Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Duncan Keith is back to familiar form

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Blackhawks: Duncan Keith is back to familiar form

The minutes are there as usual. So is the dependability during those minutes, regardless of how high they get. The point totals haven’t been bad, either.

In short, Duncan Keith is pretty much back to the player he was before he had right knee surgery in October. Not that he’s resting on what he’s done since returning.

“Well, I’m never really satisfied in what I’ve done,” Keith said. “But in my game, I’m doing everything I can to complement the team and that’s playing good defensively and breaking up plays and getting the puck into forwards hands as quickly as I can.”

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Keith has been in typical form in the 26 games he’s played since having surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus. His minutes are once again anywhere from 24-29 a game and he’s recorded seven goals and 15 assists. Keith was on a four-game point streak (two goals, four assists) before he was held off the score sheet in the Blackhawks’ 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I think he’s played a lot better here as we’ve progressed, coming out of Christmas and going on from there,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He seems to be involved with our attack offensively, off the point, he scored a big goal for us the other night at home (Sunday vs. Ottawa). It’s not just the offense but important minutes in all situations. He’s one of those defensemen who makes a big impact on our team and you can see more predictability in our team game since he’s been back.”

We don’t have to tell you how Keith is such a big part in everything the Blackhawks do. The Blackhawks did OK in Keith’s absence – 5-4-1 – but it was an obvious boon getting him back. Keith’s happy with how his game’s been since his return but would like to keep going off his current levels.

“I’ve felt a lot better since I came back from the surgery as opposed to the first six games, when I wasn’t feeling that good,” Keith said. “I just keep trying to trend upward the second half until the playoffs hit. You want to be going full steam once the playoffs come.”

Keith had a few different defensive partners this season; the Blackhawks tinkered quite a bit there, thanks to both offseason and in-season personnel changes. But his most recent pairing with Niklas Hjalmarsson has worked well. The two complement each other with their differences – Hjalmarsson the stay-at-home guy, much like Keith’s former longtime defensive partner Brent Seabrook. Keith said Hjalmarsson’s play makes him feel more secure.

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“Hammer’s a very steady, smart defensive defenseman. I know he thinks very defensively and for me, I like that. I know he’ll have my back if I’m up there,” Keith said. “I don’t want to get caught but if it does happen and I make a mistake, I know he’ll back me up; and Corey [Crawford], too. It works out pretty good.”

Keith will not be going to this season’s All-Star Game in Nashville. Maybe that month he was sidelined was costly but with a new format and voting process changes, he may not have made it regardless. Keith sounded a little disappointed about not making it. At the same time, the defenseman coming up on 800 career regular-season games – No. 800 would be Sunday vs. the Colorado Avalanche – recognizes the opportunity to rest. After all, the Blackhawks usually need him and his minutes that much more during the postseason.

“As a competitive player, you always want to be recognized for those type of things but for some reason it doesn’t seem to go like that unless I get voted in. I think there are a lot of different situations, scenarios. There are a lot of different players you can make an argument for,” Keith said. “But at the end of the day I’m excited to be using that time to my advantage and getting some rest. Maybe trying to find somewhere warm where you get some sunshine, and use that to heal up a little bit.”

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks on wrong side of history 

Earlier this year the Blackhawks made history by appearing in five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB history has ever done.

But Sunday they found themselves on the wrong side of it after allowing 33 shots on goal in the second period alone. It tied a franchise high for most given up in a single period — March 4, 1941 vs. Boston — and is the most an NHL team has allowed since 1997-98 when shots by period became an official stat.

"It's pretty rare to be seeing that much work in a period," said Cam Ward, who had a season-high 49 saves. "But oh man, I don't even know what to say to be honest. It's tough. We know that we need to be better especially in our home building, too. And play with some pride and passion. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was lacking at times tonight. The old cliche you lose as a team and overall as a team we weren't good enough tonight."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was a tough, tough period in all aspects. I don’t think we touched the puck at all and that was the part that was disturbing, against a good hockey team."

2. Alexandre Fortin is on the board

After thinking he scored his first career NHL goal in Columbus only to realize his shot went off Marcus Kruger's shin-pad, Fortin made up for it one night later and knows there wasn't any question about this one.

The 21-year-old undrafted forward, playing in his his fifth career game, sprung loose for a breakaway early in the first period and received a terrific stretch pass by Jan Rutta from his own goal line to Fortin, who slid it underneath Louis Domingue for his first in the big leagues. It's his second straight game appearing on the scoresheet after recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"It's fun," Fortin said. "I think it would be a little bit more fun to get your first goal [while getting] two points for your team, but I think we ... just have to [turn the page to the] next chapter and just play and be ready for next game."

3. Brandon Saad's most noticeable game?

There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Saad was certainly one of them. He had arguably his best game of the season, recording seven shot attempts (three on goal) with two of them hitting the post (one while the Blackhawks were shorthanded).

He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and five against at 5-on-5, which was by far the best on his team.

"He started OK and got way better," Quenneville said of Saad. "Had the puck way more, took it to the net a couple of times, shorthanded."

4. Special teams still a work in progress

The Blackhawks entered Sunday with the 29th-ranked power play and 25th-ranked penalty kill, and are still working to get out from the bottom of the league in both departments. In an effort to change up their fortunes with the man advantage, the Blackhawks split up their two units for more balance.

They had four power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and cashed in on one of them, but it didn't matter as it was too little, too late in the third period — although they did become the first team to score a power-play goal against the Lightning this season (29 chances).

"Whether we're looking for balance or we're just looking for one to get hot, I think our power play has been ordinary so far," Quenneville said before the game. "We need it to be more of a threat."

Four more minor penalties were committed by the Blackhawks, giving them eight in the past two games. That's one way they can shore up the penalty kill, by cutting back on taking them.

Blackhawks tie franchise record for shots on goal allowed in one period

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks tie franchise record for shots on goal allowed in one period

Well, things could be going better for the Blackhawks during Sunday's game against the Lightning.

In the second period Sunday, the Blackhawks surrendered 33 shots on goal, tying a franchise record for most in a single period. The previous instance occurred March 4, 1941 against the Boston Bruins, a game that the Blackhawks lost 3-2.

While the Blackhawks tied a franchise record for shots on goal allowed, they actually set an NHL record at the same time. The NHL did not begin recording shots on goal as an "official" statistic until the 1997-98 season.

Consequentially, Sunday's 33 shots on goal allowed in the second period is the "official" record, even though the Blackhawks accomplished the "feat" nearly 80 years ago. Confusing, huh? 

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they also surrendered three goals and scored zero in addition to the plethora of shots on goal allowed. They recorded just six shots on goal in the second period themselves, trailing 4-1 by the time the third period started.