Five things from Blackhawks-Capitals: Fourth line shines


Five things from Blackhawks-Capitals: Fourth line shines

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Well, this back-to-back didn’t go nearly as well as the Blackhawks’ first back-to-back of the season, did it?

A few days after putting up seven goals in two games against the New York Islanders, the Blackhawks could muster just one combined against the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals. It was a frustrating two days for the Blackhawks, although coach Joel Quenneville was happier with the team’s effort against the Capitals than he was the Flyers; he said the Blackhawks were “brutal” vs. Philadelphia.

So the Blackhawks will head home and prepare for Saturday, when the beleaguered Columbus Blue Jackets – they’re still looking for their first victory of the season – and former teammate Brandon Saad come to town. Before we talk reunions, let’s talk about the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 4-1 loss to the Capitals.

[MORE: Blackhawks offense shut down by Holtby]

1. The fourth line shines. Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw formed the Blackhawks’ best line on Thursday. They had their chances – Braden Holtby stymied Shaw and Kruger, and Desjardins missed wide on a gaping net. The work ethic has always been there with these three, and it was there again on Thursday.

2. Another slow start. Shaw said the team expected the Capitals to come out charging, but the Blackhawks clearly had no answer for it. It took them nearly 10 minutes to get a shot on net. They looked like they were playing an extended penalty kill during those early first-period minutes. And when they went on their first penalty kill, it lasted just 17 seconds before the Capitals scored on the power play. The starts have to be better.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Don’t read too much into the Ryan Garbutt scratch. As Quenneville said, “we could’ve had a lot of customers” eligible for a Thursday scratch, based on Wednesday’s awful outing. Expect Garbutt back in again soon. 

4. Keep Bryan Bickell on the top line. It’s been musical chairs at that left-wing spot on the top line. Maybe Bickell needs to play with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa as much as the latter two need one guy to be with them for more than one game. Let’s stick with this combo for a bit, for no other reason than to just to stop the merry-go-round.

5. Look back to past incidents. The Blackhawks have been here, done this before when it comes to slumps. Every team has them. This team knows how to get out of them better than most. They’ll draw on experience and figure things out.

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch


Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.