Blackhawks

Five Questions facing the Blackhawks as regular season begins

Five Questions facing the Blackhawks as regular season begins

The Blackhawks wrapped up their preseason schedule on Saturday night, a youngster-laden lineup falling 2-1 to the St. Louis Blues. The regular season is just about upon us.

But before they open against the Blues again on Wednesday, the Blackhawks have some tough decisions to make. Who stays? Who goes? And once decisions are made, how do things line up (and pair up) heading into Wednesday?

Coach Joel Quenneville told traveling media prior to Saturday’s game that the final roster should be set by Monday; all NHL team rosters must be finalized by 4 p.m. CT on Tuesday. So since it looks like we have a couple of hours before we know the Blackhawks’ answers, let’s look at Five Questions heading into the season opener.

1. Which prospect will make an impact first? Tyler Motte looks like he’s ready for this show. The forward has been great throughout camp, be it 5-on-5 or on the penalty kill. He had plenty of work on the latter while at the University of Michigan, and it shows. Working with Marcus Kruger on the kill doesn’t hurt, either. Where Motte fits in the lineup is a guess right now – the Blackhawks left most of their veterans at home for their preseason finale on Saturday. We should get our first look on Monday, when the Blackhawks return to practice. But in preseason games, wherever he was put in the lineup, Motte played well. Several prospects had good camps, but Motte stood out from the start.

2. Will Alexandre Fortin stay with the Blackhawks this season? You wouldn’t have thought so when the 19-year-old first signed his three-year contract at the start of September, and that’s not a knock on him. Teams just have to think long and hard about burning the first year of a player’s entry-level deal. But as Fortin’s camp has progressed, the Blackhawks’ high opinion of him has grown. Asked earlier this week if the Blackhawks could exercise the 10-game option with Fortin coach Joel Quenneville said, “yes, we could.” Let’s see how this one plays out. As previously written, Brandon Saad wowed out of camp in 2011, was so-so in his first two regular-season games and then was sent back to Saginaw. If Fortin is a big help immediately, he stays. If not, Fortin goes back to his junior team after a few games. Either way, it’s a pretty nice “dilemma” to have.

3. Will World Cup end up being beneficial for those who played in it? The Blackhawks had a slew of guys playing in that tournament, the last of them (Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford) returning late last week. Of the three, Crawford is the only one who saw any preseason games with the Blackhawks – he practiced plenty but only played one-and-a-half games with Team Canada. In terms of preparation, the World Cup should be the best training camp those players had. That includes defenseman Michal Kempny, who got his first big taste of hockey on smaller ice. Great competition and playing games that meant something in September are two benefits for players coming off a rare long offseason.

4. Is Duncan Keith good to go? Keith was disappointed to skip World Cup to make sure his surgically repaired right knee was ready for the season, but it’s looking like he made the right choice. Keeping Keith off the ice, especially early, was probably a tough task for the Blackhawks’ coaches – hurt, healthy, he wants to be out there. But it was the best move for Keith, who looked good in the one preseason game he played last week. Will there be a little rust? Possibly. But in terms of health, Keith said following last Tuesday’s game, “I’m happy the way it is, I’m excited the way it’s been [going], and I think it will be good going forward.”

5. How long will Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin stay apart? As long as the Panarin-Jonathan Toews combination works. The first time that top line struggles, or the Blackhawks aren’t getting what they want out of this balanced lineup, the familiar second line will be back together again. You’ll also see that trio (Kane, Panarin and Artem Anisimov) together on the power play, so the combination won’t completely go away. Again, breaking Kane and Panarin up was not a popular choice; the two clicked beautifully. If the Blackhawks sputter, they’ll be reunited.

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.