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.

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks


Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade


Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

COLUMBUS — The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets blockbuster trade from the 2017 offseason is always a hot topic in Chicago when things aren't going great. It especially is when the two teams square off against each other, like Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season.

If it wasn't already apparent in Chicago, Artemi Panarin has emerged as a real NHL superstar and is set for a giant payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points in a single season and has nine points (three goals, six assists) through six games this season.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, had a challenging first year back with the Blackhawks in 2017-18 after netting only 35 points in 82 games and is off to a slow start this year as well with zero goals and two assists through six games. After a demotion to the fourth line, he was close to being a healthy scratch on Thursday, which only magnifies where things are at as the two get ready to clash.

But Saad was never going to be able to replace Panarin's offensive production. Everybody knows that. Yet, the offensive comparisons will always be there as a barometer and that's something Saad doesn't think about, no matter how much fans talk about it.

"I don't think I do it," he said. "We're different players. He's a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but at the end of the day you've got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table. He's a great player around the league. You can see his highlights and his goals, he's definitely a special player. But at the end of the day I've got confidence in my abilities too. We both bring different attributes, but they're going to make comparisons regardless."

A big reason why the Blackhawks reacquired Saad, other than his ability to play a 200-foot game, is because he carries a $6 million cap hit through 2020-21, which is two years more than Panarin at the same cap hit. (It's also important to note that the Blackhawks hoped they were getting a reliable, young backup goaltender in Anton Forsberg, but the injury to Corey Crawford thrust him into a role he wasn't exactly prepared for.)

It's not all rainbows for Columbus right now regarding where things stand with Panarin, who has made it clear he's not ready to sign a long-term extension. All signs point to the 26-year-old winger hitting the market, putting the Blue Jackets in a tricky situation ahead of the trade deadline. The Blackhawks very well could have found themselves in this position, too, had a deal not been made.

Both sides are dealing with their own challenges of the trade. Saad is still a key piece to the Blackhawks' puzzle and they're hoping to get more out of him, for no other reason than the team's overall success.

"You want to have success regardless of who you're playing for, who you're traded for, things like that," Saad said. "Naturally, just as competitors, you want to bring that excitement and you want to have success with the team and personally."