Blackhawks

Blackhawks survive see-saw affair in shootout

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Blackhawks survive see-saw affair in shootout

The Blackhawks defensive game still isnt where it needs to be; but sometimes you take the two points and go from there.

Jonathan Toews scored a short-handed goal in regulation, then added the shootout winner in the Blackhawks 5-4 decision over the New York Islanders at the United Center. The Blackhawks have now won three of their last four games and are tied with Detroit for the second-most points in the Western Conference (33).

But it got interesting in the third period, when a determined Islanders team outshot the Blackhawks 23-7. The Blackhawks had given up just 15 shots in the previous two periods.

The first 10 minutes we took it to them; then that third period we got away from it again. Its something we need to address, said defenseman Sean ODonnell, who assisted on Andrew Brunettes goal in the first period. The win was nice, but its not the kind of hockey we want to play.

Coach Joel Quenneville said the better defense was there in the first two periods but panic seemed to set in during that third.

We have to be more composed, particularly when the games on the line in our own end, he said. The D-zone coverage got way out of sorts. We need to tighten it up and trust we have to play our own positions. We really ran around there in the third. We didnt like the way we played in our own end for sure.

The Blackhawks got enough offense on the other side to force shootout. Ben Smith scored his first of the season and Patrick Sharp added a power-play goal in the third. Toews, who has been stellar this past month, bested Islanders goaltender and Chicago-area native Al Montoya with a wrister in the shootout.

Corey Crawford, who stopped 37 of 41 in regulation -- including 21 of 23 in the third period stopped two of the Islanders shootout attempts. Matt Moulson hit the post on his shot.

No, it wasnt a comfortable victory. The Blackhawks are still giving up a lot of offense to teams that usually dont score much. The Islanders are currently ranked last in the league in goals per game with 2.04, and thats including tonights game.

They found a way to win on Friday. But they know defensive problems still exist. The more they tighten things up, the less theyll be sweating these out.

(There were) just a couple little mistakes that we have to get after and learn from, especially late in that game where were protecting a lead. If we do that, well be a little more relaxed, a little more comfortable in the third period trying to go for two points, Toews said. Either way, we found a way to win, and get two points. We just have to be better in those certain areas.

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

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AP

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

The Blackhawks are always active in the overseas market. Over the last few years, Dominik Kahun, David Kampf, Michal Kempny, Jacob Nilsson, Artemi Panarin and Jan Rutta are among the notable Chicago signings that have come from there. 

And they continue to be an attractive destination.

The Blackhawks have reportedly expressed interest in 24-year-old Russian winger Ilya Mikheyev and 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin, and the feeling is mutual.

Of the 30 NHL teams that have checked in on Mikheyev, TSN's Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday that the Blackhawks are among the finalists — although it appears the Toronto Maple Leafs could be the frontrunners. Mikheyev, who's 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, racked up 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 62 games this season for Avangard Omsk of the KHL, and tallied 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 13 postseason contests. His decision is expected to come this weekend.

Wedin has also reportedly narrowed his list, which includes the Blackhawks. He had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League, where he compiled 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 32 regular-season games and nine points (two goals, seven assists) in seven playoff contests with Timra IK.

The 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger is expected to make his decision either before or after the 2019 IIHF World Championship, depending on whether or not he plays for Sweden.

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Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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