Blackhawks

Five Things: Blackhawks still searching for scoring

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Five Things: Blackhawks still searching for scoring

The Blackhawks’ mantra of defense first has served them pretty well these last few games. They’ve kept opponents at bay and it helped lead to four consecutive victories.

But the lack of scoring on their end was still lurking. They weren’t going to win every game 1-0; they needed to find offense.

[MORE: Blackhawks have another quiet night on offense in loss to Jets]

They still need to find offense, as they managed just one goal for the third consecutive game, this one a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. So before we pack up and head a little south, let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ loss to the Jets.

1. Where is the offense? The Blackhawks have the 3-on-3 scoring down. We’ve seen that. It’s 5-on-5 and regulation scoring that seems to be the problem. The last time the Blackhawks got an even-strength regulation goal was the first period against Florida, via Artem Anisimov. That was a week ago.

2. Teuvo Teravainen benching not a message. Teravainen was one of the last players off the ice at Thursday morning’s skate and was a scratch against the Jets. Bryan Bickell was back in that left-wing spot on the third line. Coach Joel Quenneville said Teravainen’s game has been “ordinary” lately, but that he wasn’t sending a message benching the young winger. “It’s opportunity. Everybody wants to play. Everybody wants to play more and everybody is fighting to get in the lineup,” Quenneville said. “That’s where it is. … There’s no message sending, he deserves to play.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. No “disruption.” Winnipeg goaltender Michael Hutchinson has had a few strong games against the Blackhawks. He had another busy and successful one on Thursday, when he stopped 45 of 46 for the victory. But in Quenneville’s eyes, the Blackhawks brought some quality in those shots, but not enough. “I like the fact we generated some chances,” he said. “I still think what really might ignite our offense is some ugliness, and that’s getting to the net.”

4. Bickell gets another chance. The Blackhawks’ wing was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past four games. It was a chance for him to show a physical game against a brawny Jets team, but he didn’t make the necessary impact. Quenneville deemed Bickell’s performance, “OK.” So it won’t be a surprise if Teravainen replaces Bickell again on Friday in Minnesota.

5. Does Erik Gustafsson get an opportunity? Gustafsson was recalled from Rockford on Wednesday to give the Blackhawks a seventh defenseman on this road trip. David Rundblad got the “ordinary” assessment from Quenneville for Thursday night’s game. The last two players who got that tag ended up sitting out.

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."