Blackhawks

Five Things from Game 1: Crawford shows no signs of rust

Five Things from Game 1: Crawford shows no signs of rust

ST. LOUIS – Good things were happening but the good finish wasn’t there. That’s pretty much the synopsis of the Blackhawks’ Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues, a contest David Backes won about nine minutes into overtime.

As you can tell it’s late, we’re tired and we’re guessing you are too. So before we call it a night, we’ll give you something to read in the morning with our Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ Game 1 loss to the Blues.

[SHOP: Gear up for the Stanley Cup playoffs, Blackhawks fans!]

1. Andrew Ladd returns. The left wing went back to Chicago to be with his wife, who is expecting their third child. His wife did not give birth on Wednesday and Ladd got back to St. Louis in time to play in Game 1. For a guy who had a very busy travel day, Ladd looked good. He had an energy burst that made that first line look pretty strong, which is what the Blackhawks need. Said coach Joel Quenneville of Ladd, “I thought he had a heck of a game. He brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm. That line was dangerous.”

2. Two effective penalty kills. The Blues’ kill was big in the first period, nullifying a couple of Blackhawks opportunities, including 36 seconds of a 5-on-3. They did it with blocks and Brian Elliott stops. The Blackhawks’ kill wasn’t too shabby either, and an early second-period sequence reminded us all why the Blackhawks missed Marcus Kruger so much on it. On the other hand…

3. The power play could’ve been better. Again, both teams could say this. Quenneville was fine with the Blackhawks’ opportunities outside of their last one, and you can’t blame him. The Blackhawks got a power play just seven seconds into overtime, seven seconds into a new period with a fresh sheet of ice. They had the chance to do damage but instead the Blackhawks did nothing. They talked of finishing on chances. This was one that got away.

[MORE: Blues edge Blackhawks in overtime to take Game 1]

4. Corey Crawford’s OK. There was some question on how Crawford, out for nearly a month with an upper-body injury, would react to that first postseason game. The Blackhawks were strong in front of him, so he didn’t see many shots. But Crawford looked fine in Game 1, and only a carom off Trevor van Riemsdyk’s skate did him in. Did getting that final regular-season game in help Crawford? It didn’t look like it hurt him.

5. Keith is coming back. Well, the Blackhawks got through that one without him. The young defensemen got a good lesson at the end of the regular season and in this one, playing more minutes and in more critical situations. Now a rested Keith returns for Game 2 on Friday night. As you can imagine, his teammates are ready to welcome him back. “Yeah, it’s definitely a boost,” van Riemsdyk said. “He’s obviously a great guy in the locker room and what he does on the ice obviously speaks for itself. So that’ll be a huge boost for us and we’ll be excited to have him back.”

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

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USA TODAY

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

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."

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

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Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."