Blackhawks

Fourth line providing plenty for Blackhawks

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Fourth line providing plenty for Blackhawks

For most of the regular season, the Blackhawks had a decent fourth-line presence.

The defense was there, as it usually is with a line centered by Marcus Kruger. But the trio wasn’t spending much time in the opponent’s zone or creating many scoring threats.

Three games into the playoffs, however, that’s all changed. Now the fourth line is back to being a line that can play ample minutes, can keep defending well and can add a goal here or there.

Andrew Desjardins, Kruger and Andrew Shaw have made a successful fourth-line combo, one that’s contributed on both sides of the puck. Desjardins scored a goal in his first postseason game with the Blackhawks (Game 3 vs. Nashville). Kruger scored in Game 1 vs. the Minnesota Wild while Shaw has three assists in eight playoff games.

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No, they’re not putting up brilliant scoring numbers; they’re not there for that. But any contributions on that side, coupled with the defense on the other, is certainly gravy.

“I think they work well with each other in the puck area,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’re relentlessly pursuing pucks and they rotate well off one another. Defensively, there’s awareness. Offensively, all three can make in-tight plays. We usually use them in a defensive role but when they can get that offensive-zone time that’s a bonus.”

Sometimes the trade-deadline move that gets the least fanfare can make you a four-line team again. When the Blackhawks acquired Desjardins from San Jose on March 2, it was met with little fanfare. Most of the attention was on Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette, who the Blackhawks had traded for the previous weekend. When Quenneville altered the lineup entering Game 3 vs. Nashville — Vermette went to the third line and Desjardins joined Kruger and Shaw on the fourth — everything clicked. Once again the fourth line was bringing balance and taking some of the pressure off the top three lines.

“You have to spread the workload,” Desjardins said. “It seems like that’s the case. It’s great to have that feeling, to feel like you’re trusted and be in situations. Again, you can’t take it for granted. You have to do the job out there.”

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The Blackhawks’ fourth line rarely changed through the first half of last season. At the time, Kruger, Ben Smith — who went to San Jose in the Desjardins trade — and current Flames forward Brandon Bollig brought stability to that fourth line. Shaw, who is back at the wing on this line, said the current trio is working just as well.

“I just think we have the chemistry,” Shaw said. “We all have the same mindset: get pucks deep, make their D turn and cycle the puck. [Kruger and Desjardins] both have good skill, too. They make plays and support you as well.”

The Blackhawks are rolling four lines again because their fourth line is bringing a solid game on both sides of the puck. Good timing.

“To go deep in the playoffs you need all four lines, all six [defensemen] and you need everyone to contribute any way they can,” Kruger said. “Playing with Andrew and Andrew has been a lot of fun for me. [They’re] two great players who love to play aggressive and forecheck and hold onto the puck down low. That helps me out a lot, and it’s been a lot of fun so far.”

Blackhawks not going to 'freak out' about 0-2-1 start

Blackhawks not going to 'freak out' about 0-2-1 start

The Blackhawks wanted to get off to a strong start this season because they know how hard it is to climb out of a hole in the Central Division. Last season was proof of that.

Well, they've picked up only one out of a possible six points through three games and are one of three teams still searching for their first victory of the season. But they're not going into panic mode just yet.

"We know there's things we have to improve upon," Jonathan Toews said. "Jeremy [Colliton] always talks about doing the right thing and over time eventually you're going to get results. I don't know if we can say we're doing things the right things that we want to and we're playing complete games right now, so even having said that, midway through the San Jose game and even against Winnipeg we were in a position to take control of the game going into the third period and we let teams back in. So I think there's a lot of ways we can play better.

"But having said that we're in those games and giving ourselves a chance to win. Obviously that's not good enough, but we're not going to freak out and say, 'we've got to start winning games.' Of course that's the goal, we wanted to get two points the other night."

The quest to pick up their first two points of the season doesn't get any easier for the Blackhawks on Monday night. The Edmonton Oilers are coming to town with a 5-0-0 record, and they're clicking on all cylinders. They have the second-best power play unit (41.2 percent), second-best penalty kill percentage (94.1), the NHL's leading point-getter in Connor McDavid (12) and leading goal scorer in James Neal (seven).

The Blackhawks know at some point they have to start stringing together some wins, but they're not living and dying by the standings right now because everything looks out of proportion. They're focused on the process and putting together a full 60-minute effort.

"It's always magnified at the start of the year," Colliton said. "Your special teams, you got [teams] with 100 percent PK, you got [teams] with 40 percent power play, and all the little things they look way bigger than they are. Would be nice for us to get a win, get some positive feelings but any three-game window among the 82, it's not going to be looked upon as closely as this one.

"So again, we've just got to focus on playing hard, playing the game the right way, do the right thing time and time again and we'll get the results." 

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Corey Crawford to start in goal for Blackhawks vs. Oilers

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USA Today

Corey Crawford to start in goal for Blackhawks vs. Oilers

Corey Crawford will start in goal for the Blackhawks when they take on the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night. He's 0-2-0 with a 4.63 goals-against average and .875 save percentage this season.

In 18 career appearances against the Oilers, Crawford is 9-7-0 with a 2.53 goals-against average, .909 save percentage and one shutout. 

The decision is a little surprising, given how well Lehner performed on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets and what his career numbers are against the Oilers. In eight starts vs. Edmonton, Lehner is 5-1-2 with a 1.86 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and one shutout.

"We're going to continue to ... both guys are going to get in," coach Jeremy Colliton said after Monday's morning skate. "They're both going to play. I'm not going to give you the road map, but today it's Crawford and we'll go from there."

The Blackhawks are seeking their first win of the season (0-2-1) against an Oilers team that's 5-0-0.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.