Blackhawks' Scott Darling: 'I'm going to keep my foot on the gas'


Blackhawks' Scott Darling: 'I'm going to keep my foot on the gas'

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A year ago, Scott Darling went to the Blackhawks’ training camp as an unknown goaltender just looking for a chance.

A year later, Darling is well known around the league as the Blackhawks’ backup goaltender and a Stanley Cup champion. With his two-year deal with the Blackhawks kicking in this season, Darling’s feeling more secure – well, sort of.

“Maybe a little more but you’re never really secure,” said Darling following Saturday’s sessions at Notre Dame. “I’m on a two-way this year; they can send me down whenever they want. I’m going to keep my foot on the gas and just do what got me here.”

It’s been an incredible year for Darling, whose feel-good story was a popular one to tell throughout last season. After so many trying years Darling broke through, saving his best performances during the Blackhawks’ first-round series against the Nashville Predators.

But as he prepares for this season, Darling isn’t resting on his laurels or last year’s outing.

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“The thing is, you can’t get comfortable,” Darling said. “I was an unknown guy last year and here I am. You can’t let your foot off the gas. I’m going to work for it this year.”

Darling still remembers those first few days at camp last season, not long after he signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks. He still has some of those feelings in his second go-around.

“It’s a good memory. I was really nervous, excited to be here. I’m just as excited, maybe a little less nervous [this year], so that’s a nice feeling,” Darling said. “It’s just fun to see the guys again and meet all the new guys.”

The Blackhawks goaltending situation looked set last fall when Darling came here. Then backup Antti Raanta had just signed a two-year deal the previous summer. But Darling garnered notice immediately.

"He got our attention opening game, opening day: big-bodied, wow. He wowed us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was one of those surprises you don't see every year. There [are] always some surprises, but the level he got our attention was new heights and it continued on.”

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“Each and every day he got the opportunity to play in NHL exhibition games and everything, no matter if it was practices, games, so he came on the scene in a real nice way for us and helped solidify that goaltender position that was maybe up for grabs at the time for him,” Quenneville said. “It took him a while to get it secured, but he took advantage of it when it was there again."

Darling doesn’t plan on getting too comfortable in goal – as he said, anyone can come out of nowhere to take the job, much like he did last year.

At the same time, there’s still a more feeling of security for Darling, who bought a house in Chicago last summer. In sports there are always changes and there’s never guaranteed security.

But it’s still more than he’s had in a while.

“A lot of things changed in my life. I got to unpack my bags for the first time in a few years, so it’s nice,” Darling said. “It’s a big relief, a little less stress this year and hopefully enjoy it.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen


Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."