Blackhawks

Late Blackhawks comeback falls short

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Late Blackhawks comeback falls short

PITTSBURGH, Pa. The Chicago Blackhawks final 20 minutes was exactly what they were looking for against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately, the first 40 werent.

Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg scored, but the Blackhawks lost Marcus Kruger for the final two periods to injury and the game to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2 on Tuesday night. It was the Blackhawks first regulation loss in the month of December, and denied them at least a point for the first time in their last nine games.

I dont know what we were playing like in the first 40 minutes, said Stalberg, who also assisted on Toews goal. We basically handed them two points tonight.

But the bigger concern was Kruger. The center was hit hard near the boards by Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland about midway through the first period. Replays showed that Engelland appeared to leave his feet and hit the Blackhawks center in the head with his forearm.

(Kruger) was on the bench to start the second. A couple of times I had to call him and he didnt end up getting out there, coach Joel Quenneville said. Hes OK now. A high hit, a tough area, he was in a tough spot.

John Scott came to Krugers defense, fighting and bloodying Engelland. Quenneville said Scott did the right thing, but Scott was nevertheless given a two-minute instigator and a 10-minute misconduct. That gave the Pens a power play, which Chris Kunitz converted for a 1-0 lead.

Weve got to find a way to kill that for him, Stalberg said of Scott. John does what hes supposed to do and stands up for a guy, so it was good to see that.

Scott said Im always going to stand up for my teammates. Anybody else on this team wouldve done the same thing.

But the Blackhawks were nevertheless down, as they spent too much of the first 40 minutes in the penalty box. Pittsburgh went on seven power plays, although they scored on just that Scott one. Nevertheless, the Penguins would turn that 1-0 lead into a 3-0 advantage by the end of the second period. James Neal and Tyler Kennedy added the other two Pens goals.

Then the Blackhawks woke up offensively in the third. Toews scored just 49 seconds into the final frame and Stalberg added his goal about five minutes later. The Blackhawks outshot the Penguins 19-4 in the final 20 minutes, and hit a few posts, too.

The Blackhawks final shot came on a power play with about 91 seconds remaining in regulation, but they werent able to convert.

The Blackhawks biggest player came to a teammates defense. And the Blackhawks nearly came back from the first 40 so-so minutes. The former couldnt be avoided. The latter couldve been.

We won the third but its frustrating we couldnt do that for a full 60 minutes, Stalberg said. We have to find a way to be more prepared. We cant start like that against a team like this. Theyre too good and theyre going to take advantage of us.

Briefly

Brent Seabrook played after being hit from behind on Sunday. He played just over 23 minutes, with six blocked shots and three shots on goal.

Marian Hossas secondary assist on Stalbergs goal extended his point streak to six games.

Patrick Sharps point streak was snapped at nine games.

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

The London Knights set high expectations for themselves going into the 2018-19 OHL campaign. They always do. Their roster is usually loaded with top NHL prospects and this season was no different.

After finishing No. 1 in the Western Conference with 99 points, the Knights looked poised to go on a deep run. They got off to a roaring start in the playoffs by sweeping the Windsor Spitfires (4-0) and kicked off the second round by winning three straight against the Guelph Storm. But then, for the first time all season, the Knights lost four in a row to squander a 3-0 series lead and were eliminated just like that. It was a disappointing finish for a team with Memorial Cup aspirations.

One of the bright spots of the postseason was Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist. He was tied for first among all skaters with 10 goals through two rounds; no other defenseman had more than six. And he finished with 13 points in 11 games for a points-per-game average of 1.18.

To summarize his season: Boqvist scored one goal in his first 15 games. From that point on, he finished with 29 goals and 60 points in 50 games, including playoffs. He became an offensive driving force.

It's unclear what his future holds, but with Evan Bouchard expected to turn pro and secure a full-time roster spot on the Edmonton Oilers next season, returning to London would put Boqvist in a position where he could be the No. 1 defenseman in all situations.

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