Blackhawks: Marian Hossa off to strong postseason start


Blackhawks: Marian Hossa off to strong postseason start

The phrase describing a player as “being all over the place,” be it on a field or on ice, gets used a lot.

In the case of Marian Hossa, especially in Game 3 of the Blackhawks’ first-round series against the Nashville Predators, it seemed fitting: another big-stage game, another big-stage performance for the right wing.

“Every season he gets older but he looks younger out there on the ice,” Brent Seabrook said. “He’s special. He’s one of those guys who it’s amazing to see.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Corey Crawford regrouping, happy for Scott Darling]

Is it reaching that extra gear? Finding that second wind? They’re more clichés but they’re all applicable when it comes to Hossa’s ability to raise his game level when necessary. He was part of a top-line onslaught on Sunday, when he did everything but score a goal. And he was close to doing that, too. Hossa played 15 1/2 minutes, recording a team-high six shots, two takeaways and two hits. He also assisted on Jonathan Toews’ second-period goal, leaving a drop pass for Toews once he realized the Blackhawks captain was gaining.

“Yeah I was going to release it but then I saw he was coming right behind me and he was wide open,” Hossa said. “I just tried to drop it to him, go to the net. He picked a really low blocker and it was a hard shot to react on it.”

Hossa isn’t one to praise his own work; his teammates, however, are more than happy to do it.

“He’s always been, I would say, a playoff performer,” Michal Rozsival said. “Every time in his career, this time of the year he’s always elevated his game. He’s played well in the second half and continues to play well now. You can tell he loves this time of year.”

The Blackhawks’ top line of Hossa, Toews and Brandon Saad was not happy with how it played in Game 2 on Friday night. The three felt they could have been a lot better on both sides of the puck. With Nashville defenseman Shea Weber out of Game 3 – he would have faced that top line, as he usually does for the Predators – the trio knew it had to take advantage of his absence. Hossa was the catalyst for that, offensively and defensively.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Marian Hossa jersey here]

“He’s been real good,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Hoss is one of those players who guides our team by playing the right way. Whether it’s back checking or speed off the rush, you notice that pace he brings. He has even more of a step come playoff time. He knows what’s at stake and he likes to contribute at this time of the season.”

Hossa loves this time of year; that’s evident in his play. Perhaps the playoffs provide a fountain-of-youth affect or maybe it’s just being a veteran player who realizes the enormity of this time of year. Either way, Hossa has reached that next level, or hit the extra gear. The Blackhawks will take it.

“Hoss has been one of the best players in the league for a long time,” Seabrook said. “To be able to see him the last six or seven playoff runs we’ve been on, he always brings it and ratchets it up a little.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


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 ECHL 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 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."