Five Things from Blackhawks-Sharks: Special teams struggle early

Five Things from Blackhawks-Sharks: Special teams struggle early

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Maybe the Blackhawks won’t be so sad that the Circus Trip is going away.

This trip has usually been a boon for the Blackhawks, a spark that’s gotten them going in the right direction. But so far, it’s been mostly a disappointing trek. That continued on Wednesday night, when the Blackhawks suffered a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. They suffered another loss, too. We’ll get to that now. So before we head to Los Angeles and celebrate Thanksgiving (perspective, folks), let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 loss to San Jose.

1. Jonathan Toews hurt. Toews left in the second period and didn’t come back. Coach Joel Quenneville said after the game that Toews suffered an upper-body injury but Quenneville is hopeful it shouldn’t be too serious. There’s no doubt Toews is struggling offensively. After morning skate, he said, “I have to be harder on the puck. I think in some situations where I make contact, I’m just giving up possession a little too easy.” But losing anyone, especially your captain, is always a concern.

2. Special teams struggle early. The Blackhawks were playing a pretty solid first period but were thwarted once again by their special teams. Logan Couture’s wicked power-play goal gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead and then Joel Ward scored a shorthanded goal just over three minutes later. The penalty kill made amends in the second period, nixing 1:22 of a Sharks 5-on-3, but it couldn’t offset the first-period damage.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Offense hard to find again. For a while it was looking like the Blackhawks would flirt with their third shut out of this trip. Artemi Panarin prevented that from happening in the second period, when he scored his eighth goal of the season. But the Blackhawks couldn’t muster any more. This one, though, it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Blackhawks had some very good opportunities. 

4. Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane don’t click quite yet. It wasn’t a shock that these three were put back together – the Toews/Kane combo wasn’t working. While Panarin did score, the chemistry wasn’t immediately there. Said Anisimov, “the next game if we’re going to play together we’ll probably be better. The timing’s a little bit off, the positioning.”

5. Doing the smart thing. Whether or not Marcus Kruger had an issue that needed to be addressed with concussion protocol, good on the spotters for taking him out late in the second period. Listen, you can’t be too careful with this stuff and Kruger has had a few concussions in the past. Prudence is smart.

Change of plans? Adam Boqvist could start season with Blackhawks


Change of plans? Adam Boqvist could start season with Blackhawks

That was quick. 

Hours after we wrote how Adam Boqvist has been flying under the radar this training camp because his NHL timeline could still be 2-3 years away — something even he admitted after the Blackhawks drafted him No. 8 overall in June — he put on a strong showing in his second preseason game on Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings playing on the top pairing and leading the team in ice time (22:15). 

His offensive skill is evident. So is his general skating ability. What really stood out was how he defended, particularly a 1-on-1 rush against the speedy Andreas Athanasiou.

This is the play that got Blackhawks fans excited. This is a player who has the ability to speed up his timeline if he takes advantage of this next year of development, which won’t begin in London on Friday after coach Joel Quenneville told reporters following Thursday’s contest that his debut with the Knights in the OHL is being put on hold because they want a longer look at him.

In fact, Quenneville didn’t rule out the possibility of Boqvist making the Blackhawks straight out of camp.

"I think as we've gone through camp and see him play through the games, we're watching him," Quenneville said. "We've been pleased with him. It's almost like, when you come to camp, we want to watch these guys. They make those decisions for us with how they play and it's been a positive one."

But that doesn’t mean he’d necessarily stick around for the full season.

Because he’s 18 years of age, Boqvist is eligible to play in up to nine games before getting sent to his respective junior team without burning the first year of his entry-level deal. He’s a slide candidate next year as well. It’s what the Blackhawks did with Ryan Hartman, who appeared in five games in 2014-15 and three games in 2015-16 before securing a full-time spot in 2016-17. That's the likely scenario if it were to reach that point.

It's hard to imagine the Blackhawks breaking in each of their top-two defensive prospects in Henri Jokiharju and Boqvist at the same time. And for Boqvist, you certainly don't want to waste any years of his entry-level contract when he could be using that time to truly develop so he could hit the ground running when he does enter the league on a full-time basis.

Perhaps the back injury to Connor Murphy, who is expected to be out until December, allowed the Blackhawks to view Boqvist's situation in a wider lense. Or maybe this was the plan all along.

Regardless, the Blackhawks may get a glimpse of the future quicker than they thought and it’s added a little excitement to training camp and the anticipation of Opening Day.


Adam Boqvist absorbing as much as he can from Blackhawks veterans in first training camp


Adam Boqvist absorbing as much as he can from Blackhawks veterans in first training camp

When development camp rolled around in mid-July, all eyes were on No. 8 overall pick Adam Boqvist, who had immediately become Chicago's top prospect.

That hasn't been the case in training camp.

We're one week in and the storylines have been dominated by Corey Crawford's status, Connor Murphy's back injury that could now sideline him up to 12 weeks and what it means for the defense, Henri Jokiharju's chances at making the big club and the new forward lines, most notably Brandon Saad being put with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz.

Why? Because all the attention in September is how the Blackhawks are going to bounce back after missing the postseason for the first time since 2007-08. And also, because Boqvist may still be 2-3 years away from playing in the NHL on a full-time basis.

Still, the Blackhawks very much are monitoring his progression this week and view him as a big part of the future. They got their first glimpse of Boqvist in game action in Tuesday's preseason opener vs. Columbus, which admittedly wasn't his best game —  he was on the ice for six shot attempts for and 16 against at even strength, the worst differential on the team — but the most important part of it was simply getting a feel for the pace and the size of the players he's going up against.

"I was a little nervous when I saw Seth Jones, those types of players, I've looked up to them, so that was a little bit [nerve-wracking]," Boqvist said. "But you're there for one thing, so go out and play your best game.

"I think I did pretty well out there. The game was not the best one, but a preseason game is a preseason game, so I hope I can [make] some steps."

Asked how important it was to actually get thrown into a game rather than a team practice or scrimmage, Boqvist didn't undermine it even though it was only a preseason game.

"It's huge," he said. "It's not like back home in Sweden at the juniors. It was a huge difference. How you can defend on smaller ice and when you should go or not go. I've learned a lot from the older guys here and hope they can help me this season."

From development camp to team practices and scrimmages to preseason games, coach Joel Quenneville is impressed with what he sees early on and had some high praise for the 18-year-old defenseman.

"Good, good," he said. "We liked him. We think that he can make some real special plays. Real good patience and play recognition. High end. Terrific shot. Deceptive as well.

"Watching him in the summer as well, he's got a great level of skill, play recognition, patience with possession of the puck. He's going to learn quickly that you got bigger guys, guys that know how to play and hold onto the puck and how to defend those situations in tight areas and with possession against you, so that's one of the learning curves that he's going through. But overall, he's what you call smooth as [Duncan Keith] says or [Patrick Kane] says."

Boqvist will be playing in Thursday's preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings, and will likely play a larger role in it with the top guys on the blue line staying home. It could also be his last one, with the OHL's London Knights season beginning Friday.

The Blackhawks want to make sure Boqvist is maximizing his experience here while he is around the Duncan Keith's and Brent Seabrook's, before taking everything he learned with him to London ahead of a crucial year of development.

"It's so cool to be around these NHL players," Boqvist said. "I try to enjoy so much here and take all the stuff I can from the guys here, so hope they can help me."