Blackhawks

Blackhawks get a point but Kris Versteeg wins it for Flames in shootout

Blackhawks get a point but Kris Versteeg wins it for Flames in shootout

When watching Blackhawks hockey over the last few years, several things stood out. Among them was their penalty kill and dominant puck possession.

Both of those things have been missing so far this season, and both have cost the Blackhawks.

Patrick Kane scored his second goal of the season but Kris Versteeg had the shootout winner as the Calgary Flames beat the Blackhawks 3-2 on Monday night. The Blackhawks are now 3-3-1 on the season as they keep trying to find more consistency in their game.

Gustav Forsling suffered an upper-body injury in the second period when he was hit by Lance Bouma on the glass between the team benches. Coach Joel Quenneville said the defenseman is day-to-day.

Corey Crawford stopped 29 of 31 shots in the loss. Despite the two power-play goals tonight, Crawford was good. He’s allowed just three 5-on-5 goals on the season.

But that penalty kill did hurt once again, as the Blackhawks allowed the Flames two power-play goals. While they killed the final three penalties they took, including a Tyler Motte double-minor high-sticking, the damage had been done. The Flames power play entering the game was just 1-for-25.

“It just seems no matter what it finds a way, a different way, every time,” Quenneville said. “We had a couple big kills in the second period and that was positive, built off it, had a good third period and found a way to get a point. Could have had two.”

The Blackhawks didn’t look great at the start of this one, something that’s becoming a trend with them. Couple that with that penalty kill – they gave up both power-play goals 39 seconds into each kill – and it was no surprise the Blackhawks were down 1-0 after the first.

“We’ve got to get that out of our game,” Jonathan Toews said of the slow first period. “As I’ve been saying, the penalty kill usually translates from our effort 5-on-5 and if we’re not starting games well, then we’re getting behind. Obviously [we’re] giving up power plays to begin with and we’re not killing the penalty kills that we’re on. Unfortunate to get behind again tonight.”

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Brian Campbell got his first goal of the season when his shot (or pass) went off Calgary defenseman TJ Brodie’s stick. Richard Panik nearly had the game winner in the waning seconds of regulation but Brian Elliott, who was also great tonight, knocked the puck off his right skate.

The Blackhawks also had a 4-on-3 power play in overtime on which they couldn’t capitalize.

“You can talk about the penalty kill tonight but we’ve had a couple 4-on-3 chances in overtime the past couple games where our power play needs to be better,” Kane said. “We need to capitalize in those situations.”The Blackhawks are struggling with parts of their game that used to be familiar and successful. There’s plenty of time left in the season but they need to find their well-rounded game again.

“We can be play better, collectively, as a group as far as dictating the pace of games and controlling the puck, getting pucks back. That's really the key with hockey is winning those battles, controlling the puck,” Kane said. “We're so used to playing a puck-possession game. That's really something we've been getting away from here. It's early on in the season, so it's something to build on.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."