Blackhawks

Power play woes trickling down to other areas?

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Power play woes trickling down to other areas?

COLUMBUS, Ohio The Blackhawks power play has been a source of angst, frustration, basically everything but goals, through the first part of this season.

Through their first 10 games the Blackhawks were able to get points and victories despite that power play. They were doing more than enough scoring at even strength, and even adding a few on 4 on 4 and on the penalty kill. Now those wells have dried up, too, exposing the Blackhawks anemic power play (5 for 57, a league-worst 30th) even more.

It looks as if the power play woes have had a trickle-down effect, the struggles there seeping into other parts of the Blackhawks game. After scoring plenty early, the Blackhawks have just two goals in their last two games. And its a frustrating trend they want to reverse on Thursday night when they play the Columbus Blue Jackets.

We have to stop worrying about everything. We just have to go out and play, get pucks to the net and get ugly goals, defenseman Brent Seabrook said. When your power pay is struggling, you cant look to make the extra pass to have the back-door tap-in. You just have to get pucks and bodies to the net, bang away and score. Thats the best way to get off this slump and get that rolling.

And a few switches dont hurt, either. The Blackhawks trotted out two revamped power-play units on Wednesday. One featured Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Seabrook and Marian Hossa. The other had Duncan Keith, Nick Leddy, Marcus Kruger, Steve Montador and Andrew Brunette.

The Blackhawks were weathering the power-play issues beautifully to start this season. But the teams last few games havent been dazzling in many aspects. Even in Florida, where they collected three of four points, the Blackhawks frittered away two two-goal leads. And their losses to Vancouver and St. Louis were bad ones, where the Blackhawks compete level and puck passing were both questionable.

So is the lack of power-play confidence spreading elsewhere?

I think that can happen, coach Joel Quenneville said. When your scorers arent scoring all of a sudden, they may not be as patient or comfortable with the puck. Youve seen our puck-possession game, our passing -- or lack of it -- wasnt very good. We dont want to make excuses but we want to be confident out there. And lets make sure were making direct passes and we want the puck and were putting it on each others stick.

The power play will start clicking eventually. And as the confidence returns for that, the trickle-up effect should kick in, too.

We need some repairing on our power play. We need an ugly goal to get some confidence. Sometimes that can erode our team game, Quenneville said. There has to be more urgency across the board in our team game. Everything else will work itself out but we want to make sure were comfortable on the power play.

How Erik Karlsson’s extension with Sharks impacts Blackhawks, Western Conference

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USA TODAY

How Erik Karlsson’s extension with Sharks impacts Blackhawks, Western Conference

The 2019 NHL free agent class — both restricted and unrestricted — is absolutely loaded. But perhaps the biggest fish of them all has already been taken off the board.

Erik Karlsson and the San Jose Sharks have agreed to an eight-year extension worth $11.5 million per year, according to Cap Friendly, becoming the highest-paid defenseman in league history. It’s a significant move for the Sharks, who are looking to keep the band together and take a few more stabs at a Stanley Cup before their window starts to close — Joe Thornton is 39, Joe Pavelski turns 35 in July, Brent Burns is 34, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 32 and Logan Couture is 30.

How the Sharks make the math work going forward will be fascinating to monitor. Thornton, if he doesn't decide to hang up the skates, is a UFA. Same with Pavelski, who is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career. Both of those players have become part of the Sharks identity, but their futures aren't guaranteed. And then there are guys like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier, both of whom are RFAs and due big raises.

So how does the Karlsson extension impact the Blackhawks and the rest of the Western Conference?

For starters, the UFA defensemen class just got thinner and that could lead to overpayment across the board from teams looking for impact-type blue-liners because general managers that are looking to make a splash don’t want to come away empty-handed. The Blackhawks were never going to be in on Karlsson, but his contract set the market for this year's class and the fact the signing came before the NHL Draft now gives teams that would've been in on Karlsson an opportunity to refocus ahead of the negotiating period.

In the bigger picture, the Sharks just solidified themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for at least the next couple seasons. While the Karlsson contract may not look the greatest on the back half, given his durability issues, the Sharks had no choice but to offer him a blank check. When healthy, he is a game-changer and a two-time Norris Trophy winner who's still in his prime, and if the Sharks win a title in the next couple years then it was well worth it. You don't let players like him walk.

The Blackhawks are expected to be aggressive over the next several weeks, particularly in free agency but also continuing to explore the trade market. We already saw that when they acquired defenseman Olli Maatta from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a move that could only be the first of many this offseason. The West might be top heavy, but this past season proved that any team can turn it around quickly and the Blackhawks need to do everything in their power to make sure they're one of those teams.

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2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Dylan Cozens

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NHL

2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Dylan Cozens

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Dylan Cozens

Position: Center
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 180 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report from Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

"Dylan Cozens is a two-way centerman who plays fast and he plays inside."

Scouting report from NHL draft expert Adam Kimelman:

"Guys who can move the way he moves at that size are rare. And when you add in talent, the work ethic, the skill, the hands in tight, the shot, he's the complete package. ... To me, he is the second-best center in this draft after Jack Hughes."

Cozens describes his own game:

Strengths: "I’d say my strength is just my skating. That’s the biggest thing: being able to use my speed to create separation between other players and allowing time and space for myself and my teammates. I’d also say my shot. I’m more of a shoot-first guy but I can still make a play. I’d think those are the two biggest things: my speed and my shot.

Improvements: "I just want to be strong on my stick in going into battles and when I’m on the puck. I think that’s the biggest thing. That will come with strength when I get to the next level and as I get older. That’s the biggest thing: just having the mentality going into every battle that you’re going to win it and being as strong on your stick as you can be."

NHL player comparable: Jeff Carter

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks will have a pool of centers to choose from. Cozens has been one of the five candidates discussed as an option, and for good reason. He has all the tools to become an elite player in the NHL, which includes size, speed and skill. And perhaps a little bonus: He was very confident at the scouting combine that he could make the jump to the big leagues as soon as next season.

Cozens has often been compared to Carter, who has also played both center and wing in his career. The Blackhawks like when their forwards have some versatility and Cozens offers that. There aren't many flaws in Cozens' game, and his two-way prowess could make the Blackhawks' decision a difficult one.

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