Blackhawks

Five Things from Blackhawks-Kings: A costly few seconds

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Five Things from Blackhawks-Kings: A costly few seconds

Well, it’s not going so well lately, is it?

The Blackhawks last had a lead in the third period against St. Louis on Wednesday night. Since then, they have struggled offensively, defensively and on the penalty kill.

Two of three struggles re-emerged on Monday night when the Blackhawks faced the Los Angeles Kings. But this isn’t where we break things down. So let’s stop stalling and get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 5-0 loss to the Kings.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans]

1. A bad few seconds. The Blackhawks were coming off a great-looking power play when it all went wrong. First, Kris Versteeg scored for a 1-0 lead. Then a whole 18 seconds later the Blackhawks got sloppy and Milan Lucic scored to put the Kings up 2-0. And just like that, the Blackhawks looked like a deflated bunch.

2. No capitalizing following the power plays. Yes, we realize they didn’t score on it on Monday. But the first two featured plenty of shots, and good ones. But the Blackhawks couldn’t generate those strong power-play efforts into good 5-on-5 play after they ended.

3. Searching for chemistry. When the Blackhawks’ second line was scoring in bunches, all was well. Sure, other lines weren’t doing much consistently but it was easier to take when Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane were pacing the offense. Well now the second line is going through the quiet stretch every line has every season, and nobody is stepping up in its place. That is a problem.

4. Jonathan Quick has a very nice night. The Kings’ goaltender was strong from the start and had to be, as the Blackhawks fired five shots on him on their first power play. Quick stopped all 32 shots he saw for his fourth shutout of the season and 41st of his career, the most for a U.S.-born goaltender.

[MORE: Kings befuddle Blackhawks]

5. Losing their edge. The Central Division race was always going to be crazy. The Blackhawks knew that. But they’re doing themselves no favors with their inability to capitalize in recent games. They’re 9-10-2 since their 12-game winning streak ended in January. The Blackhawks want to find their game again, no matter who their opponent is. I don't think it matters who you're playing against. “There's still a lot of teams that are working for playoff spots and trying to play really good hockey this time of year,” Jonathan Toews said. “Some of these tough games are tough to swallow, but we'll try and get whatever it is out of our system right now.”

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 ECHL 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."