Blackhawks

Blackhawks juggle lines to find consistency, production

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Blackhawks juggle lines to find consistency, production

The changes were evident on Tuesday morning, the product of lines that have gone quiet once again. Even the second line was no longer intact.

And while it’ll take until Wednesday morning to see how many changes are truly implemented, there’s no doubt the Blackhawks need to do something to spark production and more of a four-line rotation.

Tomas Fleischmann and Patrick Kane joined Jonathan Toews on the top line while Marian Hossa skated with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov during Tuesday’s practice. Andrew Ladd was on the third line with Dennis Rasmussen and Andrew Shaw (Shaw was at right wing) and Brandon Mashinter, Andrew Desjardins and Dale Weise made up the fourth line.

Teuvo Teravainen missed Tuesday’s practice due to illness but coach Joel Quenneville said the center could play on Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers. So keep that in mind with those lines. Still, for a team that’s struggled to find consistent contributions from lines outside of the second one, it was a different look.

[MORE HAWKS: Can Blackhawks rise above line inconsistency?]

“Well, we’re looking for balance right now. We’re looking for defensive responsibility and we’re looking for consistency in the four-line rotation. We haven’t been very good in that area the last few games and playing major-league catch-up is not productive hockey,” Quenneville said. “We’ve got to find a way what got us into those areas or ways and we tried balancing it out with the lines here and changing it up on a couple of guys. The one line’s been together all year and there was probably never a need to change it. But I feel right now that a different look can help everyone and give us more balance throughout the lineup."

There have been times here or there this season when other lines have been productive, but it hasn’t been nearly as long as the second line. The Blackhawks’ 5-on-5 scoring overall is down this season. They have 109 5-on-5 goals through 70 games; they had 150 5-on-5 goals through 82 games last season.

“You definitely want to be more consistent with that. But also, sometimes it’s the way it works,” Desjardins said. “Hockey’s one of those things where you get hot, then those points go away and then you get hot again. Sometimes it’s the way it goes. It’s a little bit of a roller coaster.”

The Blackhawks’ roller coaster has been in the dip portion lately. They’re 1-3-1 in their last five games; despite a great start in the opening minutes against Los Angeles on Monday, they were staring up at a 2-0 deficit less than a minute after their first power play ended.

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There are 12 games remaining in the regular season. The Blackhawks have gone through late-season lulls before and have usually righted the ship come playoff time. But they know they can’t wait too long before getting things together. Changes were made on Tuesday that could likely be implemented on Wednesday. The Blackhawks want to see that chemistry and increased production now.

“You need that secondary scoring. It’s what makes the team successful and allows teams to go far in the playoffs. Juggling the lines here, hopefully we can find some chemistry and get that going,” said Shaw. “I mean, you have your ups and downs every season. It’s a lot of games; 82 games can wear on you mentally and physically. We just have to get out of this little slump we’re in and push forward.”

BRIEFLY

- Duncan Keith did not practice on Tuesday. Asked if Keith was 100 percent, Quenneville said the defenseman was “fine.”

- Scott Darling will start vs. the Flyers. Quenneville said he wanted to give Darling a home start, and he had anticipated Darling starting this game.

What we learned about Blackhawks during five-game road trip

What we learned about Blackhawks during five-game road trip

"Every game now is a playoff game, pretty much. We've got to approach it like it's life or death."

Those were the words of Drake Caggiula and that was the mindset for the Blackhawks going into their five-game road trip in Western Canada, which was easily their most important swing of the season to date, given the circumstances. All five teams were ahead of them in the Western Conference standings, the Blackhawks were knocking on the door of a playoff spot and they had a chance to prove themselves ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

The Blackhawks finished the trip with a 1-4-0 record, picking up only two out of a possible 10 points. They ended the weekend sitting six points out of the final wild card spot with two games in hand but four teams to jump. It's not impossible to get back in the race, but the cards are certainly stacked against them.

So what did we learn about this team?

The easy narrative would be to say the Blackhawks shrunk in games that had playoff-type implications, but that‘s just not true. They simply failed to capitalize on their opportunities, and they had plenty of them.

In Game 1 against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks held a 2-0 lead before allowing a shorthanded goal in the second period that was the first of five unanswered for the Jets, who went on to win 5-2. The Blackhawks went 0-for-3 on the power play and were outscored (1-0), outshot (3-2) and out-chanced (4-2) during those three opportunities. That was their downfall.

In Game 2 against Edmonton, the Blackhawks held a pair of one-goal leads — 2-1 in the first period and 3-2 in the second period — but couldn’t close the deal despite the Oilers playing without the NHL's best player in Connor McDavid. Again, a huge missed opportunity that was there for the taking.

In Game 3 against Vancouver, the Blackhawks peppered a season-high 49 shots on goal on Jacob Markstrom, 25 of which came from high-danger areas, but couldn't crack the code. It was one of their most dominating performances of the season from start to finish and yet they weren't rewarded for it.

In Game 4 against Calgary, the market quickly corrected itself when the Blackhawks scored a season-high eight goals on 28 shots in an 8-4 win over the Flames. It’s the exact response they were looking for, with all four lines contributing on the scoresheet.

In Game 5 against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks scored the first goal, then fell behind 2-1 before evening things up at 2-2 in the final minute of the second period. The game was up for grabs. But the Jets scored 1:36 into the third period after a shot from the point deflected off Alex DeBrincat’s stick and in, and it turned out to be the game-winning goal.

Look, there are no moral victories at this time of year. An ugly win beats the heck out of a pretty loss.

If the power play doesn't go 0-for-14, we might be having a different discussion because it had a chance to change the complexion of each game except the last one — because, well, there were no penalties called on either side, which was the first time that's happened in an NHL game this season.

But the Blackhawks have no margin for error and they're learning that the hard way.

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3 Takeaways: Blackhawks have hole to climb out of after road trip

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USA TODAY

3 Takeaways: Blackhawks have hole to climb out of after road trip

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, but the Blackhawks lost 3-2 to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday to close out their five-game road trip. Here are three takeaways:

Bad trip

After losing in Winnipeg, the Blackhawks finished their five-game road trip with a 1-4-0 record. They began the trip last Sunday in Winnipeg with a 5-2 loss. 

Sunday's game against the Jets had flashes of good, but it was mostly strong plays from the go-to guys like Kane and Jonathan Toews. All three Jets' goals came from deflections off shots from the point. Overall, the effort and productivity paled in comparison to the lone victory of the trip, Saturday's 8-4 win over the Flames in Calgary on Saturday. 

The Blackhawks, six points out of the second wild card spot, will return home and face the New York Rangers at the United Center on Wednesday. They have 23 regular season games remaining. 

Kane keeps climbing 

With a two-point outing in Winnipeg, Kane tied former Blackhawk Steve Larmer for 87th on the NHL all-time points list with 1,012. 

"Showtime" set up Ryan Carpenter for the first goal of the game at 15:44 of the first period by backhanding a pass towards the front of the net for the crashing Carpenter to bury.

Kane scored with less than a minute remaining in the second period to tie it 2-2 off a three-way passing play with Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kubalik. Kane has 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in his past 18 games. 

With the primary assist on Kane's goal, Toews earned his sixth point (two goals, four assists) of the road trip. 

0.0

Sunday's Blackhawks-Jets game was the only NHL contest this season to have zero penalties. This was good news for Toews, who had five minor penalties over the prior four games. 

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