Blackhawks

NHL Power Rankings: Capitals, Ducks fighting for top spot

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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals, Ducks fighting for top spot

The Ducks have won 18 of their last 20 games, including 11 straight, propelling to the top of the Pacific Division. Staying in the West, the Blackhawks, Blues and Stars are each separated by two points for No. 1 in the Central Division.

Meanwhile in the East, the Capitals are the first team to reach the 100-point mark this season, and did so in just 65 games.

Check in with CSNChicago.com for updated rankings every Monday throughout the 2015-16 campaign. Here's where we're at so far: Preseason rankings | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19 | Week 20 | Week 21

 

Rank Team
Last Week Record/Comment
1 1

48-13-4, 100 points: The Capitals are the first team to reach the 100-point mark this season, and did so in just 65 games. And guess what? The Capitals and Ducks play each other on Monday. That will be a fun one.

2   2 37-19-8, 82 points: The Ducks are 18-1-1 in their last 20 games, and have won a franchise-record 11 consecutive games. What an incredible turnaround after starting the season 1-7-2.
3
 
3

41-21-5, 87 points: Patrick Kane established a new career-high by picking up his 89th point of the year, set in 2009-10. There are still 15 games left in the season.

4 5

39-22-4, 82 points: That's now nine straight victories for the Lightning, who have allowed just 11 goals during their winning streak. Also, Jonathan Drouin's suspension was lifted and he will report to the AHL. A smart decision.

5   4

38-22-4, 80 points: The Kings have outshot their opponents in 19 of the last 20 games, further proving that they're the league's best puck possession team. Wednesday's contest against the Capitals is another game circled on the calendars of hockey fans.

6   7 38-20-9, 85 points: The Blues are 9-2-1 in their last 12 road games, including three straight wins. They are now just two points behind Chicago and Dallas for the Central Division lead.
7    10 36-20-7, 79 points: The Islanders have gone into Madison Square Garden three times this season, and have come away with wins in each of them. They still have one more meeting there on April 7, but if we're lucky, there could be more.
8 6 38-22-6, 82 points: The Rangers have gone nearly three months without losing back-to-back games, which is in jeopardy on Tuesday when they battle Buffalo. Henrik Lundqvist has missed the last two games with neck spasms. 
9   8

34-23-8, 76 points: Evgeni Malkin has four goals and three assists since returning to the lineup on Feb. 27, helping the Penguins win four of their last six games.

10   36-21-8, 80 points: After missing the last six games due to an upper-body injury, Jonathan Huberdeau will return to the Panthers lineup and provide a much-need boost for a slumping team, which went 2-3-1 in his absence.
11   12 33-21-12, 78 points: Is there a scarier potential wild card opponent than the Predators? They're starting to click on all cylinders, having earned at least a point in 12 consecutive games.
12   13 40-20-7, 87 points: After jumping out to a 28-8-3 record, the Stars are 12-12-4 since the calendar flipped to 2016. They picked up a pair of nice wins last week against New Jersey and Ottawa, and killed off all six penalties, an area Dallas ranks No. 20 at 79.7 percent.
13   15

36-23-7, 79 points: Only two other players have more goals than Brad Marchand (33): Patrick Kane (38) and Alex Ovechkin (41).

14   11 32-22-11, 75 points: Petr Mrazek has struggled as of late, and got the quick hook Sunday against the Blackhawks. Jimmy Howard relieved him nicely, and he's expected to start on Tuesday vs. Columbus.
15   14

35-23-6, 76 points: After two road games against Calgary and Edmonton, the Sharks will then play nine of their next 10 games at home, where they are 12-14-3 compared to 23-9-3 on the road.

16   16

31-26-10, 72 points: The Wild bounced back from their three-game losing streak by stringing together four consecutive wins before falling to St. Louis on Sunday.

17 17  33-30-4, 70 points: Avalanche coach Patrick Roy called out Semyon Varlamov, who's allowed at least three goals in his last three outings, by saying "it's time for Varlamov to step up." Seems a bit unfair considering his dominant December and January is what propelled Colorado to a wild card spot in the first place.
18   19

30-23-11, 71 points: The Flyers are quietly 6-2-1 in their last nine games, and continue to rack up points by pushing games to overtime or a shootout. The bad news is, they're not winning many of them as they're tied for the league lead in shootout losses (6).

19   18

30-30-6, 66 points: The Canadiens went 0-3-1 during their four-game road trip, and allowed a combined 16 goals in those games. Carey Price can't get back soon enough, but even he may not be able to save what's left of this Montreal season.

20   20

29-26-11, 69 points: The Hurricanes have collected three of four points since the trade deadline that saw captain Erik Staal, Kris Versteeg and John Michael-Liles change sweaters. The future is bright in Carolina.

21 21 

31-29-7, 69 points: The Senators have allowed at least one power play goal in five of their last six games, which has been a season-long issue. Their penalty kill percentage is now at 73.8, the second-worst in the league.

22   22 31-29-7, 69 points: Cory Schneider will miss at least the next two weeks with an MCL sprain, which couldn't have come at a worse time with the Devils seven points out of the final wild card spot in the East. They allowed six goals on 30 shots in a 6-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
23   23 28-31-6, 62 points: The Coyotes got back in the win column after beating the Panthers 5-1 on Saturday, their first win since Feb. 18.
24   24

27-31-8, 62 points: The Blue Jackets haven't lost back-to-back games in regulation since Jan. 19 and 21, meaning they're putting losses behind them quickly. But this is shades of last year's team when the pressure is off with a playoff berth out of reach.

25 25

26-31-9, 61 points: Marcus Foligno snapped a seven-game point drought with a three-point night in Thursday's 6-3 win over Calgary. It was his second multi-point game of the season.

26   26

25-27-12, 62 points: The Canucks went 3-for-7 on the power play to beat San Jose 4-2 on Saturday. It's the second time this season they've scored three power-play goals in a game.

27   29

26-35-7, 59 points: Connor McDavid scored the only two goals for Edmonton, including the overtime winner, in his first of many meetings against Jack Eichel. The future is here.

28 27

27-34-4, 58 points: The Flames ended a seven-game losing streak by knocking off Pittsburgh on Saturday, their first win since Feb. 19. It was also just their second win in the last 12 games.

29   29

27-33-5, 59 points: Mark Scheifele was named the NHL's second star of the week after scoring six goals and an assist in four games, including his first career hat trick in Saturday's win over Montreal.

30   30

21-33-10, 52 points: The best stat of last week: Brooks Laich assisted on William Nylander's first career NHL goal and also assisted on Michael Nylander's final NHL goal.

*Advanced stats courtesy of war-on-ice.com

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."