Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Quenneville could put Toews, Kane on separate lines

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Blackhawks: Quenneville could put Toews, Kane on separate lines

It was after Game 4 against the Anaheim Ducks that Jonathan Toews talked of the pressure to score, a pressure he always feels and a pressure that’s mainly self-imposed.

Teammate and sometimes line mate Patrick Kane feels the same.

“I mean, as an offensive guy, you want to be helping produce, especially at this time of year,” said Kane, who had three assists in Game 7 vs. the Ducks but has gone point-less in the first two Stanley Cup Final games vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning. “But, you know, we said all along with our team, we don't really care where the goals come from, as long as they're coming from our team.”

We’re not calling two point-free games a slump, because that would be ridiculous. What is eye opening, however, is how the Lightning have contained Toews and Kane, especially Kane, through the first two games. Kane didn’t have a shot on goal in Game 2. So to free up his two stars, coach Joel Quenneville separated them to start the third period. And Toews and Kane will likely be on the first and second lines, respectively, again when the Blackhawks host the Lightning in Game 3 on Monday night.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“Their team defense is aggressive. There's not a lot of room and time,” Quenneville said. “I think that maybe changing those two guys on different lines will get us a little bit more depth and a little bit more balance, see how they can defend it.”

Toews and Kane combined usually yields great results but in Tampa they dealt with Cedric Paquette’s line, the Lightning’s top checking trio. In Chicago the Blackhawks could get away from that matchup, certainly; but two lines with a scoring threat is always better than one.

“Certainly, I think splitting those two up gives you a little bit more freedom as far as whether it’s room or something for them to be concerned with,” Quenneville said. “I think a little bit more balance to our offense is why we usually keep them apart. We’ll see how that progresses.”

[MORE: Penalties kill Blackhawks in Game 2]

Toews talked of goal-scoring pressure after Game 4 of the Western Conference Final, when he scored his first goal since Game 2 of the second round. He would score four more over the next three games. The goal scorers have their slumps or, in Kane’s case, their blips. They usually break out of them quick, too.

“You know, I think I can help in that area obviously. That's one of my jobs here, is to try to produce offense,” Kane said. “Hopefully [I] start that up next game.”

UPDATES

- Trevor van Riemsdyk “could” play against Tampa Bay in Game 3, Quenneville said on Sunday. Quenneville said the same thing heading into Game 2 but stayed with the same six defensemen from Game 1. Still with Blackhawks getting the matchups they want in a home game, this may be the best time to bring van Riemsdyk back into the fold.

- Bryan Bickell could also play on Monday night. Bickell has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury but Quenneville said, “I think he’s healthy.”

With Connor Murphy set to return, Blackhawks reassign Adam Boqvist to Rockford

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USA TODAY

With Connor Murphy set to return, Blackhawks reassign Adam Boqvist to Rockford

The Blackhawks announced Thursday morning that they have reassigned top defenseman prospect Adam Boqvist to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

The 19-year-old Swedish defenseman appeared in six games for the Blackhawks and averaged 14:27 of ice time. He scored his first career NHL goal in his second appearance in a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 2.

But with Connor Murphy (groin) eligible to come off long-term injured reserve on Saturday, the Blackhawks had to make a corresponding move to become cap compliant and Boqvist was the obvious candidate to be sent back down.

He’s still in the early stages of his development, but Boqvist certainly held his own at the NHL level during his brief stint. The Blackhawks want him to continue playing top pairing minutes and in all situations, and it would’ve been difficult for him to do that in Chicago with Murphy returning to the lineup.

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Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner tandem proving to be exactly what Blackhawks envisioned

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AP

Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner tandem proving to be exactly what Blackhawks envisioned

LAS VEGAS — The first day of NHL free agency is always exciting for hockey fans, particularly the first hour when most of the moves are announced at a rapid rate. Last offseason, the Blackhawks had a quiet few hours before dropping the hammer on the most surprising signing of the day, Robin Lehner, to a one-year deal.

“I think we have the best 1-2 punch in the league is the way I look at it right now,” GM Stan Bowman said on July 1. “I certainly feel really comfortable going into next season, whether Corey Crawford’s in net or Robin Lehner’s in net.”

So does the entire city of Chicago.

More than one month into the 2019-20 season, the goaltending tandem between Crawford and Lehner is exactly what the Blackhawks envisioned it would be. That’s what happens when you pair a Vezina Trophy finalist with a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

"We got two guys who are outstanding," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I think they're both going real well now and that's a huge advantage for us no matter who's in the net, we're getting a chance to win. It gives our guys a chance to come through offensively, so they've been big for us."

After starting the season 1-4-0 with a 3.67 goals-against average and .888 percentage, Crawford has been lights out since the calendar flipped to November. He’s 2-0-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in his last four starts, which includes a 39-save performance in a 5-3 win over the Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Lehner has been one of the league’s best from the beginning. His .934 save percentage ranks second among goaltenders with at least six appearances and his goals saved above average at 5-on-5 ranks fourth-best, according to Natural Stat Trick. Crawford's goals saved above average of 4.21 puts him at ninth.

And this is despite the fact the Blackhawks are giving up the most shots on goal per game (37.1), second-most high danger chances per 60 minutes at even strength (13.1) and third-most scoring chances per 60 minutes at even strength (29.2).

While the dynamic may have been awkward at first, both goaltenders appear to be making the best of the circumstances and view it as healthy competition.

"I mean, he's doing a great job," Crawford said of Lehner. "Definitely keeping us in games or being a big factor in some wins. I think both of us are just trying to be at our best when we get the chance."

The challenging part of the situation is getting both guys a fair amount of starts. Crawford has been vocal about preferring to start regularly — “it’s a little bit easier when you keep playing games in a row” — and Lehner no doubt feels the same.

"They both want to play 60 games, 80 games maybe,” Colliton said. “That's part of the team. [Patrick Kane] wants to play 60 minutes. It's how it is. Ultimately, we want to make decisions that help the team win and part of that is keeping both guys fresh, keeping both guys playing at a high level and I think that's going to be a benefit for us as the season goes on."

It’s a good problem to have if you’re the Blackhawks, especially if Crawford and Lehner are at the top of their games at the same time like they are right now.

"It's great," Calvin de Haan said. "I think goaltending's the most important position. If you're not keeping the puck out of the net, you're not going to win a lot of games. But those guys are giving us a chance every night and it's really evident the past few weeks here."

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