Blackhawks

Five Things: Joel Quenneville reaches milestone

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Five Things: Joel Quenneville reaches milestone

Ailing forwards, clicking lines and a surging team: when you’re a coach you deal with the ups and downs of your squad on a nightly basis.

Coach Joel Quenneville had a little bit of everything on Tuesday night, as well as a nice milestone for himself in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators. Allow us to terminate the suspense: here are Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory, their eighth straight.

1. Congratulations, Q. The Blackhawks’ coach tied one of the greats on Tuesday night, claiming his 782nd triumph to tie Al Arbour for second on the all-time coaching victory list. Being a player’s coach means understanding what your players need on a game-by-game basis, as well as off days. The Blackhawks say Quenneville gets that as well as anyone. In turn, his players just win for him. “It’s nice to see him get rewarded with another contract,” Corey Crawford said. “I mean, he’s one of the best and we have a lot of respect for him and he knows exactly how to get the best of his players. We’re all happy for him.”

2. Paging Panik, Mr. Richard Panik. The newest member of the Blackhawks got a big surprise in the early evening: Artem Anisimov was sick and the Blackhawks needed Panik to get ready for tonight’s game fast. Panik did, jumping on the Blackhawks’ third line. It was a tough game for a new player to get integrated in, considering how many penalties there were. But Quenneville was happy with Panik’s debut, saying the forward, “made a good first impression.”

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3. Crawford comes up big again. We mean this in the most last-second sense possible. Ryan Johansen was a gnat’s eyelash away from tying the game and getting the Predators at least a point. Instead Crawford came up with one more save – his 41st of the game. Coming out of Tuesday’s victory, Crawford is tied for second in the league in victories (24) and seventh in save percentage (.927). His six shutouts still lead the NHL.

4. Shaw finding his rhythm. You could say that for the whole top line but, much like the Blackhawks wanted to get Marian Hossa going, they wanted to do the same with their net-front presence guy. That’s where Shaw was for both goals, knocking in a Hossa rebound on his first goal and streaking toward the net and scoring off a Hossa pass on his second. Greasy goals are good for him, aren’t they? “Greasy goals are good for anyone,” he said.

5. Two points behind Dallas. Yes, that’s not something many were expecting when the Blackhawks went into Christmas break. They were playing fine hockey then, but a 4-0 loss to the Stars on Dec. 22 was a punch to the gut. Yet here they are, exactly three weeks later, trailing the Central Division-leading Stars by just two points. The turn of the new year has been a good turn for the Blackhawks.

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."