Blackhawks reclaim Central Division with win over Capitals


Blackhawks reclaim Central Division with win over Capitals

When the Blackhawks acquired three forwards in two days, they were looking for a boost in several positions.

They wanted a stronger top-line option. They wanted help on the third and fourth lines. And while they’re still missing some personnel, including one of the players they traded for, they liked their first look with those changes.

Patrick Kane scored his 36th goal of the season and Dennis Rasmussen scored the game winner as the Blackhawks held off the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Sunday afternoon. The victory gives the Blackhawks 83 points and puts them back into first in the Central Division. Dallas, which is idle today, is second with 82 points.

Corey Crawford stopped 28 of 30 for the victory. Jonathan Toews scored a power-play goal and Andrew Ladd, in his first game back with the Blackhawks, added the secondary assist on Toews’ goal.

The Blackhawks wanted to bolster their lineup with recent acquisitions Ladd, Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise, who has not arrived intown yet (visa issues). Ladd was on the top line with Toews and Andrew Shaw while Fleischmann settled in with Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Desjardins. The changes did the Blackhawks good: they had as strong a four-line rotation as they have had all season against the league’s best team.

“You could see a couple of lines had a different look. That line with Flash or Fleisch, or whatever you want to call him — I think they call him Flash — and Desi and Teuvo was very effective in a lot of ways," said coach Joel Quenneville. "Laddy gives you some energy and they’ll get better. The second and third periods you could see him getting a little more comfortable and was effective as well. We still have a couple of guys who are missing who can help us, too.”

[SHOP: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

Those guys would be Weise, Marian Hossa (lower body) and Marcus Kruger (wrist). But let’s focus on today, which was a good day for the Blackhawks — well, once the first period was over, anyway. The Capitals were stellar in the first period, looking faster and stronger than the Blackhawks, who barely had any time in the Capitals’ zone. Marcus Johnansson gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal 6:13 into the game. For all the Capitals’ first-period dominance, however, it wouldn’t show on the scoreboard. Just 31 seconds after Johansson’s goal, Kane scored to tie it 1-1.

From the second period on the Blackhawks looked more like themselves. Toews scored his power-play goal to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 1:45 remaining in the second period. Then Richard Panik’s kick pass, which Quenneville called, “one of the best passes we’ve seen all year,” went in the slot to a wide-open Rasmussen, who scored to make it 3-1. It was Rasmussen’s first goal since Dec. 19.

“Yeah, it’s been a while. I try to work hard and create chances but it was really nice to get that goal,” said Rasmussen. “It was a really nice pass. I saw [Panik] had the puck under his skate and I kind of realized he was going to make that play. I’ve seen it done before in practice.”

The Blackhawks were looking for more balance and more of a scoring threat among all four of their lines. Some of their recent acquisitions have already helped in that department. Sure, it was just one game. But it was one game against the league’s best team.

“It felt like a playoff game right from the start,” Crawford said. “I thought we got better as the game went on. They were pretty quick. They got some momentum early but I think with the new guys in the lineup, it seemed like the chemistry kept building throughout the game on the lines they were on.”

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Oliver Wahlstrom

Position: Right wing
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 205 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Wahlstrom already has an NHL-caliber shot with a quick release and the ability to create space for himself and linemates. He's most known for his goal-scoring ability and elite shot, and can hit a one-timer as good or better than many professional players."

NHL player comparable: Phil Kessel

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would probably prefer to take a defenseman at No. 8, but because four of them might go inside the Top 7, the best available player on the board is likely to be a forward. And there's a decent chance that could be Wahlstrom.

Wahlstrom would immediately become Chicago's top prospect, and a player that has the potential to slide into the top six when he reaches the NHL — whenever that may be.

He's committed to college for the 2018-19 season, so it's doubtful he would join the team until at least 2019-20, but Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said in our draft preview edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast that it wouldn't deter them from picking him. 

And it shouldn't, because you don't want to waste a player of his caliber's entry-level years developing in the minors if he's not ready yet.

"I think the way we would evaluate it is, we project them, we try to get a timeline on when we think they might be NHL ready," Kelley said. "But we're also looking for where they are in their development curve and want their ceiling is. I think in some players, you have to be a little bit more patient for them to reach their ceiling. That doesn't necessarily mean that players can't exceed their development curve, I think we saw that with Alex DeBrincat last year."