Blackhawks

Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Teravainen fills in well

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Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Teravainen fills in well

VANCOUVER — The Blackhawks still weren’t playing their best hockey over this weekend. There are still some questions they need to answer, some things they have to shore up before the postseason begins.

Nevertheless, the Blackhawks reversed their negative trend and came away with four critical points, including two in their victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. Now it’s on to Minnesota to face a Wild team the Blackhawks haven’t been able to solve this season. But before we head back to the U.S., let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 decision over the Canucks.

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1. They’re in. The Blackhawks wanted to get back in the win column, wanted to start playing better and hoped to clinch a playoff berth this weekend. They ended up doing all of those. The latter is the big one; as much as the Blackhawks have struggled recently and have lost ground in the Central Division, they can at least head to Minnesota knowing they’re headed to the playoffs once again.

2. Penalty kill comes up big. The Blackhawks were holding a one-goal lead when Jonathan Toews was called for a double-minor high-sticking midway through the third. While it had its anxious moments, the kill came through. Two reasons for that: Scott Darling’s stops and Marcus Kruger’s return to the kill. Coach Joel Quenneville was especially pleased with the latter. “That’s what Krugs brings, that intangible,” he said. “You have two penalty killers in the box and you’re down a four-minute kill, so you have to keep going to the well. Darls made a big save late in it, but Krugs out there takes a lot of pride in being in that situation and making sure the penalty kill takes care of business and does the right thing. It’s nice to see him back."

3. Power play is a liability. The Blackhawks only had one power play on Sunday but it wasn’t a good one. They recorded just one shot on that advantage, which came just 21 seconds into the second period. And just like that, the momentum the Blackhawks had built with their great first period seemed to disappear. That is something they saw happen too often when the advantage struggled in previous seasons.

[RELATED: Blackhawks clinch playoff berth with win over Canucks]

4. No Artem Anisimov. The Blackhawks were without their second-line center, who was day-to-day with a lower body injury. Anisimov has struggled the last few weeks, so in his absence Teuvo Teravainen centered Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. It was actually a pretty nice combination, one that resulted in a goal (Teravainen’s) early in the third period. Still, the Blackhawks want their big center healthy and ready to go for the postseason, and it doesn’t sound like his injury is serious.

5. Tomas Fleischmann does it again. When the Blackhawks traded for Fleischmann and Dale Weise, the latter was expected to make the bigger impact sooner. Well, it’s been the reverse. Fleischmann has been great in his short time with the Blackhawks, and he scored his fourth goal with them on Sunday night. Listen, we realize the Blackhawks will have very little cash next season, and signing Andrew Shaw is likely at the top of the list. But if there’s a little change left over and Fleischmann is willing to stay for it… just thinking out loud here.

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."