Blackhawks

Kids, Toews fuel Blackhawks in blowout of Buffalo

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Kids, Toews fuel Blackhawks in blowout of Buffalo

Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 9:58 p.m.

Jimmy Hayes said theres no I-can-top-you battle in scoring and outings between him and fellow rookie Andrew Shaw.

If there was, the Chicago Blackhawks might want to encourage it.

Hayes and Shaw each had a goal and an assist as the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Buffalo Sabres 6-2 on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks, with 62 points, are back atop the Central Division and Western Conference standings.

It was another all-around team effort for the Blackhawks, who have won four of their last five and have gotten points in each of their last six games. Jonathan Toews scored two power-play goals he now has 26 goals on the season and Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa also scored. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook added two assists each.

The Blackhawks also had another goal disallowed when it was ruled Shaw made a hand pass on the ice. He didnt, and Marcus Kruger wouldve been the scorer, but the play was not reviewable. But the Blackhawks kept going in the third period, making the no-goal a mere afterthought.

And while everyone has contributed, the rookie performances continue to impress. Shaw and Hayes are bringing youthful energy and determination, and something the Blackhawks needed a little more of a constant drive to the net.

The kids are making it look easy at times.

Its definitely not easy. Its just being in the right spots at the right tine, going hard at the net, said Hayes. (Shaw) scored that pretty goal but all of mine have been right around the net. Just go to the net.

For Shaw, it was his fourth goal in as many games and his first career assist.

You cant get too comfortable, he said. The nerves are still there, but you just go in and do it with the mindset that this is another hockey game, play like youve been playing and you wont have a problem. I dont know if Im making it look easy, but Im playing with great guys, going hard to the net and things are bound to happen.

Whatever works. And on Wednesday, there were a lot things working right for the Blackhawks. They scored on two of four power plays both from Toews kept pushing the pace throughout and fired 35 shots on Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth.

Weve had a good couple games here. All the guys are rolling and that makes a difference, Keith said. Everyones clicking out there, contributing and doing the right thing. If we play like that, most of the times good things will happen.

There are a lot of good things happening right now for the Blackhawks. Yes, the Western Conference will continue to be tight; it always is. But theyre getting big points with a big player sitting on the sidelines. Its a testament to the depth of this team and to the opportunistic rookies who have added to it.

Its making a huge difference for our team right now that all four lines are working and making things happen, Toews said. It doesnt matter who were playing against if we play that smart defensive game and we roll four lines the way we have. All four lines can score right now and its good to see that confidence as a team.

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

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WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

Kirby Dach was taken by the Blackhawks with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft on Friday.

On Monday, the Blackhawks introduced him to the city of Chicago. Dach took his first trip to Chicago for his introductory press conference.

Later in the day, the Canadian threw out the first pitch at the Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Dach didn't throw a strike, but it wasn't a blooper reel pitch either.

Watch Dach's first pitch in the video above.

 

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