Blackhawks

Blackhawks take away positives despite fourth straight loss to Flyers

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Blackhawks take away positives despite fourth straight loss to Flyers

There were positives this time, things that coach Joel Quenneville liked that he couldn’t say in some of the Blackhawks’ previous few games.

“It’s been going against us,” he said. “But I look back over the last four games, this was our best of the four.”

Still, for any good things that came out of Wednesday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, one bad thing was the same: another loss.

Marian Hossa scored the 497th goal of his career but Radko Gudas had the winner as the Flyers beat the Blackhawks 3-2 at the United Center. The Blackhawks lost their fourth consecutive game and remain in third place in the Central Division. The Dallas Stars remain in first at the moment with 91 points while the St. Louis Blues also remain in second with 91 points following their loss to the Edmonton Oilers late Wednesday night.

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Michal Neuvirth stopped 24 of 26 shots in the victory. Patrick Kane hit the 90-point mark for the first time in his career.

The Blackhawks looked better in some instances – they certainly looked better in this one than they did in the Los Angeles Kings’ 5-0 drubbing of them on Monday. But the bottom line is, the Blackhawks are still giving away critical points.

“It’s tough,” Brent Seabrook said. “We had our chances. We had some looks, we gave up some chances, but I think for the most part we played better than we did the other night, that’s for sure. It’s something we can build off, but we’ve got to start getting points here."

The Blackhawks got off to the desired start, with Hossa’s short-handed goal giving the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead about eight minutes into this one. Then they got a big break when, seven seconds after Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s high-sticking penalty, Chris VandeVelde was called for delay of game. The Blackhawks had 1:53 of 5-on-3. But that ended much like their night did: with nothing. 

[MORE: Five Things from Blackhawks-Flyers: A failed 5-on-3]

“It’s an area that’s been good for us this year. We had a couple of chances but nothing like we’d like to create with a full two minutes,” Kane said. “We had to chase the puck a couple of times and didn’t really get set up the way we wanted. So disappointed not to cash in.”

The Flyers scored on their late first-period power play to tie it. Still, the Blackhawks took another lead, this time on Jonathan Toews’ 25th goal of the season. But it wouldn’t last as Brayden Schenn, off a great pass from Claude Giroux on an odd-man rush, helped the Flyers tie it 2-2. Gudas had the winner midway through the third.

The Blackhawks can take more positives out of this one than in their previous games. The end result, however, isn’t changing. Neither is their place in the Central.

“We’re headed into a stretch here where we’ve got 11 games left and we’ve lost four in a row. Obviously not the stretch we want,” Kane said. “I don’t want to say it’s panic time but at the same time, we have shore things up before playoffs come into play here. We have 11 games to do that. We need to start playing the right way now. You could say tonight was a step in the right direction to do that. Still didn’t find a way to win, so not good enough.”

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."