Blackhawks

Blackhawks’ power play is sizzling again

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Blackhawks’ power play is sizzling again

NEW YORK – Once upon a time in the land of the Blackhawks, the power play was a bit of a running joke.

Despite the massive talent on that power play, the Blackhawks struggled on it. Granted, in the grand scheme of things, it rarely cost them; their 5-on-5 scoring and penalty kill were so good, they could get past the lack of power play scoring. Still, it was stupefying that it scored so infrequently.

Well, the power play hasn’t had a problem scoring lately. In fact, that formerly maligned power play is the main reason the Blackhawks are winning again.

The Blackhawks scored three power-play goals on Wednesday night, lifting them from a 3-2 deficit to a 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers. The power play’s been clicking plenty lately; the Blackhawks went 4-for-7 on it in their lopsided victory over Toronto on Monday and it was 1-for-2 in an overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. So that’s eight power-play goals in three games for the Blackhawks.

[MORE HAWKS: President Barack Obama honors Blackhawks for Stanley Cup victory]

So what the heck is working?

“I don’t know. I guess whoever goes out there has been contributing,” Jonathan Toews said. “We’re getting shots, we’re getting pucks back. Like I said [Wednesday] morning, when you get those pucks back from your first chances, it always gives you confidence that you can go back and make plays and try to make things happen, knowing that everyone’s in position, everyone’s moving and things are clicking a little bit.”

You could argue some of the Blackhawks’ offseason changes have helped that power play, too. Artemi Panarin, who had two power-play goals against the Rangers, has been a great offensive contributor on 5-on-5 and on the advantage. Artem Anisimov has also been good, especially as a net-front presence. And as Toews said, confidence in any aspect of a game usually leads to more production in it.

“The power play [Wednesday] was just like the Toronto game, where it was instrumental us winning the game,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was definitely the big factor.”

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Sure, you could argue that the Blackhawks haven’t faced the best penalty kills these past two games. The Maple Leafs are ranked 22nd in the NHL on the penalty kill while the Rangers are 28th. But in recent seasons, facing a bad penalty kill didn’t necessarily mean the Blackhawks’ power play was successful.

The Blackhawks’ power play used to be a bit of a joke. There were times when the Blackhawks got more momentum shorthanded than with the man advantage. This season, especially lately, that has changed. The Blackhawks’ power play is currently the second-best in the NHL. It’s been critical in a lot of games, definitely getting them victories in their last two. Confidence is everything, and the Blackhawks currently have a lot of that on the power play.

“[On] 5-on-5 and the power play, when you’re scoring and you’re confident, things continue in that trend,” Toews said. “We’ve been seeing that right now and obviously it’s something we want to continue with.”

5 things we have learned after the Blackhawks first 5 games

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USA TODAY

5 things we have learned after the Blackhawks first 5 games

The Blackhawks hahve played five games, all five went to over time, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each have five goals.

So here are five things we've learned from the Blackhawks first five games.

1.    Blackhawks have a flair for the dramatic:

They are the first team in NHL history with 5 straight overtime games to begin a season. According to Elias, It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL. Not only have they not lost a game in regulation, but they have rallied in the third period in four of their five games. No final period rally was more dramatic than the home opener, when Patrick Kane & Auston Matthews had a three goal trade-off in a :56 second span, complete with a celly battle.

2.    Toews looks like a different player:

Or should I say, he looks like the guy who played a huge role in three Stanley Cups. The captain is faster, hard on the puck and making plays that we haven’t seen in the last few years. His nine points are tied with line-mate Alex DeBrincat for the team lead and amongst the top point getters in the league. Toews said before the season that he was humbled by missing the playoffs and it’s clear he heard the criticism about his lack of offensive production. Hard work this summer and solid chemistry with DeBrincat and Dominik Kahun have paid off in the first two weeks. Toews said he wanted to get back to having fun and so far, he’s had plenty to smile about.

3.    Power Play still needs to be fixed:

It was a major issue last season(ranked 28th) and it’s still a concern this year. They have only cashed in on 2 of 18 power plays, which ranks them 23rd in the NHL. I like the 1-3-1 set up and top unit that includes Kane, Toews, Schmaltz, DeBrincat and Jokiharju. They made a tweak last game, putting DeBrincat at the top of the slot and Schmaltz at the left circle. They are hoping to take advantage of Cat’s quick and accurate shot. The other concern on the power play is the entries. They continue to use the drop pass as their primary way to enter the zone. It’s not been very successful this season. They may need to install one more option on the entry. The bottom line, they won’t make the playoffs if their power play ranks in the bottom third of the league.

4.    Blackhawks blue line is still a work in progress:

Henri Jokiharju has been a tremendous addition to a group that was a major question mark entering the season. Jokiharju is the second best defenseman on the team right now and with Duncan Keith, they are a legit top 4 pairing. The problem with the other two pairs are major inconsistencies. You will see a stretch of solid play, but it’s inevitably followed by a crucial turnover or defensive breakdown. In this loaded central division, a handful of defensive miscues could be the difference in making the playoffs or being on the golf course in April.

5.    Cam isn’t Crow:

Cam Ward has been solid in his first 5 games as a Blackhawk. It’s actually incredible the Hawks are 3-0-2 when you consider Ward has a .879 Sv% and 4.07 GAA. Unlike last season’s fill-ins, Ward has been able to avoid the dreaded soft goal. It still looks like Corey Crawford could return Thursday against Arizona, or this weekend at the latest, when they play back-to-back tilts. Everyone is crossing their fingers that Crow will not experience any setbacks when he returns to the crease. Joel Quenneville said the team doesn’t like to carry 3 goalies, but they may be forced to do that, with uncertainty surrounding Crawford and Anton Forsberg having to pass through waivers before being sent to Rockford. Goaltending is everything in the NHL and in all likelihood the Blackhawks postseason chances still hinge on Crawford returning to the form we’ve seen the last several years.

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

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AP

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."