Blackhawks

Blackhawks get throttled by Wild in Stadium Series

2-21-blackhawks-wild.png

Blackhawks get throttled by Wild in Stadium Series

MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Wild talked Saturday about finally getting an outdoor game and how the team wouldn’t get caught up in all the fun and festivities that surround it.

It certainly didn’t.

Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Carter recorded a goal and an assist each and Devan Dubnyk stopped 31 of 32 shots as the Wild beat the Blackhawks 6-1 on Sunday afternoon. The Blackhawks snapped a two-game winning streak but remain atop the Central Division. The Dallas Stars, who are idle today, remain a point behind in second place.

[MORE: Alumni game rekindles Blackhawks-North Stars memories]

Patrick Kane had the Blackhawks’ lone goal. Corey Crawford was pulled entering the second period after allowing four goals on 23 shots through the first 40 minutes. For the Blackhawks, this was a forgettable one from the start. They looked lackluster against a Wild team that was winning every puck battle and getting plenty of odd-man opportunities.

“I mean these games, they’re early in the day; sometimes it seems like one team starts faster than another one,” Kane said. “They’ve got some momentum ever since the coaching change, and seems like they’re rolling with confidence right now. These games and points are important to them to try and get a playoff spot. Tough game overall for us but we have to learn from it.”

Michal Rozsival was assessed a five-minute interference and a game misconduct for his hit on Jason Zucker in the second period. It looked like Rozsival’s shoulder made contact near Zucker’s chin. Zucker fell hard onto the back of his head and needed help off the ice; he did not return.

“I didn’t think it was a major; spontaneous play as a defenseman in that situation. He played the man,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Rozsival. “Unfortunately a player was injured.”

The Wild was in a tailspin last week, losing eight in a row and ultimately firing head coach Mike Yeo. It’s been a different team under John Torchetti, who was named interim coach upon Yeo’s dismissal. The Wild has won four in a row under Torchetti, scoring 21 goals in these four games.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Buy a Stadium Series jersey]

Still, the Wild’s great game doesn’t excuse the Blackhawks for their poor one.

“That wasn’t anywhere near the way we can play. Against a dangerous team that’s been playing really well lately, we just didn’t have anything throughout the whole game,” Crawford said. “Right from the start, it’s not the way we usually play. That’s something we need to learn a lesson from and realize that there are no easy games going forward. If we don’t bring everything we have it’s going to end up like that.”

When the Blackhawks have been good, they’ve been very good. When they’ve played poorly lately, they’ve allowed a lot. Perhaps they’re late-season blips on the radar but Quenneville isn’t a fan of this happening at any time.

“It’s not characteristic of our team game, from start to finish; getting behind by a big margin or a big number is something we’re unaccustomed to over the last three years. It’s crept a little into our game,” Quenneville said. “It’s something that can’t happen at that regularity or happen at all.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

9-20_anton_forsberg_ap.jpg
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

blackhawks_defense_issues_usa_today.jpg
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."