Patrick Sharp leads Stars to shutout victory over Blackhawks


Patrick Sharp leads Stars to shutout victory over Blackhawks

DALLAS – Patrick Sharp scored plenty of goals during his time with the Blackhawks. On Tuesday he got a one against them.

Sharp scored his 12th goal of the season against his former team and added an assist as the Dallas Stars beat the Blackhawks 4-0 at American Airlines Center. It was just the Blackhawks’ third loss in their last 10 games, and they’ll head into the Christmas break at 20-12-4.

Jason Spezza and Colton Sceviour also scored for the Stars, who head into the break atop the Central Division with 54 points. Johnny Oduya added a secondary assist for the Stars.

Corey Crawford allowed four goals on 32 shots.

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The Blackhawks and Stars were locked in a close game through the first two periods, with Spezza’s power-play goal midway through the second being the difference. But in the third period, the Stars broke things open. Sharp’s goal came just 11 seconds into that period and it seemed to ignite the Stars.

“It was a tough way to start the third period,” Brent Seabrook said. “They have a good team over there. They have a lot of explosive players and a lot of guys who can make plays quick.”

At the same time, the Blackhawks suddenly looked deflated. They were outshot 17-3 in the third, putting up no fight against a Stars team that scored three in the third period. Colton Sceviour scored less than three minutes after Sharp and Mattias Janmark added another late in the third to make what was once a close game a lopsided one.

“They scored right off the bat [in the third.] Then, whether [or not] they opened us up, all of a sudden we were trying to press,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t have the puck much at all. We chased it around the whole period.”

Considering how this one started, it looked like it would be a low-scoring one despite the offense both teams possess. The Blackhawks had two power plays early, and while the advantage has been a boon to them most of this season, it was not on Tuesday night. They didn’t get a shot on either power play.

[MORE: Five Things from Blackhawks-Stars: Power play goes quiet]

“Yeah, I think if you create more offense early in the game, it at least gives your team confidence, it gives you momentum, it gives you energy, and we didn’t quite get it the way we needed it after those power plays,” Jonathan Toews said. “Even if you don’t score, if you generate some chances, some shots, it still gives your team some energy. We didn’t get a whole lot of that off those two power plays.”

The Blackhawks didn’t get much of anything on Tuesday night, especially in that third period. They’ve wrapped up a pretty decent first portion of their schedule heading into the Christmas break. They’re starting to get some chemistry in their lines. Crawford, outside of Tuesday’s outing, has been strong. But a lot of the good things they’ve been building up were missing on Tuesday against some of their former teammates.

“There have been a lot of points and found ourselves moving up some spots in the standings,” Seabrook said. “But this is a tough one to start the break with.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


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


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."