Penalty kill woes continue in Blackhawks loss to Predators

Penalty kill woes continue in Blackhawks loss to Predators

NASHVILLE – Jonathan Toews was fighting. The penalty kill wasn’t killing.

And while the Blackhawks felt better about their third period, for their second consecutive game they were losing.

P.K. Subban scored his first goal with his new team, one of three power-play goals the Blackhawks gave up for the second consecutive game in their 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday night. It was another frustrating night for the Blackhawks, who get to face the Predators again on Saturday.

Marcus Kruger scored his first goal of the season as did Niklas Hjalmarsson, who returned after completing his three-game suspension.

The Blackhawks’ forward depth looks to have taken another hit, too. Ryan Hartman, who suffered a lower-body injury first period and did not return, could “miss some time,” according to coach Joel Quenneville. On replays it appeared Hartman got hurt during a scrum in front of the net, then may have been hurt again when he blocked a Subban shot. Quenneville said he’ll know more on Saturday but said Hartman will miss “probably more than a couple of games.”

The penalty kill, meanwhile, continues to be a baffling issue. In their first two games, the Blackhawks’ former bread and butter has been their biggest liability as they’ve allowed opponents six power-play goals.

“Yeah it was definitely the gaping hole in our game,” said Toews, who fought James Neal in the first period out of frustration after taking Neal’s stick to his face. “Across the board we had a much better effort and even if we do get the penalty kills that we didn’t get tonight, it still takes a lot of energy out of your game. So we have to smarten up and find ways to stay out of the box and we’ll go from there.”

Indeed, the Blackhawks have been taking a lot of infractions and their veteran players have spent a bulk of the time in the penalty box. Still, the Blackhawks have long been a good penalty-killing team. What’s happening now is very unusual.

“Last game they were going in from [one] side tonight it was through the middle,” queneville said. “Whether we didn’t front properly or they had traffic at the net, certainly we have to have better discipline and stay out of the box as well. We still could’ve had some offense that could’ve got us back in there to get an equalizer but we didn’t generate enough.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The Blackhawks looked better in the third period and got one last power-play opportunity with 1:46 remaining in regulation. But even after pulling Corey Crawford and going 6-on-4, the Blackhawks couldn’t find the equalizer.

“We had some looks, some chances, but obviously wasn’t good enough. I had some chances where I have to hit the net,” Duncan Keith said. “We had the pressure on and we had the chances but we just didn’t get it.”

The Blackhawks pointed to the third period and their 5-on-5 play as improvements over Game 1. But the penalty killing problems have been in both games now; that and the discipline have to get better fast.

“Obviously we need to take baby steps there. But if we rectify our penalty kill, it’ll make a big difference for us,” Toews said. “When you come up with some big penalty kills and everyone’s playing hard and we get a couple blocked shots, it helps your team, it gives you energy. And tonight we didn’t do what we had to do there.”

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."