Blackhawks

Five Things from Blackhawks-Kings: Corey Crawford stellar again

Five Things from Blackhawks-Kings: Corey Crawford stellar again

The Blackhawks entered Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Kings feeling better about themselves, thanks to a victory in New Jersey on Friday.

Building off victories or good things done in games, however, hasn’t been so easy this season. But on Sunday, the Blackhawks were looking like their old selves. Is this the start of a trend in the right direction? As coach Joel Quenneville often says, “we’ll see.” Until then, let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 3-0 victory over the Kings.

1. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill had an unblemished night. Yes, the Blackhawks just had to kill off two penalties but they did it – they’ve had three other games in which they took just two penalties and couldn’t get through both. You could tell Quenneville didn’t want to jinx the kill’s recent success – when asked about it following the game, he simply knocked on the lectern and left it at that. Marian Hossa said more about it. “We were showing better signs the last couple of games in the penalty kill and I think it’s great for the confidence for the whole team, for our goalies, and feels definitely good we didn’t get scored on,” he said.

2. Marian Hossa honored. One game after scoring his 501st career regular-season goal, Hossa was honored for his 500th in a pregame ceremony. His youngest daughter stole the show, grabbing her father’s nose to the delight of the United Center crowd and GIF makers. After receiving a gold stick – to go with the silver one he received for playing in his 1,000th regular-season game – Hossa continued to find some solid chemistry with second-line mates Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin.

3. Jonathan Toews gets his first of the season. You could tell from the captain’s reaction he was thrilled – perhaps even a little relieved – to get that first goal of the season. The Blackhawks have said a few times that Toews’ overall play was how they judged him, and that the goals would come at some point. Toews usually does take a few games to get going scoring-wise, so it wasn’t alarming. But a two-point night that included that first goal was nevertheless a good sign.

[RELATED: Corey Crawford, Blackhawks blank Kings]

4. Anisimov continues to score. Yes, the second-line center knows his faceoffs need to improve – he and Yanic Perreault did some work on those earlier this week. But as far as his offensive production, Anisimov is doing just fine. His second-period goal, off the pass from Hossa, ties him with Richard Panik with a team-high six goals. His seven-game point streak is a career best.

5. Corey Crawford collects career shutout No. 20. Crawford had a rather laid-back reaction to finding out he recorded that 20th shutout – “uh, it’s nice,” he said with a smile. Crawford’s taken his lumps with the rest of the Blackhawks’ penalty kill but overall he’s played well. He’s now stopped 62 of the 64 shots he’s seen in his last two games, including all 32 he saw against the Kings on Sunday.

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."