Five Things: Slow start dooms Blackhawks in loss to Predators


Five Things: Slow start dooms Blackhawks in loss to Predators

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Two steps forward, one step back.

That’s probably the best way to describe the Blackhawks’ last few games, including their forgettable 5-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. Just when the Blackhawks looked like they were making progress they mailed in this one. That garbage can coach Joel Quenneville talks about throwing some games into? Yeah, this one would qualify. But before we call it a night on Broadway, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ loss to Nashville.

[MORE: Kane extends point streak but Blackhawks throttled by Predators]

1. What the heck was that? That’s probably what you all were asking during the Blackhawks’ first 20 minutes. The Predators came with everything they had, from energy to hits to shots, and the Blackhawks showed absolutely nothing in response. Quenneville used the word “ugly” twice to describe the Blackhawks’ start in this one. It’s hard to argue otherwise.

2. Give them a few more Andrew Shaws. If there was one guy who showed mettle throughout this one it was Shaw. The Blackhawks third liner had the most energy, showed the most drive toward the net and was willing to go up against a much bigger Barret Jackman to try and light a fire under the Blackhawks’ collective behind. Shaw came away with bloodied knuckles. The Blackhawks came away still looking uninspired.

3. Scott Darling under siege. The Blackhawks’ backup goaltender faced 18 Predators shots in the first period. Through the first seven or eight minutes he held strong, batting away one prime chance after another. He eventually gave up four. But Quenneville wasn’t putting this loss on his goaltender. “Chances not as frequent and the quality wasn’t as high, but it wasn’t the goalie’s fault. At all,” he said.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

4. Patrick Kane continues his streak. This really was about the only thing to get giddy about from the Blackhawks’ standpoint. Kane punched home a loose puck – and replays, much to Pekka Rinne’s chagrin, did show the goaltender never had control of the puck – to extend his point streak to 24 games. But, as Shaw observed, “I know he’s the type of guy who would rather have the win than keep the streak going.”

5. Take a lesson. The Blackhawks got a reminder on Thursday of what happens when they start poorly. They have about 24 hours to get over it and learn something. Winnipeg, a 6-4 winner over Columbus tonight, will probably still be ticked about their loss in Chicago last Sunday. The Blackhawks had better be prepared for an opponent looking to start the way the Predators did tonight.

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on Tuesday:

1. Brandon Saad's breakout game

After turning in one of his best efforts of the season on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks rewarded Saad with a promotion to the top-six again. And he took advantage of that opportunity.

In the first period alone, Saad recorded four shots on goal, scored his first of the season on the power play, drew a penalty and had a takeaway in 7:42 of ice time, which led all forwards. He finished with nine shot attempts (a season-high seven on goal) and 18:56 of ice time.

On his power-play goal, Saad battled for position in front of the net, called for the puck and scored on his second effort. He did all the right things and got rewarded, including on the empty-netter that sealed the victory.

"I've had some chances, especially as of late," Saad said. "But it's definitely nice for them to get in and get a win on top of that."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "He was excellent tonight. ... I thought he had great speed all over the ice, had the puck way more. We’re happy for him. Big factor in the win."

2. Erik Gustafsson's slap-pass becoming a thing

For the second time this season, Gustafsson contributed to a game-winning goal that involved a fake shot and slap-pass from the point. Patrick Kane was the recipient of the cross-ice pass and buried home the one-timer from the right faceoff circle

"I can’t score by myself, so it’s better to pass it," Gustafsson joked. "No, I know Kaner is out there. He’s always getting open when someone else has the puck so it’s easy to find him and there was one guy in front of me so I wanted to pass it."

3. Blackhawks cut down on high-danger chances

On Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks allowed 25 high-danger chances at even strength. It put them at the very bottom of the league for most on average per game, ironically falling below Anaheim.

Through two periods on Tuesday, the Blackhawks allowed zero and only five at 5-on-5 for the entire game. Certainly a 180 from two nights ago, and an area they will continue to build upon.

"We just took away those quality chances," said Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and picked up his first win at home since Dec. 17, 2017. "I don't think they really had too many where they had time in front of the net to really think about where they wanted to shoot and our guys were on the right away in the middle of the ice and that'll give you a great chance to win a hockey game."

4. Special teams battle

There were a total of 20 penalty minutes (10 for Anaheim, 10 for Chicago), which meant lots of power play opportunities and not as much even-strength time.

The Blackhawks had four of them in the first period, and converted on the second try when Saad scored his first of the season. The penalty killed went 4-for-4, allowing a combined eight combined shots on goal but limiting the quality chances.

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."