Blackhawks

Blackhawks get back on track with win over Coyotes

Blackhawks get back on track with win over Coyotes

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Blackhawks were relieved more than reveling late Thursday night. 

For the first 20 minutes it looked like the desert air was good for what was ailing them. They were shooting, they were scoring – even on the power play – and they were manhandling the Arizona Coyotes in every facet of the game. But a bad second period had the Blackhawks clinging to a one-goal lead instead of playing with a three-goal one, and they found a way to hang onto it.

Patrick Kane scored a power-play goal, as did Marian Hossa, and the Blackhawks survived a terrible second period to beat the Coyotes 4-3 on Thursday. The Blackhawks remain in second in the Central Division, four points behind the Minnesota Wild. The Wild, who were idle on Thursday, still have three games in hand.

But the Blackhawks weren't in the most celebratory mood after this one. They'll take the two points and snapping a three-game losing streak. But terrible miscues in the second period turned what looked to be a lopsided game into one that ended up way too close.

"Just kind of let them back in the game. Gave it to them. We just can't do that against any team. That's one of the bottom teams in the league and they still come back," Corey Crawford said. "It's a good lesson for us."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!] 

The lesson almost went unheeded. The Blackhawks were Dr. Jekyll through the first 20 minutes, Mr. Hyde in the next 20. Their first period may have been their best period of the season, and two power-play goals (Kane and Hossa) and Ryan Hartman's 11th goal of the season staked them to a 3-0 advantage.

Then came the second, and just 10 seconds into that the Blackhawks were on the penalty kill. Nine seconds after that they gave the Coyotes a two-man advantage on which Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored. Oh, and then there were the delay-of-game penalties. Three of them. In one period.

Asked if the second period was the Blackhawks' worst of the season, coach Joel Quenneville said, "it was the worst shooting the puck in the crowd."

"We gotta keep it in the building on three occasions there. Tough to lose momentum on plays like that," Quenneville said. "We played a great first period, great start to the game, had everything going, give up a 5-on-3 and almost got through it, but it got them going."

Trevor van Riemsdyk wouldn't say how blue the conversation got in the second intermission. He said the Blackhawks just took stock of where they were, despite that second.

"We just knew that we had a great first and the second wasn't according to the plan. But if you look at it from afar, one goal up on the road with a chance to win isn't a bad spot," he said. "You just kind of gotta look at it that way, come out and try to mirror that first period or just play the way we know we're supposed to [play]."

The Blackhawks eked one out. It was a night where they'll take the points, but they know a second period like that cannot happen.

"Big two points for us," Crawford said. "You want to play solid the whole game and I think that's just a good one for us to get two points and build off of all the positives."

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

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USA TODAY

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and the upcoming campaign.

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WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

Kirby Dach was taken by the Blackhawks with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft on Friday.

On Monday, the Blackhawks introduced him to the city of Chicago. Dach took his first trip to Chicago for his introductory press conference.

Later in the day, the Canadian threw out the first pitch at the Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Dach didn't throw a strike, but it wasn't a blooper reel pitch either.

Watch Dach's first pitch in the video above.

 

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