Blackhawks’ penalty kill getting back to playoff mode

Blackhawks’ penalty kill getting back to playoff mode

The Blackhawks’ penalty kill was not looking like itself for a few weeks.

Usually so strong, for a while it was a bane to the Blackhawks’ existence. It wasn’t reliable. It wasn’t strong. It wasn’t...killing.

But in the last few weeks the trend has reversed itself. The Blackhawks killed off 29 of 31 penalties over their final 11 regular-season games. Considering how many postseason games come down to one goal, and how big special teams are, the kill’s resurgence couldn’t be coming at a better time.

“We rely on that being a big part of our team success, knowing important times of games. Games are tied, the next goals are so important and the special teams can make the difference one way or another,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We rely on our penalty killing to get us through some tough spots.”

Marcus Kruger returning certainly helped the kill but it’s been more than that. The kill has allowed fewer shots and has also been better at clearing pucks. That, and with each successful kill the Blackhawks’ confidence is growing. It’s a far cry from earlier in the regular season, when the Blackhawks struggled to get out of a kill without allowing a goal.

“There was a hiccup there for 15-20 games. We weren’t that great. But it seems like a few guys coming in through trades, also Krugs is back, it just seems like it’s clicking,” Andrew Desjardins said. “Obviously having special teams going, anytime anything’s going, that positive confidence you have. It’s always good to bring that into the playoffs.”

[MORE: Blackhawks getting healthy at the perfect time]

During the past three Stanley Cup-winning postseasons, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been Top 10. It was really great during the 2010 and 2013 runs (fourth and third in the playoffs, respectively). Those successful kills mean momentum at critical times.

“It’s so important for the playoffs,” said Marian Hossa, another critical member who’s about to return to the kill. “In one year because of the penalty killing [it] definitely helped us to win the Cup. It is important, just like the power play. But killing penalties is huge. It gives you so much extra jump after you kill a penalty in a crucial moment. It’s a key factor.”

The Blackhawks need to be at their best in every category during the postseason, but some perhaps even more than others. The kill is one of those parts of the game that’s extra important, and the Blackhawks are improving on it at just the right time.

“Paying attention to detail, awareness of where we’re at and what were trying to do in series with everybody making adjustments. I know these guys are pretty adaptive of moving around and doing different things,” Quenneville said. “We’ll need them to be good.”

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch


Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.