Blackhawks 'pleased' with first half of season but aren't satisfied


Blackhawks 'pleased' with first half of season but aren't satisfied

The Blackhawks kicked off the 2015-16 campaign by going 7-6-1 in their first 14 games, which may not have been too surprising considering a shortened offseason coming off their third Stanley Cup since 2010.

Since then, they've been 18-7-3 and are clicking on all cylinders right now.

Corey Crawford is playing the best hockey of his career, leading the league in shutouts with six, and sneaking his way into the Vezina Trophy discussion as the NHL's top goaltender. Patrick Kane is on pace to win the Art Ross Trophy for most points during the regular season, running away with the league-lead at 60. Artemi Panarin, who has four goals in his last two games, leads all rookies in goals (15), assists (23) and points (38), by a landslide.

Following Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the United Center, the Blackhawks secured their fifth straight victory and have officially passed the halfway mark of a regular season they normally play on cruise control.
It's all coming together.
The challenge now is keeping it that way.
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
"It was good. Ups and downs, but, you know, short summer, you never really know what to expect," Kane said of the team's first half of the season. "I thought we put ourselves in a good position, we're not really behind the eight ball right now where we've got to play catch up the rest of the season, but we do want to improve every game and keep building towards becoming a better team when the playoffs roll around. It seems like things are headed in the right direction."
The Blackhawks are six points behind the Dallas Stars for first place in the Central Division, and are slowly separating themselves from St. Louis in second. It likely won't stay that way throughout the year, but gaining any sort of ground is crucial in the league's toughest division.
The Stars won't slip up any time soon. If they do, they've built a big enough cushion to correct it before anybody catches up. The Blues will hang in all season long, as will the Wild. The Predators, who acquired first-line centerman Ryan Johansen from the Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones in a blockbuster trade on Wednesday, surely won't go away either. Even the Avalanche have crept back into the conversation.
The key for the Blackhawks has been responding as well as they could to an offseason that saw their roster turned over.
Patrick Sharp was dealt to Dallas, where Johnny Oduya followed. Brandon Saad was shipped to Columbus. There was no room for Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette to return, two players that played integral roles during last year's championship run.
Like it or not, the salary cap makes it difficult to keep the same roster year after year. 
But as guys leave one door, new ones come in another, such as Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin, both of whom have exceeded expectations in their first season with the Blackhawks so far.
[MORE: Blackhawks: Panarin scores two more in victory over Penguins]
"I think some young guys have come in and done a really nice job as far as playing hard and fitting into our team," Kane said. "We've made some good trades, picked up some good players. You look at the Anisimov factor, he's been maybe the X-factor of our team so far. Then Panarin's been awesome too, you pick him up as a free agent. And then the young guys coming in, you've got to be very happy with them. I think us so-called core guys want to keep pushing everyone and keep getting better ourselves too.
"By no means are we satisfied. We want to keep pushing and, like I said, keep getting better especially as the end of the season rolls around here."
Andrew Desjardins, who has four goals in his last five games, doesn't quite qualify as a young guy, but he may still fall under the "new guy" category as he's experiencing his first full season in Chicago after being acquired in March of 2015 and contributing to the team's Stanley Cup run.
Seeing the grind of an 82-game season first hand while having a target on their backs on a nightly basis, Desjardins knows the Blackhawks can't get complacent.
[RELATED: Toews joins Kane on All-Star team]
"We're trying to get better and better," he said. "Obviously we're on a good little stretch here. We're playing better in our own end, keeping pucks to the outside, defensive zone, puck management. I think we're pretty pleased right now."
Forty-two games down, 40 more to go. The dogs days of the season, which is even more difficult as reigning Stanley Cup champions, are quickly arriving, but the Blackhawks will take it one game at at time, like they always do, because that's all they really can do.
"Try not to worry about looking too far ahead," Kane said when asked what the Blackhawks must do to sustain their first half success. "Focus on, it's easy to say, one game at a time and focus on trying to get better as the season progresses kind of near the end of the season and into playoffs. I think we've done a good job of that.
"I think we've kind of been heading in the right direction since the start of the season, but we don't want to be satisfied with where we're at. We want to keep getting better."

