Blackhawks

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.”

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Return of the Crow

The Blackhawks got their man back between the pipes after a 10-month layoff due to a concussion. And he looked like same old "Crow."

Crawford stopped 27 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .900. He faced 12 shots and eight scoring chances in the first period, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest save he made was on a Michael Grabner breakaway in the third period, bailing out a turnover in the neutral zone.

"I think I felt better in the second and third," Crawford said. "But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early. We were close in that one all game and we created a lot. I thought [Antti] Raanta played really well.

"It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. We were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game."

2. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews extend point streaks

The hot start continues for the Blackhawks' two leading scorers, both of whom assisted on Erik Gustafsson's goal in the second period to stretch their point streaks to six games. DeBrincat and Toews each have 10 points this season.

3. Overtime streak ends

The Blackhawks made history by forcing five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team has ever done in the four major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). But they didn't have the comeback magic in them this time.

Entering Thursday, the Blackhawks were 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods. They were 5-28-2 last season for a win percentage of .143.

4. Familiar faces, new places

Five former Blackhawks took the ice for the Coyotes: Vinnie Hinostroza, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta.

It was Hjalmarsson's first trip back to Chicago since being traded in the 2017 offseason. He received a nice video tribute during the second TV timeout of the first period, which made him very emotional.

"I almost got emotional too seeing his reaction," Toews said. "He's one of those guys you'll never forget what he meant to this locker room. He was a quiet guy in the room but we all know how he played and put everyone else before himself. Pretty cool reaction from the fans too. I think we were all sad to see him leave this locker room, he did a lot of special things and was a massive part of our championship wins. Happy for him to get that reception. It's well-deserved and obviously we miss having him around."

As far as the game, Hjalmarsson logged a team-high 22:18 of ice time and blocked three shots. Oesterle registered a secondary assist on Arizona's first goal, which was its first 5-on-5 of the season.

Hinostroza, who was also part of the Marian Hossa trade over the summer, scored twice in his return to his hometown, beating Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the second period and an empty-netter in the third; his second goal turned out to be the game winner, the fourth of his career and first as a member of the Coyotes.

Panik recorded four shot attempts (three on goal). And Raanta improved to 16-0-3 in his career at the United Center, a remarkable record for any goaltender in any situation.