Blackhawks' PK stays strong through changes


Blackhawks' PK stays strong through changes

When the Blackhawks went through their salary-cap changes last summer, they knew their roster would change. They would have to reconfigure lines and defensive pairs.

The same was true for their penalty kill, which has been ranked in the league’s top 10 since the 2012-13 season. Gone were Johnny Oduya and Brandon Saad, two key parts of the kill, and the Blackhawks had to find players to fill those voids. But in this early portion of the season the Blackhawks’ kill, thanks to young guys who were already here or acquisitions, has done just fine.

In nine games the Blackhawks have killed off 22 of 25 power plays, including three vs. the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night. They’ve allowed just one power-play goal in their last 13 kills, and that was with 10 seconds remaining on a 5-on-3 against the Florida Panthers. The Blackhawks have had a rather smooth transition despite losing some good killers to trades and free agency, and being without defenseman Duncan Keith. Acquisitions Artem Anisimov and Ryan Garbutt, as well as young players like Trevor van Riemsdyk and Viktor Svedberg, have helped the Blackhawks’ established penalty killers continue strong work.

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“I think they’ve adjusted well,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’re all getting more in tuned to where they need to go, when to pressure, when to be patient. But it’s nice when you’ve got four groups – [Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins] usually go one and three, but some nights those guys take penalties, as well. You can never have enough guys up front that can be utilized in that situation, so we know the importance at the end of it.”

Jonathan Toews was especially complimentary of how Garbutt and Anisimov have helped the kill.

“Him and Arty, they’re obviously two great skaters. It’s nice to have those two extra guys who can skate and play smart defensively in the rotation,” Toews said. “It keeps a few more guys involved in the game and obviously in a game like [Saturday vs. Tampa Bay] or even against Florida, where we run into some penalty trouble, we keep our legs fresh when we’re killing and we go back to 5-on-5, too.”

Garbutt, who came to Chicago from Dallas last summer, said the Stars tried to mimic the Blackhawks’ penalty kill. Since joining it, he’s been learning from Kruger and Desjardins.

“They kill penalties so well; you just try to follow their lead,” said Garbutt. “It’s instinct but also being patient, not running out of position, taking away the passes you don’t want them to make in zone and pressuring when you can. You don’t want to give away too much.”

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Instinct, system and patience are big factors in a successful penalty kill. So is communication. No matter who’s on the kill, everyone makes a vocal effort to be on the same page.

“We talk a lot. We talk before games, scout out other teams. But after every shift we talk about something we can do a little bit better, or if we did something good there,” Kruger said. “That’s a big part, communication on the PK.”

The Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been strong for several years now, and they wanted it to stay way through the personnel changes. So far, they’ve done that.

“I think it’s been all right. We gave up a few goals, a 5-on-3 goal and stuff like that, but overall it’s been an OK start,” Kruger said. “That’s the process of getting better and better all year. It’s a good start and we try to get better here every day.”

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.

Four takeaways: Alex DeBrincat salvages divisional game for Blackhawks in overtime on Duncan Keith’s special night

Four takeaways: Alex DeBrincat salvages divisional game for Blackhawks in overtime on Duncan Keith’s special night

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on Saturday night:

1. Special night for Duncan Keith — and Brent Seabrook

The Blackhawks celebrated Keith's 1,000-game milestone in the perfect way. Every player wore a No. 2 jersey during warmups, his family was on the ice for the pregame ceremony, and Patrick Sharp made an appearance to present Keith with a silver stick. Seabrook was also paired with Keith among the starters, a great touch by Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff.

But it was also a historic day for Keith's partner and close friend Seabrook, who became the franchise leader in games played by a defenseman, surpassing Bob Murray who previously held that mark at 1,008. It's only fitting Keith and Seabrook shared that moment together.

"We've been riding shotgun together for our whole careers," Keith said. "I couldn't imagine my career, my 1,000 games without him and all the experiences and memories that I've had winning and even losing, and the fun times we've had off the ice. I owe a lot of my success, and I think the team does as well, to Brent and what he means to the team and what he brings to our friendship and as a teammate."

To put a bow on the game, Keith had a vintage Keith moment on the game-tying goal in the third period when he intercepted a pass in the neutral zone on his backhand, then fed Toews a dart leading him into the offensive zone that set up DeBrincat's goal. 

2. Alex DeBrincat's torrid start

The Blackhawks continued to get contributions from their top players such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom extended their point streaks to five games to open the season. But DeBrincat has propelled himself into that conversation as a top player on this team.

He had a multi-goal effort for the second straight game, upping his goal total on the season to a team-leading six. His overtime winner is the first of his NHL career in that fashion.

DeBrincat didn't score his sixth goal until Nov. 12 last season, which was the 18th game. And he still finished with 28. While it's hard to envision him continuing to score at more than a goal-per-game pace, it's not hard to see him continuing to be one of the best players on the ice and generating offense and scoring chances on a nightly basis.

"I think I'm getting pretty lucky right now," DeBrincat said. "I'm playing with [Toews] and [Dominik] Kahun, they're making great plays and getting me the puck. It's pretty easy when you have those guys as your linemates. Even on that last goal, [Erik Gustafsson] made a great pass backdoor to me. Pretty easy tap in."

3. Squandering another two-goal lead

The Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead for the third straight game. And they squandered it for the third straight game, in large part because they committed five straight penalties in the second and third periods.

It's no longer a blip at this point and is becoming an alarming trend, even though the Blackhawks have come back to force overtime in each of those three games. That will be something the Blackhawks work on all season long.

But Quenneville would have liked to have seen the Blackhawks keep their foot on the gas pedal and cash in on their opportunities to make it a 3-0 game.

"Score the third goal," he said. "I loved the way we were playing. We had a lot of good things going. Eventually they’re going to get chances, get opportunities. But we had some great chances to get it to three. It was one of those nights, every game is kind of different how the leads changed."

4. Brotherly love

For the first time in the NHL, the Schmaltz brothers finally got their chance to go up against each other at the highest level. There had been a handful of other opportunities in the past, but it never lined up for a variety of reasons. 

They didn't see much of each other while on the ice — they were on together for only 1:30 of the game — but Nick did commit a penalty that led to Jordan assisting on the Blues' first goal on a delayed call. 

The best battles between Jordan, who turned 25 on Oct. 8, and Nick, 22, came when they were kids.

"We had a little roller rink downstairs in our house growing up," Nick said. "It would be me vs. my sister (Kylie) and my brother. Those were probably the best battles. Someone would usually come up crying or high-stick or puck to the face or something like that. A lot of good memories. Looking back at it, it was awesome to have that and work on each other’s game and push each other to get better."