Blackhawks

With injury and illness, Blackhawks’ latest break is welcomed

With injury and illness, Blackhawks’ latest break is welcomed

When the Blackhawks entered their bye week on Feb. 12 they were ready to do so.

At that point, it was more of a fatigue factor. The Blackhawks had played 57 games entering the bye and, despite winning five in a row after several weeks of up-and-down play, the rest was welcome.

On Sunday the Blackhawks start another respite, this one for four days that will include a practice or two. This time around, the break isn't so much needed as perhaps necessary.

The Blackhawks are rolling right now in terms of results; their 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday was their 12th in their last 13 games. But they've been hit by injuries and illness the last several games, so their latest break couldn't have come at a better time.

The break is good for Johnny Oduya, who will get a few more days to get up to speed following an ankle injury that sidelined him for a month. Same for Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body), who's been out since Feb. 23. It's good for Nick Schmaltz, whose illness kept him out the last two games. It's good for Artem Anisimov, who only missed one game from a lower-body injury but gets to recuperate more.

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Healthy players could use this time, too. Asked about the break following the Blackhawks' 5-3 victory over Nashville on Saturday night, coach Joel Quenneville said, "some will get a couple more days off than the [scheduled] rest." Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, paired together again with Hjalmarsson out, have taken on the brunt of the responsibility and minutes. Patrick Kane's minutes increased some (26 against the New York Islanders on Friday before going back to 17 on Saturday in Nashville). Corey Crawford just returned from illness on Friday but, with Scott Darling sidelined for three weeks, they'll need him at his best.

The Blackhawks have been getting the results but the wear and tear of the season was catching up to them. The four-line rotation was thrown off some. With Oduya and Hjalmarsson both out, the Blackhawks were minus what's expected to be their second defensive pair.

On Thursday the Blackhawks could return to games at their healthiest all season. They'll have to be, because the stretch run won't be easy. In their final 31 days of the regular season (Thursday-April 8), the Blackhawks will play 17 games. The Blackhawks have the four-line rotation they want. They have the defensive setup they want. Breaks don't always come at opportune times but this one is a welcomed one.

"It's been a good stretch for us, fun," Quenneville said. "But enjoy some time off for some guys here and let's come back energized for the last stretch because we're busy."

What changes should Blackhawks make to power play?

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USA Today

What changes should Blackhawks make to power play?

In the month of October, no team scored fewer goals than the Blackhawks (25). Since the calendar flipped to November, no team has scored more goals than the Blackhawks (38).

Oh, how things can change in a month.

But the interesting part about the offensive turnaround is the fact the Blackhawks are doing it without having much power play success.

The Blackhawks have had 65 power-play opportunities this season and have converted on only nine of those attempts. That's a 13.8 percent success rate, which ranks 28th in the NHL.

Head coach Jeremy Colliton changed things up at the beginning of the month by dividing the units to spread the wealth rather than overload the first unit, the latter of which worked so well from December and on last season. 

It's time to go back to overloading the first unit.

Erik Gustafsson, who has three goals in his last four games, is finally looking like himself again after a 16-game goal drought to start the season. Patrick Kane is on a 10-game point streak. Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome have combined for 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in the last 10 games. And Jonathan Toews has nine points (three goals, six assists) in November after having only two points (one goal, one assist) in October.

There's a newfound confidence within the group, especially the top players, and reuniting the five of them could translate into power play success. 

And while we're on the subject: It's also time to put Kirby Dach on one of the two power play units.

He has seven points in a five-game point streak and four goals during that span. He's noticeably getting more and more comfortable each game and it's reached the point where giving him more responsibility wouldn't be overwhelming for the 18-year-old, who's ready for more ice time.

The Blackhawks' power play is the one area of their game that hasn't been consistent this season. If they can get it back to the level it was at during the second half of last season, it's scary to think what the ceiling of this team could be because it doesn't look like their 5-on-5 game or elite goaltending will drop off anytime soon.

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Blackhawks receive Joseph Cramarossa from the Penguins in minor league trade

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USA Today

Blackhawks receive Joseph Cramarossa from the Penguins in minor league trade

The Blackhawks have acquired forward Joseph Cramarossa from the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Graham Knott in a minor league trade. Cramarossa will report to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

The 27-year-old had three points (two goals, one assist) in nine games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this AHL season. Cramarossa was the alternate captain during the 2018-19 in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, playing 56 regular-season games, scoring four goals.

Cramarossa was initially drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the third round of the 2011 NHL Draft, making his NHL debut on the Ducks in 2016. He played with the Ducks until he was traded to the Vancouver in 2017, playing in 10 games for the Canucks. He signed with Calgary as a free agent in September 2017 before being acquired by the Penguins in February 2018. Throughout seven seasons in the AHL (2013-2019) playing for the Norfolk Admirals, San Diego Gulls, Stockton and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Cramarossa recorded 72 points (32G, 40A) in 294 regular-season games.

Graham Knott is a 22-year-old forward selected by the Blackhawks in the second round of the 2015 NHL draft. Knott had eight goals in 126 career games with the IceHogs. The Blackhawks have now traded their top draft selections from 2017, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2009. Only Dach (2019), Boqvist (2018) and DeBrincat (2016) remain from this decade.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

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.