Blackhawks

Blackhawks' special teams clicking at the right time

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Blackhawks' special teams clicking at the right time

The horn sounded a second time within two-and-a-half minutes, Andrew Ladd scoring his second power-play goal of the night in that time span.

It was another power-play goal, which are coming in bunches for the Blackhawks again. But it’s not just the production part of special teams that is working for the Blackhawks right now. The penalty kill, which sputtered for a while, is returning to its familiar shutdown mode.

With the postseason just around the corner, the Blackhawks’ special teams are trending in the right direction.

[RELATED - Five Things from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Special teams surge]

The Blackhawks have gone 6-for-12 on their power play in their last three games, including 3-for-6 in their 6-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night. Their penalty kill, meanwhile, has gone 17-of-17 in the past six games.

Let’s look at the power play first. The advantage went 0-for-26 over a nine-game span before breaking out of its slump against Winnipeg on Friday. The Blackhawks have missed several players from that power play – a suspended Duncan Keith and injured Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa among them. They also lost Artem Anisimov on Tuesday when he was boarded; Anisimov is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Despite the missing pieces, the Blackhawks’ power play is surging. So what’s been different in recent games?

“Just movement. Movement's huge,” Patrick Kane said. “You knew it was a little bit different with Anisimov going out. But you know you've got Ladd, [Jonathan] Toews and myself and Bread Man [Artemi Panarin] out there. I think we just try to kind of play kind of more of a 5-on-5 style, just keep moving the puck, moving our bodies. Get them confused out there. It’s the right time to get hot here.”

On the flip side, the penalty kill has been keeping opponents from threatening more. In the last six games, the Blackhawks have faced various types of kills, from nixing five-minute majors (Keith’s penalty vs. Minnesota) to 5-on-3s (the Coyotes had two on Tuesday, albeit one was only 12 seconds). The Blackhawks have scored two short-handed goals in the last six games – Marian Hossa vs. Minnesota and Toews on Tuesday – but it’s more about stifling their opponents.

Toews said the Blackhawks recognized they had to fix the penalty kill fast.

“I think when things get bad enough, you focus on it enough and you make it your goal to improve upon whatever’s going wrong,” Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously our penalty kill was a glaring issue for a little while there and not only our ranking in the league, but just the fact that it was hurting us in games. It could have made a difference and we know that this time of year and the playoffs it is a huge deal for us defensively. We need to have that confidence that we can kill off penalties and be tough on teams and not give them any energy.”

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It certainly helps that Marcus Kruger is back. While Kruger was in the penalty box twice on Tuesday – Toews scored his short-handed goal on Kruger’s first infraction – Kruger nevertheless gives coach Joel Quenneville another great killing option.

“I think he takes pride in, not the statistics, but doing the right things and being aware of what we’re trying to do, be it checking in the middle and in the zone and [being] very diligent on the little details that are a part of being successful on that unit,” Quenneville said. “He took a couple of penalties [Tuesday]; now we’re missing a guy we want out there, so has to stay away from that. But other than that, a real appreciation on how he can help and improve our PK.”

The Blackhawks wanted to get their game together before the postseason. Special teams are a vital part of that good overall game, and they’re clicking at the right time, too.

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

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AP

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

The Blackhawks announced Monday that they have officially agreed to terms with forward Dominik Kahun, defensemen Lucas Carlsson and Darren Raddysh and goaltender Kevin Lankinen on entry-level contracts.

Kahun ($925,000 cap hit), Lankinen ($925,000) and Raddysh ($730,000) each signed two-year deals that run through the 2019-20 season while Carlsson's is a three-year deal that runs through the 2020-21 campaign and carries a cap hit of $792,500.

So who are these guys? Let's meet them:

Carlsson

Drafted in the fourth round (No. 110 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2016, Carlsson set a career-high with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 44 games this season with Brynäs IF of the Swedish Hockey League. He was tied for fourth among all blue liners with seven goals.

Carlsson, 20, doesn't have major upside, but he's a reliable, well-rounded defenseman and that's what drew the attention of Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley.

