Five Things: Blackhawks' top line strikes again


Five Things: Blackhawks' top line strikes again

Win some, win some more: there really hasn’t been a “lose some” part of that phrase lately.

The Blackhawks, so uncertain and shaky through the first month plus of this season, are starting to look like the well-oiled machine of old. They were winning again on Sunday, when they claimed a 5-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens for their 11th consecutive victory. The streak has the Blackhawks sitting atop the Central Division, three points ahead of the Dallas Stars they were chasing the first few months.

So before we hit the road, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over Montreal.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

1. Jonathan Toews nets two more. Remember when we talked about the captain’s lack of scoring, at least outside of overtime goals? Yeah, that was adorable. Toews has been part of the top line’s resurgence in recent games, and he scored his 18th and 19th of the season in the second period on Sunday night. Toews said the chemistry between he, Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa is growing. “We're not having to work as hard at trying to get pucks back and when we get it, we keep it for longer,” he said. “We're keeping plays alive. We're able to find guys with time and space and get them away from pressure in the zone, and eventually we're going to get confidence.”

2. Marian Hossa gets closer to 500 career goals. Hossa thought he had what ended up being Toews’ first goal of the second period – “I thought it was in the net and Jonny had the quick hands,” Hossa said. But he did get career goal No. 494 in the waning seconds when Duncan Keith’s pass went off his stick. Hossa, who also added two assists, was in a rut as much as anyone earlier this season. He’s coming out of it now.

3. Erik Gustafsson continues to be a great find. The Blackhawks won the two games Gustafsson missed with a knee injury but there’s no doubt the impact the defenseman has when he’s in the lineup. He was barely back two minutes on Sunday when he laced a beautiful pass to Richard Panik, who scored for a 1-0 lead. Coach Joel Quenneville said Gustafsson is a defenseman who thinks like a forward. His crisp passes, eight of which have been assists this season, attest to that.

[MORE: Blackhawks tie franchise record with 11th straight win over Canadiens]

4. Corey Crawford ties a streak of his own. Crawford won his eighth consecutive game on Sunday, matching a streak he set during the 2010-11 season, his first full one with the Blackhawks. When the Blackhawks have been up and down offensively and defensively this season, Crawford was the constant. He also thwarted his hometown team once again, and improving to 5-0-2 against the Canadiens in his career.

5. The power play scores again. Oh, those days of the power play being a much-maligned mess are over. It’s not great at home – 20th in the league entering Sunday’s game – but it’s nevertheless producing. Even if it isn’t, it’s not draining momentum from the Blackhawks, as it has in years past. Again, when it’s all going right, it’s really all going right.

A recap of Kirby Dach’s AHL debut and Blackhawks explanation for conditioning stint

A recap of Kirby Dach’s AHL debut and Blackhawks explanation for conditioning stint

Kirby Dach made his pro debut on Saturday, but it wasn't with the Blackhawks.

The No. 3 overall pick from this past June was activated from his injured/non-roster designation and assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League for conditioning purposes and jumped right into the lineup. He didn't appear in any NHL preseason games because he was under the league's concussion protocol during training camp.

In his season debut, Dach recorded two shots on goal and had a minus-1 rating in a 4-2 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins. He centered the fourth line with Brandon Hagel and Nick Moutrey.

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton discussed the decision to send Dach to Rockford after Saturday's game against the Winnipeg Jets, and it sounds like the organization remains committed to giving him a look at the NHL level whenever his conditioning stint is over.

"He hasn't played in a long time," Colliton said. "Missed training camp, missed the exhibition season. We think he can help us so we're trying to set him up, give him the best opportunity so when he does get the chance here he'll be as ready as he can be. It's a good league down there and a chance for him to get his feet wet against men. And I think he's been getting better and better in his practice time here with us. So I'm excited. Hopefully, he can gain confidence down there and then be ready to help us."

Because he's not eligible to play in the AHL full-time this season due to Canadian Hockey League rules, Dach's conditioning stint in Rockford can last up to 14 days, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, before the Blackhawks are forced to either recall him or send him back to the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League.

Rockford has four more games over that span, with its next one on Monday against the Laval Rocket at BMO Harris Bank Center.

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Four takeaways: Blackhawks squander two-goal lead in overtime loss to Jets

Four takeaways: Blackhawks squander two-goal lead in overtime loss to Jets

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center on Saturday:

1. Squandering a two-goal lead

For the second straight home game, the Blackhawks jumped out in front and even built an early cushion by scoring the first two goals in the opening frame. But they allowed the Jets to score three unanswered, including the overtime winner by Mark Scheifele, to remain winless on the season (0-2-1).

"We did a good job in the first and they took it to us in the second," said Brandon Saad, who scored a shorthanded goal. "Lehnny made some big saves and the third was kind of even. But we definitely had chances to close it out and we didn’t. At least we got a point and we have to move on from it."

2. Another lackluster second period

If there's one thing you can point to that's been a trend in all three games so far, it's that the Blackhawks have been lackluster in the second period. And it's difficult to pinpoint why.

In the middle frame, the Blackhawks have 10 scoring chances for and 35 against at 5-on-5, two high-danger chances for and 10 against at 5-on-5 and a minus-19 shot differential, according to Natural Stat Trick. That's an area of the game they're trying to clean up and has been the downfall to their attempts of putting together a full 60-minute effort.

"Obviously it's been three in a row where we haven't been very good in the second period and to me that's where you show how good you are," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "The best teams, they dominate the second period, so it's a point of emphasis for us. We'd like to control the tempo of the game and control the territory, out-chance the other team. That's where you show how good you are, so we're not close to where we want to be in that area."

3. Robin Lehner's debut

After going two weeks without game action, the Blackhawks gave the nod to Lehner, who went into Saturday with a 4-0-0 record, 2.76 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in five career games against the Jets. He took the loss, but certainly did his part to deserve a win.

In regulation, Lehner stopped 30 of 32 shots for a save percentage of .938. The first goal was on the power play, the second came at 5-on-5 when Andrew Copp found himself all alone in front and the third was in overtime during 3-on-3 action. His 5-on-5 save percentage was .962, which will definitely work.

"I felt good," Lehner said. "I felt like I saw the puck well. I thought rebound control was good. Again, the first one is unfortunate, it squeaks through. But I was where I wanted to be in position and somehow it goes in. Gotta try to clean that up. And the third goal, it just dove on me. He missed his shot. It’s unfortunate. But I thought I made some good saves and felt comfortable. We got a point, which is something, but should’ve got a win today."

4. Penalty kill shows improvement

The Blackhawks gave up a power-play goal for the third consecutive contest, but this was close to being a perfect night for the penalty kill. They went 3-for-4 and gave up only four shots on goal in the 7:38 of shorthanded time.

On the first Jets power play of the night, Saad scored a shorthanded goal for his first of the season and the Blackhawks later generated two more scoring chances before the two minutes expired.

The power-play goal against should've been stopped by Lehner but he did everything right and had the shortside sealed, the puck just found a mini hole. The Blackhawks responded with a big kill and had one late in the third period also. No complaints.

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