Blackhawks

Blackhawks fairly happy with how Circus Trip turned out

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Blackhawks fairly happy with how Circus Trip turned out

PHOENIX — The Blackhawks headed back to town on Sunday after being gone for nearly two weeks.

The Circus Trip usually treats them right. And while they would’ve liked a better finish in Saturday night’s trip finale against the Los Angeles Kings, they were pretty happy with how it all went.

The Blackhawks went 3-1-2 on their trip, one more season in which they finished with a positive record on that lengthy excursion. As of Sunday, the Blackhawks are third in the Central Division with 29 points. Dallas leads the division with 38 points, St. Louis is second with 33 and Nashville trails the Blackhawks by one point.

“A win tonight would’ve made it real good,” Brent Seabrook said after Saturday’s game. “We played well in parts and didn’t play as well in some parts. We got some points so that’s good.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Blackhawks end Circus Trip with bitter taste]

Let’s go beyond just this trip. If you want to compare this season to last — though as coach Joel Quenneville always says, it’s tough to truly compare from year to year — the Blackhawks are currently 13-8-3 through 24 games while they were 15-8-1 through the same stretch last season.

Obviously the Blackhawks were still working things out at the start of last season, too. But will they be working things out at the same pace this season? The second line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane — especially Kane — has still accounted for the bulk of the scoring. The offense has improved thanks to Duncan Keith, who has eight points in as many games since returning from knee surgery. Seabrook had a tough finish on Saturday, but he’s otherwise been strong, especially offensively — he’s third on the team with 19 points.

But there’s still a steep scoring drop-off among the forwards after the second line and Jonathan Toews, who has eight goals and seven assists. One of the Blackhawks’ strengths the past few seasons has been balance among the lines, a strong four-line rotation they could roll most games. They still haven’t found that consistently.

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On the trip the Blackhawks lost games they thought they played well in (vs. Vancouver), played some of their best hockey (vs. San Jose), won games they probably should have lost (vs. Anaheim) and squandered a lead and a point (vs. L.A.).

“It feels like those games kind of even out, the ones you’re supposed to win and (the ones) you let go,” Corey Crawford said. “Hopefully we have more of the ones where we come back and get those points. We definitely need them throughout the season.”

The Blackhawks’ trip pretty much summed up their season thus far: some good, some bad and the search for consistency continues. They certainly improved their road game from the start of this season. Now they’ll play seven of their next 10 at home, where they’ve been a strong 8-2-1 so far this season. The Central is going to stay tough; the Blackhawks know they need to keep pace, and the trip helped them do that.

“I think it was a pretty decent road trip,” Marian Hossa said. “Obviously we would have liked to end up with a win (on Saturday); that would be perfect for us. It’s a tough loss, but I think we did a lot of good things.”

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Return of the Crow

The Blackhawks got their man back between the pipes after a 10-month layoff due to a concussion. And he looked like same old "Crow."

Crawford stopped 27 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .900. He faced 12 shots and eight scoring chances in the first period, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest save he made was on a Michael Grabner breakaway in the third period, bailing out a turnover in the neutral zone.

"I think I felt better in the second and third," Crawford said. "But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early. We were close in that one all game and we created a lot. I thought [Antti] Raanta played really well.

"It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. We were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game."

2. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews extend point streaks

The hot start continues for the Blackhawks' two leading scorers, both of whom assisted on Erik Gustafsson's goal in the second period to stretch their point streaks to six games. DeBrincat and Toews each have 10 points this season.

3. Overtime streak ends

The Blackhawks made history by forcing five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team has ever done in the four major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). But they didn't have the comeback magic in them this time.

Entering Thursday, the Blackhawks were 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods. They were 5-28-2 last season for a win percentage of .143.

4. Familiar faces, new places

Five former Blackhawks took the ice for the Coyotes: Vinnie Hinostroza, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta.

It was Hjalmarsson's first trip back to Chicago since being traded in the 2017 offseason. He received a nice video tribute during the second TV timeout of the first period, which made him very emotional.

"I almost got emotional too seeing his reaction," Toews said. "He's one of those guys you'll never forget what he meant to this locker room. He was a quiet guy in the room but we all know how he played and put everyone else before himself. Pretty cool reaction from the fans too. I think we were all sad to see him leave this locker room, he did a lot of special things and was a massive part of our championship wins. Happy for him to get that reception. It's well-deserved and obviously we miss having him around."

As far as the game, Hjalmarsson logged a team-high 22:18 of ice time and blocked three shots. Oesterle registered a secondary assist on Arizona's first goal, which was its first 5-on-5 of the season.

Hinostroza, who was also part of the Marian Hossa trade over the summer, scored twice in his return to his hometown, beating Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the second period and an empty-netter in the third; his second goal turned out to be the game winner, the fourth of his career and first as a member of the Coyotes.

Panik recorded four shot attempts (three on goal). And Raanta improved to 16-0-3 in his career at the United Center, a remarkable record for any goaltender in any situation.