“When he’s on the ice, he makes things happen," Kelley told Scott Powers of The Athletic last summer. "I think what impressed the Sweden under-20 coach was Lucas’ ability to challenge in all three zones. He’s an active defensively. Offensively, he challenges. He keeps plays alive.”

Kahun

The 22-year-old forward spent the last four seasons with EHC München of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany's top professional hockey league, where he established career highs in assists (29), points (41) and tied a personal best with 12 goals, leading Munchen to their third straight championship in 2018 after recording four goals and 10 assists in 17 playoff contests.

He raised eyebrows at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he compiled five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games and won 55.4 percent of his faceoffs (41 of 74), helping Germany capture a silver medal.

“He has made an enormous step this year, has become much more stable and mature," German national team coach Marco Sturm said after the Olympics. "I am sure that he would grab it in the NHL,” Sturm told the Hamburger Morgenpost.

Most recently, Kahun had a goal and two assists in seven games for Germany during the IIHF Men's World Championship. He's 5-foot-11, 176 pounds whose known to be a solid two-way player and can play center but may need some time to adjust to the smaller ice surface and NHL style of speed and physicality.

Lankinen 

Lankinen is 23 years old and coming off a season in which he was in the discussion for the Urpo Ylönen trophy, annually awarded to the top goaltender of the Finnish Elite League, after registering a league-best 1.33 goals against average and .946 save percentage in 15 games with HIFK.

He missed a large portion of the season because of an injury, but it didn't stop him from turning in a strong postseason, guiding his team to a bronze medal after posting a 1.99 GAA and .936 save percentage in 13 playoff games. The year before that, he led the league with seven shutouts in 42 games, backstopping his team to a silver medal.

This is a low-risk, medium-sized reward signing for the Blackhawks, who could use some more young goaltending depth in the pipeline, especially given how this season unfolded with the big club.

Raddysh

The Blackhawks signed Raddysh to a one-year AHL contract last June, and he turned it into an NHL one after a strong season with the Rockford IceHogs.

Raddysh, 22, accumulated 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 66 regular-season games with the IceHogs, and has appeared in each of the team's playoff games en route to the Western Conference Final.

Last season Raddysh was named the OHL's top defenseman after scoring 16 goals and 65 assists for 81 points in 62 games for the Erie Otters, where he was teammates with current Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat. He's the Otters' all-time leader in assists (143) and points (184) among defensemen.

Raddysh might be nothing more than a depth defenseman, but his development is worth monitoring because the offensive production is there and that's something the Blackhawks lacked this past season from their back end.

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa: 'I will not play hockey anymore'

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AP

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa: 'I will not play hockey anymore'

Days after putting his Gold Coast condo on the market, Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa revealed to a Slovakian newspaper that he is moving back to his hometown country and doesn't plan on returning to the NHL.

"I will not play hockey anymore," said Hossa, who missed the entire 2017-18 campaign due to a progressive skin disorder and the side effects of the medications involved to treat it. "I have a valid contract with Chicago for the next three years, but I have only one health and it does not allow me to return."

Because he has three years left on a deal that carries a $5.275 million cap hit, Hossa is not expected to sign his retirement papers until the contract is completed or else it would result in salary cap consequences.

The news is not surprising, but it officially allows the Blackhawks to move on without him in the fold roster-wise and toy around with some options this summer.

The first is stashing his contract on long-term injured reserve, as they did last season when they utilized the in-season preference.

The second, which Hossa wondered could happen, is finding a trade partner that would absorb the remainder of his contract, usually done by lower payroll teams aiming to reach the cap floor.

And it wouldn't be difficult trying to find a buyer, considering Hossa's actual salary is $1 million per year over the next three seasons. Hossa, of course, has a no movement clause but it's likely he would waive it given his status at this point.

The good news for Chicago is, the three-time Stanley Cup winner didn't rule out joining the Blackhawks organization in some capacity after his contract expires in 2020-21, whether it's in a front office role or as a team ambassador.

In 19 NHL seasons, Hossa accumulated 525 goals and 609 assists for 1,134 points in 1,309 regular-season games, and added 149 points (52 goals, 97 assists) in 205 postseason contests. He's one of 45 players in league history to net at least 500 goals in his career.