Blackhawks

Blackhawks' top line starting to connect

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Blackhawks' top line starting to connect

Andrew Shaw, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews gathered to celebrate the first of Shaw’s two goals on Tuesday night.

Celebrations have replaced the frustrations that dominated the first line’s first half of the season: great, sometimes glorious, scoring chances just wouldn’t go past goaltenders. But in recent games the Blackhawks’ top line has been just that.

Shaw scored twice, Hossa had two assists and Toews added another helper in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night. It was the second consecutive game in which the top line came through with big points — Hossa had two goals, breaking his 14-game goal-less streak, in the Blackhawks’ victory over Colorado on Sunday.

Finally, that line is clicking.

[MORE HAWKS: Andrew Shaw scores two as Blackhawks win eighth straight]

“Yeah it seems like the chemistry started to show a little bit,” Hossa said. “We definitely had some good looks before but we couldn’t put the puck in the net. Now we’re finding the net. That helps the confidence, the smoothness and everything else.”

Shaw said he and his linemates are communicating better, too.

“I think we’re talking about where we’re cycling, when we need to be and playing tight defensively,” he said.”

It’s also been a consistent line, personnel-wise, lately. The Blackhawks spent a good deal of the first half trying to find the right left wing for Hossa and Toews. Pretty much every forward on the team – Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Garbutt, Bryan Bickell, Artemi Panarin, and former Blackhawks forward Viktor Tikhonov among them – got an opportunity. Most including Shaw got two or three auditions there. Richard Panik was set to get a chance there, and he still could at some point; but Panik’s visa issues and a delayed arrival, coupled with the line starting to work with Shaw, put that option on hold.

Right now, Shaw is the guy up there.

“He’s been good,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Shaw. “That line is coming off two good games on the production side of things. They’ve been playing well, they got a big assignment and winning that game, it really enhances our team game. Shawzy’s been around the puck and gets two goals basically because he’s around the net.”

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As much as the left-wing carousel was a problem, that wasn’t the top line’s only issue. Hossa went through the longest goal-less streak of his career before he snapped it on Sunday. Toews has been more consistent with goals (16), but four were overtime winners and several others came on special-teams situations.

All the while the Blackhawks leaned heavily on their ultra-productive second line of Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. Eventually that top line had to help in the heavy lifting.

“They’ve been the motor of the team, scoring 90 percent of the goals,” Hossa said. “It’s nice to get help from different lines so they can take a break.”

It took a while, longer than anyone on the Blackhawks would’ve liked, but the top line has found its rhythm again. More important, it’s finding the back of the net again.

“There have been [slow] stretches but this year it was a long stretch. We’re glad, so far, it’s been working out the last few games for us,” Hossa said. “We just need to keep doing what we’re doing now.”

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Return of the Crow

The Blackhawks got their man back between the pipes after a 10-month layoff due to a concussion. And he looked like same old "Crow."

Crawford stopped 27 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .900. He faced 12 shots and eight scoring chances in the first period, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest save he made was on a Michael Grabner breakaway in the third period, bailing out a turnover in the neutral zone.

"I think I felt better in the second and third," Crawford said. "But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early. We were close in that one all game and we created a lot. I thought [Antti] Raanta played really well.

"It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. We were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game."

2. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews extend point streaks

The hot start continues for the Blackhawks' two leading scorers, both of whom assisted on Erik Gustafsson's goal in the second period to stretch their point streaks to six games. DeBrincat and Toews each have 10 points this season.

3. Overtime streak ends

The Blackhawks made history by forcing five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team has ever done in the four major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). But they didn't have the comeback magic in them this time.

Entering Thursday, the Blackhawks were 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods. They were 5-28-2 last season for a win percentage of .143.

4. Familiar faces, new places

Five former Blackhawks took the ice for the Coyotes: Vinnie Hinostroza, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta.

It was Hjalmarsson's first trip back to Chicago since being traded in the 2017 offseason. He received a nice video tribute during the second TV timeout of the first period, which made him very emotional.

"I almost got emotional too seeing his reaction," Toews said. "He's one of those guys you'll never forget what he meant to this locker room. He was a quiet guy in the room but we all know how he played and put everyone else before himself. Pretty cool reaction from the fans too. I think we were all sad to see him leave this locker room, he did a lot of special things and was a massive part of our championship wins. Happy for him to get that reception. It's well-deserved and obviously we miss having him around."

As far as the game, Hjalmarsson logged a team-high 22:18 of ice time and blocked three shots. Oesterle registered a secondary assist on Arizona's first goal, which was its first 5-on-5 of the season.

Hinostroza, who was also part of the Marian Hossa trade over the summer, scored twice in his return to his hometown, beating Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the second period and an empty-netter in the third; his second goal turned out to be the game winner, the fourth of his career and first as a member of the Coyotes.

Panik recorded four shot attempts (three on goal). And Raanta improved to 16-0-3 in his career at the United Center, a remarkable record for any goaltender in any situation.