Blackhawks

Its not time to fly out of Crows nest

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Its not time to fly out of Crows nest

Breathe, Blackhawks fans. Breathe.

Im not going to argue last nights game in Nashville was a pretty vision. It wasnt. But judging by the knee-jerk (emphasis on jerk) reactions on the ol TweetDeck as I kept one eye on that, the other on the game, and the other on writing my share of the SportsNet Central highlights, youd think the team had morphed from a seven-game points streak into the Columbus Blue Jackets (the same Jackets the Red Wings needed to get past in a shootout at home Saturday night, by the way).

Simply put, there were too many passengers. Thats never a good idea against Nashville. Its worse when they try to pull that off on the road. Its even worse when the Preds had been playing their tails off lately and still found themselves six points behind the Hawks with only a game in-hand. Marian Hossa was great, Patrick Sharp wasnt there, Jonathan Toews wasnt there for almost half the game. Patrick Kane was unable to bring with him the night he had 24 hours before. The supporting cast that had sparked that unbeaten run couldnt provide any production, either. They drew just one power play, and for the second straight game, managed only 22 shots on goal. And Corey Crawford let in a bad goal whether it was a bounce, or a poor read that further solidified the tempo and momentum the Preds had already established.

Crawford was actually good in the first period to get out of it 1-1. But everyone forgets that, and the results he got prior to that, courtesy of that one bad period. Calling on the coaching staff to immediately hand the job over to Ray Emery (probably the same people who questioned Emery making the team in the first place) would be a panic-button move. Despite the dogfight for points in the West, its still not time to panic.

It means they wouldnt trust what Crawford did for them last year, the investment they made in him in the off-season, and the way he bounced back strong after watching Emery play ahead of him last month. Has Crawford been as top-end consistent as he was as a rookie? Probably not. Has Emery been good? You bet. But translating three goals in an 11-minute span into losing your job, at this point, tears down the long-term goalie everyone around here believes was discovered a year ago.

Lucky for us, the Hawks dont get to see us have bad days at work, but thats part of their deal.

Crawfords season has reflected what Detroits Jimmy Howard went through last season following an outstanding rookie year. Theyve both been brought along slowly. Mike Babcock stuck with Howard through the bumps. And you see what hes doing right now. Unfortunately, there arent many goalies out there who dont have a few bad games each season.

This is by no means a final answer on the goalie situation. If there are more games and goals that can be pinned squarely on him, Joel Quenneville will start turning more towards Emery. Id imagine well start to get clearer answers in the three weeks of road games that follow next Sundays All-Star Game. If given the opportunity for redemption in Tuesdays rematch with Nashville, lets see how he responds. Sitting at this same point of the season over the last four years (and not knowing what lies ahead) which goalie tandem have you felt most comfortable with? Khabibulin-Huet? Niemi-Huet? Crawford-Turco? Or Crawford-Emery?

Right now, worry more about health, across-the-board effort (especially on the road), and finding the right pieces to add at the trade deadline. It shouldnt be goalie. Not yet.

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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USA TODAY

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."