Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Teuvo Teravainen feeling more like himself at center

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Blackhawks: Teuvo Teravainen feeling more like himself at center

DALLAS – Teuvo Teravainen isn’t used to this.

The Blackhawks forward has played all over the lineup this season, from left wing to right wing, top line to third line. But for several weeks now he’s stayed put, centering the team’s third line.

That stability has been nice.

“Yeah, it makes things a little easier when you know you’re in the same spot every game,” Teravainen said. “You get in the same situations in games over and over, so that makes your game easier.”

Teravainen has looked better and has been a more consistent player since settling into that third-line center role. He scored his 11th goal of the season in the Blackhawks’ 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Friday night and has found chemistry with new linemate Tomas Fleischmann, who also scored against the Stars. It’s a role that fits Teravainen well, and it’s a role it appears he’ll have for some time.

“I think positionally he’s strong, defensively aware, offensively dangerous,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We play him in all situations which is good for us. I think he’s progressing fine.”

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Andrew Desjardins, who was Teravainen’s linemate for a few weeks — he was on the fourth line against the Stars — said Teravainen has a strong hockey sense.

“I think he’s a really intelligent player,” Desjardins said. “People don’t realize how good he is defensively. He’s a real intelligent player and I think you need that as a center. He gets down low, makes the right plays and obviously you get him in the offensive zone, he’s creative. He’s done an amazing job moving around like that. He’s adapted well.”

Indeed, Teravainen moved around plenty for most of this season. It showed the Blackhawks trusted him in all situations but the transitions weren’t always easy. As general manager Stan Bowman said around the trade deadline, it was great that Teravainen showed versatility but giving him a more concrete, set assignment was best for him.

Right now, it’s showing. Teravainen remains strong defensively and has added more offensively; he has points in five of his last six games (goal, four assists). Teravainen was overthinking some previous assignments. That’s not the case with this one.

“I feel pretty good. I think I feel pretty natural,” he said. “I don’t think too much so that’s a good thing. I just go out there and play.”

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Teravainen and Fleischmann, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens a few days before the trade deadline, have clicked well. Dale Weise, who the Blackhawks picked up along with Fleischmann, joined those two on the third line in Dallas. Time will tell if those three all work well together but there’s no doubt Teravainen and Fleischmann have already.

“He’s really fast and skilled, and thinks the game right way,” said Teravainen of Fleischmann, who had a goal and an assist against the Stars. “He’s a pretty smart guy, so it’s easy.”

The game overall is coming easier for Teravainen right now. He feels comfortable at center. Sure, there are a few things he needs to work on but for the most part, he may have found the role that suits him best.

“Just little things like face-offs and battles in our own zone. I’ve got to get strong and it takes some time,” Teravainen said. “But overall I think I just try to be in the middle, get open and be myself. I’ll be fine.”

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."