Blackhawks

NHL Power Rankings: Sharks flying under the radar

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NHL Power Rankings: Sharks flying under the radar

The Sharks have won nine of their last 12 games, and are now one point away from the second spot in the Pacific Division. They're also not far away from the Kings, who are 6-0-1 in their last seven games and own a four-point lead for first place in the division.

Meanwhile in the East, the Penguins have strung together six straight wins and have moved into the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division despite the loss of Evgeni Malkin.

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 | Week 22 | Week 23

 

Rank Team
Last Week Record/Comment
1 1

51-15-5, 107 points: Evgeny Kuznetsov is emerging as a superstar in this league. He registered three assists in Friday's win over Nashville, and all three of them were highlight-reel passes. He's also tied for fourth in the NHL scoring race with 73 points.

2   4 44-22-5, 93 points: The Kings have stormed back into first place in the Pacific Division after going 6-0-1 in their last seven games. Jonathan Quick was named the NHL's second star of the week with a 3-0-0 record, 1.32 goals against average and .953 save percentage.
3 3 40-22-9, 89 points: The Ducks have the No. 1-ranked power play unit (24.3 percent) and No. 1-ranked penalty kill unit (87.3 percent).
4 2

42-22-9, 93 points: The Blues, perhaps overlooking their opponents, allowed a combined 13 goals in back-to-back games against Calgary and Edmonton, but bounced back with a 3-0 win over Vancouver, outshooting the Canucks 50-19.

5 12

40-24-8, 88 points: We've been high on this Penguins team under Mike Sullivan, and the results are starting to show despite the loss of Evgeni Malkin. Since Sullivan took over on Dec. 12, the Penguins have been the best puck possession team in the NHL, controlling exactly 55 percent of even-strength shot attempts.

6   6 43-21-9, 95 points: The Central Division race got more interesting after the Stars announced that Tyler Seguin will miss three-to-four weeks with an injury. An unfortunate blow, but we're going to see what this team is made of down the stretch.
7  5 41-26-5, 87 points: The Lightning are 2-4-1 in their last seven games, which followed a nine-game winning streak. They'll play their next six at home, where they are 21-11-3 this season compared to 20-15-2 on the road.
8 7 42-24-7, 91 points: The Blackhawks are 0-for-17 on the power play in their last five games, where they are 1-3-1, a large reason why their offense has dried up during their recent slump.
9 9

40-23-9, 89 points: The Panthers set a new regular-season attendance record on Kevin Spacey night in Sunrise. Unfortunately for them, the Red Wings spoiled the party by beating Florida 5-3.

10   14 41-25-6, 88 points: No team is flying under the radar more than the Sharks, who are one point away from the No. 2 seed in the Pacific Division. James Reimer has two shutouts in four starts with San Jose.
11   11 36-23-13, 85 points: James Neal scored a hat trick in Monday's win over Edmonton, the third hat trick by a Predators player in 10 games. Filip Forsberg had the other two.
12   8 39-26-8, 86 points: The Bruins stuck out on their West Coast trip, failing to pick up at least a point against San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. They close out a four-game road trip against the Rangers on Wednesday, which won't be an easy task.
13   13

40-24-8, 88 points: The Rangers are 3-4-2 in their last nine games, and are in danger of slipping to a wild card spot — after sitting at No. 2 in the Metropolitan Division last week — with the Penguins surging and the Islanders only three points away with two games in hand.

14   10 38-23-9, 85 points: The Islanders have one win in their last six games since Jaroslav Halak went down with an injury. They badly miss him, and it will be interesting to see how they respond knowing he won't be back until after the first round of the playoffs if they make it past that.
15   16

34-24-12, 80 points: Jakub Voracek is back just in time to help give the Flyers a shot in the arm for the stretch run. Two really impressive wins over Detroit and Chicago on back-to-back nights have pulled them within three points of the final wild card spot in the East with two games in hand on Detroit.

16   18

36-25-11, 83 points: The Red Wings are just three points away from Boston for third in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand. They're also looking behind them at Philadelphia, which is, as stated above, three points away with two games in hand. Nobody is safe.

17 17 34-28-11, 79 points: Devan Dubnyk improved his career regular-season record against the Blackhawks to 6-0-0. The Wild are also 4-0 against them this season. Is this the year they can break through in the postseason against Chicago? They're still on the outside looking in, but if you get in, anything can happen.
18 18

38-31-4, 80 points: Gabriel Landeskog returned from his three-game suspension by recording a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win over Edmonton to remain in the final wild card spot in the West. They've now won five of their last six games.

19   21 34-31-8, 76 points: Two shutouts victories in a week for the Senators, albeit against Toronto and Montreal. It's still encouraging coming from a team that has allowed 217 goals this season, which ranks third-worst.
20   22

35-31-7, 77 points: Think the Devils miss Cory Schneider? They started three different goaltenders this week: Keith Kinkaid, Yann Danis and Scott Wedgewood. They did, however, win two of those three games.

21 20 

31-27-14, 76 points: If the Hurricanes had won half of their overtime/shootout games this season, they'd be battling for a wild card spot right now — perhaps even looking in. They still made the correct decision by trading three key players at the trade deadline, but there's still lots to like about this team.

22   19 33-34-6, 72 points: Alex Galchenyuk has 11 points (nine goals and two assists) in 10 games so far this month, including four two-goal games. He had 11 points total in 24 games in January and February combined.
23   23 31-34-7, 69 points: The Coyotes had 10 total power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and San Jose over the weekend, but got shut out in both of those games.
24 28

31-35-6, 68 points: Sean Monahan was named the NHL's third star of the week after scoring five goals and two assists, pacing the Flames to a 3-0-1 record last week. Two of those goals were game-winners.

25 26

29-34-10, 68 points: On Saturday, the Sabres were defeated by the Maple Leafs 4-1 in a game that featured two rebuilding teams. In two or three years, this will be a marquee matchup.

26   27

29-39-7, 65 points: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins snapped his 18-game scoring drought by potting two goals in a win over St. Louis, and another over the weekend against Colorado. Perhaps making his final case for a spot on Team North America for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey?

27   25 27-32-12, 66 points: The Canucks have scored three goals total during their four-game losing streak, and have been shut out twice. With Alex Edler, Brandon Sutter and Radim Vrbata all shut down for the season, they're officially in the picture to land the No. 1 overall pick.
28 26

29-35-8, 66 points: In his second career NHL game, Oliver Bjorkstrand scored two goals, including the game-winner, in a 6-3 win against New Jersey over the weekend. A nice highlight in a season full of lows.

29   29

29-37-6, 64 points: The Jets have been outscored 11-3 during their three-game losing streak, including a 4-0 loss to Chicago in which Andrew Ladd scored in his return to Winnipeg.

30   30

25-35-11, 61 points: William Nylander officially passed the nine-game mark, which burns a year off his entry-level contract. Mathematically, it's a hard to decision to agree with, but it's also the perfect setting to get him acclimated to the NHL culture with zero pressure on the Maple Leafs this season.

*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."