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning


Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks on wrong side of history 

Earlier this year the Blackhawks made history by appearing in five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB history has ever done.

But Sunday they found themselves on the wrong side of it after allowing 33 shots on goal in the second period alone. It tied a franchise high for most given up in a single period — March 4, 1941 vs. Boston — and is the most an NHL team has allowed since 1997-98 when shots by period became an official stat.

"It's pretty rare to be seeing that much work in a period," said Cam Ward, who had a season-high 49 saves. "But oh man, I don't even know what to say to be honest. It's tough. We know that we need to be better especially in our home building, too. And play with some pride and passion. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was lacking at times tonight. The old cliche you lose as a team and overall as a team we weren't good enough tonight."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was a tough, tough period in all aspects. I don’t think we touched the puck at all and that was the part that was disturbing, against a good hockey team."

2. Alexandre Fortin is on the board

After thinking he scored his first career NHL goal in Columbus only to realize his shot went off Marcus Kruger's shin-pad, Fortin made up for it one night later and knows there wasn't any question about this one.

The 21-year-old undrafted forward, playing in his his fifth career game, sprung loose for a breakaway early in the first period and received a terrific stretch pass by Jan Rutta from his own goal line to Fortin, who slid it underneath Louis Domingue for his first in the big leagues. It's his second straight game appearing on the scoresheet after recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"It's fun," Fortin said. "I think it would be a little bit more fun to get your first goal [while getting] two points for your team, but I think we ... just have to [turn the page to the] next chapter and just play and be ready for next game."

3. Brandon Saad's most noticeable game?

There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Saad was certainly one of them. He had arguably his best game of the season, recording seven shot attempts (three on goal) with two of them hitting the post (one while the Blackhawks were shorthanded).

He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and five against at 5-on-5, which was by far the best on his team.

"He started OK and got way better," Quenneville said of Saad. "Had the puck way more, took it to the net a couple of times, shorthanded."

4. Special teams still a work in progress

The Blackhawks entered Sunday with the 29th-ranked power play and 25th-ranked penalty kill, and are still working to get out from the bottom of the league in both departments. In an effort to change up their fortunes with the man advantage, the Blackhawks split up their two units for more balance.

They had four power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and cashed in on one of them, but it didn't matter as it was too little, too late in the third period — although they did become the first team to score a power-play goal against the Lightning this season (29 chances).

"Whether we're looking for balance or we're just looking for one to get hot, I think our power play has been ordinary so far," Quenneville said before the game. "We need it to be more of a threat."

Four more minor penalties were committed by the Blackhawks, giving them eight in the past two games. That's one way they can shore up the penalty kill, by cutting back on taking them.

Blackhawks tie franchise record for shots on goal allowed in one period


Blackhawks tie franchise record for shots on goal allowed in one period

Well, things could be going better for the Blackhawks during Sunday's game against the Lightning.

In the second period Sunday, the Blackhawks surrendered 33 shots on goal, tying a franchise record for most in a single period. The previous instance occurred March 4, 1941 against the Boston Bruins, a game that the Blackhawks lost 3-2.

While the Blackhawks tied a franchise record for shots on goal allowed, they actually set an NHL record at the same time. The NHL did not begin recording shots on goal as an "official" statistic until the 1997-98 season.

Consequentially, Sunday's 33 shots on goal allowed in the second period is the "official" record, even though the Blackhawks accomplished the "feat" nearly 80 years ago. Confusing, huh? 

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they also surrendered three goals and scored zero in addition to the plethora of shots on goal allowed. They recorded just six shots on goal in the second period themselves, trailing 4-1 by the time the third period started.