Blackhawks

Blackhawks offense quiet in loss to Hurricanes

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Blackhawks offense quiet in loss to Hurricanes

The Blackhawks went into the Christmas break with a whimper. They came out of it the same way.

Brent Seabrook supplied the only offense – and that was with just three seconds remaining in regulation – as the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Blackhawks 2-1 on Sunday night. It was too quiet a night for the Blackhawks, who hadn’t played since Tuesday and were just three seconds away from being shut out for their second consecutive game.

And for the second time in as many games, the team beating the Blackhawks was playing the second half of a back-to-back.

The Blackhawks had been finding more offense throughout their lineup in those last several games before Christmas. But they now have just one goal in their last two games. Marian Hossa said the problem was easy to identify on Sunday.

“I felt we played too much outside tonight,” Hossa said. “We had a few good chances but not enough. And when we did the goalie [Eddie Lack] saw everything. We got a goal at the end but it was too late.”

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Coach Joel Quenneville agreed about the lack of traffic.

“Not ‘til late,” Quenneville said on when that net-front traffic finally surfaced. “We got a little bit more predictable and we were more effective. They blocked a lot of shots but we were looking to make too many plays either entering their zone or into the slot that were denied. We’ve got to get greasier goals; that’s how you score in our league. You’ve got to take it to the net. I counted about six chances that were either empty nets or potential empty nets that we either misfired or didn’t bear down or weren’t hungry enough. That might have had us in the lead; scoring first was important.”

Justin Faulk got that all-important first goal for the Hurricanes, scoring his 14th of the season with just 18.2 seconds remaining in the second period. Victor Rask’s 10th of the season, which he scored about five minutes into the third period, proved to be the game winner.

The Blackhawks’ third and fourth lines had some of the better chances. Not surprising, considering those six players are the ones usually playing that hard-driving game. At other times the Blackhawks seemed to get caught up in making one pass too many.

“I think maybe we’re a little bit of guilty of trying to be too pretty with the puck instead of just keeping it simple,” Duncan Keith said. “Throw it at the net and have one guy there and just do a better job of getting it to the net and guys going to the net.”

The Blackhawks wanted to come out of the Christmas break rested and playing with energy. They were certainly rested. But the energy, and the drive to get to the front of the net and make life difficult for Lack, wasn’t there.

“I think everyone was well rested so that should be to our advantage. Obviously we didn’t take advantage,” Hossa said. “This game, we should’ve played a little different. We didn’t have enough bodies going to the net and sacrificing to get the ugly goals.”

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."