Murphy said. “I definitely want to bring a more physical edge to defending at times and be able to skate well, have a good reach, make smart reads and try to help out with whatever’s needed with that.”

As for young players, the opportunity is there. Gustav Forsling admits he wasn’t happy that fellow Swede and role model Hjalmarsson was traded. But Forsling, who looked strong coming out of camp last September, knows he has to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I want to take the next step and play more,” he said. “I want to keep progressing my game and keep developing.”

The same goes for Jordan Oesterle, who the Blackhawks signed to a two-year deal on July 1.

“When I wanted to come here the opportunity was tremendous. Just the chance to come in and try to make the top six is there, it’s a battle with a number of us guys but that’s all you ask for in the situation I’m in,” he said. “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more. I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Again, the Blackhawks could re-address defense once they implement Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve after the season begins. General manager Stan Bowman said there’s “no exact plan” right now on how they use that space – “that’s probably going to be dictated by where we’re at when we get to October, how the team’s playing, what areas are strong, what areas we want to add to,” he said.

It remains to be seen on that front. Regardless, from coaching to personnel, much has changed with the Blackhawks defense. 

Blackhawks hit new low after epic collapse in St. Louis

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USA Today

Blackhawks hit new low after epic collapse in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks needed something to feel good about going into a Central Division showdown against the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. A solid 60-minute effort would've sufficed, but a win would've trumped all, no matter how they got it. Two points translates into confidence and confidence turns into belief.

Well, both the Blackhawks' confidence and belief are starting to run thin after hitting a new low in Saturday's 4-3 loss.

For the second time in 10 days, the Blackhawks squandered a three-goal lead in the third period by giving up four unanswered goals in a span of 13:16 to a Blues team that, quite frankly, dominated the entire game. The Blues led in shot attempts (65-40), shots on goal (38-22), even-strength scoring chances (34-13) and even-strength high-danger chances (14-2), according to Natural Stat Trick, but couldn't crack a red-hot Corey Crawford until the third period. 

It was an epic collapse for the Blackhawks, who lost their fourth in a row and for the 10th time in 13 games. And there are no words to describe it.

"It shows where we're at," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We're not good enough in those situations. All we can do is continue to talk about and show the team and work together to make it better. That's the only way it gets better. We recognize the problem. We've got to find a way to take a step. I think we have taken steps at times, but it's not consistent enough."

The Blackhawks are a fragile team right now and you could see it in their body language from the opening faceoff, almost as if they're starting the game already down a couple goals. Can you remember the last time they opened a game by dictating the terms?

In dark times like these, your best players have to step up and take control and they did that on Saturday.

Brandon Saad scored twice, Jonathan Toews registered two primary assists, Patrick Kane ended a six-game goal drought and Crawford stopped the first 32 shots he faced before the Blues' third-period onslaught. And yet it still wasn’t enough.

Brent Seabrook and Toews — two members of the Blackhawks’ leadership group — were sitting at their stalls after the game awaiting the media and made no excuses. They accepted responsibility and acknowledged being in this position is unacceptable.

"Being out there in those situations, you got to take pride in it," Seabrook said. "I know I take a lot of pride in it. ... I know I'm on there for two [goals], the second and third one. It's a critical part of the game and I've got to be better in those moments."

"That sucks to blow that one with the lead that we had," Toews said. "But there's situations where we've got to get pucks out and I lost my check a few times."

So what now? Where do the Blackhawks go from here? Will it get worse before it gets better? 

Is the season even salvageable?

"Why not? One game at a time," Toews said. "We had a rough week. ... It's easy to look at the storyline and get really discouraged and come up with the wrong mentality in your mind about what can happen going forward, but it's the wrong way to go about it. We've just got to focus on tomorrow night and build off the things we keep doing well. Each guy has to look at himself and try to find ways to bring more out of himself every night."

The Blackhawks have been searching for answers all season and they’re not getting any closer to finding a solution. They’re getting further away from it.

A drastic change might be necessary, but the frustration stems from the Blackhawks knowing what the problem is on the ice and still not doing anything about it.

"We need to, when the game's on the line, buckle down, stop and start, make the right read,” Colliton said. “I know they know and I know we as a group know what we have to do to have success and it's just a matter of doing it."

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3 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 4-3 against Blues

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USA Today

3 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 4-3 against Blues

The Blackhawks lost 4-3 to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. Here are three takeaways: 

Blackhawks blow three-goal lead 

After Patrick Kane's beautiful stick-side snipe at 4:16 of the third period, the last place Hawks led the defending Stanley Cup champs 3-0 in St. Louis. It was going to be a huge moral victory for Chicago, who had lost three straight games and been outscored 10-3 in their past two. 

Twenty four seconds later, Tyler Bozak scored the first of four unanswered Blues' goals to give St. Louis their first lead of the game, and the final score in regulation, 4-3.

"Sucks to blow that one with the lead that we had, but there's situations where we've got to get pucks out, and I lost my check a few times," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said after the game. "Those guys can make plays when you turn the puck over and you lose your check, so just got to keep going back to the drawing board."

Alex Nylander turned the puck over in Chicago's D zone to Robert Thomas near the high slot, who gave the puck to Bozak for the Blues' first goal of the game which sprung three more. 

“If we benched every player who made a mistake, we wouldn’t have any players," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said after being asked if he thought about benching Nylander after the mishap.

Shot suppression has to happen

As they've done a lot this season, the Hawks allowed the opposition way too many shots on their net. The Blues were able to pepper Corey Crawford with 38. 

"I thought we had a good start to the third, obviously," Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Crow was huge for us all night, really kept us in the game the whole game and I think we let him down."

Crawford and Robin Lehner have been leaned on too much this season by a struggling defense who's definitely missed Calvin de Haan (right shoulder) and Duncan Keith (groin) the past few games. Even before the pair's injuries, the netminders facing around 40 shots was happening too frequently. 

"We all take responsibility," Colliton said. "With the coaches, we have to find a way to prepare these guys better so that they can execute those types of reads when the game's on the line. So, that's it."

Colliton also said Keith began skating in Chicago. There's no set timetable for his return, but it should be sooner rather than later now. 

Saad doubles down

Forward Brandon Saad scored his ninth and tenth goals of the season in St. Louis on Saturday. His first goal came 19 seconds into the first period, assisted by Toews.

Saad's second goal of the game came 30 seconds into the third period. Toews used his body to maintain possession on the boards and feed Saad the puck in front of the net for his second helper. 

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

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.