Blackhawks

Sharp-Kruger-Stalberg line experiencing success

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Sharp-Kruger-Stalberg line experiencing success

Patrick Sharp rolled off his linemates talents, and why, combined, theyve been so successful. There was Marcus Krugers tenacity and fearlessness and Viktor Stalbergs speed and burgeoning confidence.

Sharps contribution?

Im just out there to look pretty and shoot the puck, he said to laughs.

Yes, between Sharps shooting and Kruger and Stalbergs work, the Blackhawks second line has been potent lately. And despite not getting on the score sheet much in the teams 4-3 shootout victory over St. Louis on Thursday, theres no doubt it was the Blackhawks best line of the night. Theres chemistry among the three of them, and its paid dividends for the Blackhawks.

Weve got a little bit of everything, Stalberg said. Weve got a shooter in Sharpie. And (Kruger) gets the pucks in our hands with a lot of speed, and thats something you look for in a center.

As much as Sharp could play center if need be, just looking at his numbers reminds you why hes best on the wing. Despite missing eight games with a broken wrist, Sharp has 31 goals, just three shy of last years total and five away from his career-best 36 of 2007-08. Sharp has never been shy about taking his shots, and he had a team-high seven against St. Louis.

The rookie Kruger has emerged as a solid No. 2 center for the Blackhawks. Hes not the biggest guy 6-foot, 181 pounds but Kruger nevertheless plays a crashing, fearless style that compliments the lines speed and shooting.

Hes been doing it all year for us, Quenneville said. I think whether hes productive offensively, you know that he brings so many other things to the table and to his linemates. He sustains a lot of pucks offensively, he can make some plays, hes sneaky good offensively and very reliable and predictable defensively.

As for Stalberg, his game is starting to come full circle. While the scoring potential has always been there Stalberg has 19 goals entering the final four regular-season games his puck possession has improved throughout the season. Quenneville said, I know hes had some good games and Id put that in the list at the top of it, as far as the impact and the influence he had shift to shift.

Stalberg said hes felt more confident as the seasons progressed.

Ive been getting roles to hold onto the puck a little more. Its something I like, something I used to play more in college and in the minors, Stalberg said. I havent had the chance or confidence to do it in this league yet, but the last 20 games I feel like I can do things and try to be a threat every night. Playing with those guys, its a good combination.

It has been a good combination. The three have built good chemistry, good instincts around each other. All in all, its been pretty successful.

That line has, in the last two games, been outstanding, Quenneville said. They have some speed off the rush, a lot of cycle time and a lot of puck possession, and theyre a threat with their quickness off the rush. They all complement one another.

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."