Blackhawks

Quenneville's message to young Blackhawks: Play to your strengths in season-opener

Quenneville's message to young Blackhawks: Play to your strengths in season-opener

Here we are again, prepping for another season-opener.

For half of the Blackhawks, this is old hat. For several, however, this is new territory. It’ll be a little nerve-wracking, it’ll be a little daunting, but the Blackhawks are sending a message to their new players right away: Stick with what got you here.

Coach Joel Quenneville had individual player meetings heading into Wednesday night’s game, the Blackhawks’ season-opener against the St. Louis Blues. There are a lot of new faces in the lineup, but the overall message is the same for all of them.

“Make sure you’re comfortable out there, play to your strengths and the things we’re trying to instill in them technically. We don’t want you to be thinking out there every single shift, so trust your instincts and we’ll reinforce doing the right things and the good habits as you go along here,” Quenneville said following Wednesday morning’s skate. “Be comfortable, be confident and be ready to play.”

The Blackhawks’ bottom two forward lines have a bulk of their new faces, including Tyler Motte. The former University of Michigan star is lined up with Marcus Kruger, with whom he’s already found good chemistry on the penalty kill. Any familiarity the youth has developed with the veterans is key in how quickly everything clicks.

“He’s done a great job of helping me with the systems especially on the PK here,” Motte said of Kruger. “It’s nice to have a guy like that on your line and in situations like that.”

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While the Blackhawks have new personnel, the Blues have somewhat of a new identity. Gone are some of their most familiar faces, including former captain David Backes. Troy Brouwer and goaltender Brian Elliott are also gone. So the Blues will have their own adjustments.

“It’s been a little different, but guys like me and (Vladimir Tarasenko) and Jaden Schwartz, who are being asked to have more of a leadership role this year, we learned from those guys. We were fortunate we were able to play with them and be in a locker room with them for so long,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “It’s something we’ll have to adjust to, and (we’re) asking younger guys to step up but those are the growing pains you have to go through as a young player.”

It’s a whole new season, and for some of the Blackhawks, a whole new experience. They’re here for a reason. Now they’ll see if it translates into successful regular-season hockey.

“I’m not going to come out and try and play a different game. Coaches and (veteran) guys have told me that,” Motte said. “It may be on a bigger stage, the official opening-night game, but the sport’s no different. You have to go and play the same way.”

Expected forward lines/defensive pairs

Blackhawks

Richard Panik-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
​Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Tyler Motte-Marcus Kruger-Ryan Hartman
Vinnie Hinostroza-Nick Schmaltz-Jordin Tootoo

Duncan Keith-Trevor van Riemsdyk
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Gustav Forsling-Brian Campbell

Blues

Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Alex Steen
David Perron-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
​Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
​Robert-Bortuzzo -Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

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 ECHL 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.