Blackhawks

Blackhawks slip to third place in Central with loss to Stars

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Blackhawks slip to third place in Central with loss to Stars

DALLAS – Health-wise, the Blackhawks and Dallas Stars seem to be going in different directions. The Stars have lost a few recently while the Blackhawks just got Marian Hossa back.

But on Friday, the Stars looked nothing like a hurting squad.

Teuvo Teravainen scored his 11th goal of the season but Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin each scored as the Stars beat the Blackhawks 5-2 at American Airlines Center. With their loss and St. Louis’ victory over the Anaheim Ducks, the Blackhawks fall to third in the Central Division with 88 points. The Stars move into first with 90 points.

The Blackhawks were hoping to be better in a few areas, especially with their penalty kill. But once again the kill betrayed them, allowing two of the Stars’ five goals (Jason Spezza and Benn).

“Our special teams, that was probably as bad a night as we could have,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You don’t even get a chance to get your feet under you to see how it’s going to look. We gave them that one on a platter and the next one was on a platter. But they have some great options; you don’t clear it, tough things happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans]

Corey Crawford was pulled midway through the second period after allowing four goals on 20 shots. Seguin’s goal was his 33rd of the season; the same goes for Benn. The Stars, who were missing former Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp, as well as defensemen Jason Demers, Jordie Benn and John Klingberg to injury, were nevertheless the better team.

Thus ended a two-game road trip on which the Blackhawks got just one point.

“It’s almost like that week [when] we were in Detroit then Boston, where I think we played well in the first game on the road. Obviously we didn’t get the result we wanted to in St. Louis, and we kind of had a drop-off the second game,” Jonathan Toews said. “Tonight was the same way and we ran into a team that was sitting here and ready for us and we didn’t have the speed and the work ethic in the battles in the corners that we needed. So eventually we ended up taking penalties and ended up hurting ourselves. We’ve got to be better than that.”

Tomas Fleischmann added a goal, his second since joining the Blackhawks, with 58.3 seconds remaining in regulation. The Blackhawks knew they had to be strong against a hungry, if injured, Stars team. They didn’t get the desired result. They’re obviously not in a serious predicament – just two points separate the first-place Stars from the third-place Blackhawks. But they know they have to get more of an effort than they did on Friday.

“Nobody’s panicking here,” Hossa said. “We have a great team here and we’re in a good spot. We just have to be better than we were tonight.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

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

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USA TODAY

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."