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.”

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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.”

Brandon Saad joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Brandon Saad joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.

Man Child. The Saad Father. Baby Hoss. Kneel Before Saad.

You’ve got to have a pretty good start to your career to get nicknames and phrases like that coined after you as a 20-something breaking into the league. What Brandon Saad did in the first few seasons of his NHL career certainly qualifies.

After being selected in the second round of the NHL draft in 2011 (a steal, by all accounts), Saad eventually worked his way into the Blackhawks’ lineup and became a key contributor on two Stanley Cup teams…and did so before the age of 23.

Saad has spent parts of seven seasons in Chicago, notching 95 goals and 211 points in 374 games as a member of the Blackhawks. But his presence has been felt even more so in the playoffs. In 67 playoff games with the Hawks, Saad has 15 goals and 19 assists with a plus-16 rating. And if it weren’t for a tough-luck loss in Game 7 against the Kings in the 2014 Western Conference Finals, he might have had his name in consideration for a Conn Smythe Trophy, too.

Unfortunately for Saad, his career might forever be linked to Artemi Panarin’s because of the 2017 trade that brought the power-forward back to Chicago. But for as good as the Panarin/Artem Anisimov/Patrick Kane line was for a while – and that line doesn’t happen without Anisimov coming to Chicago in the first Saad trade – there might not have been a better two-way line in the NHL at one point than Saad/Jonathan Toews/Marian Hossa.

Whatever nickname you choose for him, Brandon Saad earns a spot on our Blackhawks All-Decade team as the left winger on the third line. 

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Alex Nylander on healthy scratch, feedback from Jeremy Colliton and role with Blackhawks

Alex Nylander on healthy scratch, feedback from Jeremy Colliton and role with Blackhawks

Alex Nylander's first couple weeks of the 2019-20 season have been interesting. He started on the top line and scored a goal in the season opener but by the third game found himself on the outside looking in.

Nylander sat out for one game before drawing back into the lineup on Monday, where he was placed on the fourth line with Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith. He logged a team-low 8:20 of ice time, but scored the second goal of the game that turned out to be the game-winner.

While he was disappointed about being a healthy scratch against Winnipeg on Saturday, Nylander took the positives out of observing the action from afar and taking a step back to collect himself.

"Of course you always want to be in the lineup but that could've been good for me to watch the game and learn from that game and take what I learned from that game into my game," Nylander said. "It was obviously something you don't want to do, you want to be in the lineup as much as possible and obviously stay there. I played a good game last game so I'm just going to build off that and keep doing what I've done all training camp, be confident and make my plays."

Nylander and head coach Jeremy Colliton sat down on Wednesday and watched every shift the 21-year-old took in Monday's 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. And the review was positive.

"I thought he was very good," Colliton said. "Eleven shifts, he was probably good for five, great for five and he had one tough one. He helped us win. He was a big part of our win the other night. It can be a little easier for him when he's playing less to really focus on the quality when he's out there. It may not be a bad thing for him as he grows into an everyday NHLer."

Nylander said he appreciated having that kind of line of communication with his head coach. He was drafted No. 8 overall in 2016 but hasn't been able to break through at the NHL level, so he's been open to any kind of constructive criticism.

"It's been really great," Nylander said. "Obviously I want to have a positive mindset every day here and get better. Getting feedback from my linemates as well as the coaches has been really good, just taking everything in and applying it to my game."  

The Blackhawks are trying to being patient with Nylander, but they're also trying to find a balance between giving him a long leash and holding him accountable. That goes with any young player.

"It's a combination of giving a guy enough room to make some mistakes and that's how he's going to grow but it's also accountability," Colliton said. "Sometimes you got to get a guy's attention. But he's responded great. Got no issues with his work ethic. He came out of the lineup for one game and I think he did everything right after that. Just how he approached practice, how he approached the media, being asked about it and how he approached his chance when he came back to make a difference for us."  

For now, Nylander will remain on the fourth line because the four-line rotation worked so well in their previous game. But it's clear he wants to have a large role on the team. He's just got to earn it on a consistent basis.

"Just focus on every shift I get here and obviously want to be good every shift and show that I want to be back on the top line or get more ice time," Nylander said. "But I've just got to play good here, work hard every shift and take advantage of who's out there and use my skill out there and just try to make plays and be good defensively as well."

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