Blackhawks

Thanks to Toews, Blackhawks finish .500 on trip

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Thanks to Toews, Blackhawks finish .500 on trip

LOS ANGELES On the 12th day of a hockey road trip, it can be hard to dredge up the energy and the performance, offensively andor defensively, necessary to end it on a positive note.

But the Chicago Blackhawks found a way to do it. And they finished their lengthy excursion with one of their best defensive outings of the trip.

Jonathan Toews scored the game-winning goal in the second period and Corey Crawford stopped 26 of 27 shots as the Blackhawks beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 at Staples Center on Saturday night. It was the second victory in as many nights for the Blackhawks, who went 3-3-0 on their annual circus trip.

And for the most part, the Blackhawks did it with the part of their game that eluded them midway through the trip: defense. Jarret Stoll scored the Kings lone goal on a defensive lapse; but otherwise the Blackhawks were stoic.

The game that got us back on track was in San Jose; losing 1-0, playing the perfect road game and getting beat, coach Joel Quenneville said. We talked about being consistent in that type of effort and we got rewarded last two nights.

And the last line of defense, Crawford, did his part, too. The goaltender had arguably his best game of this trip, nullifying several Kings shooting flurries for his 11th victory of the season.

I havent been getting the results Ive wanted; I feel like I need to give a little bit more, Crawford said. That was another good game from us. The guys were coming back, breaking up plays, just overall a good game. It was another good game defensively, too.

On the other side, the Blackhawks got just enough offense. Andrew Brunettes wrap-around gave them the early lead. Toews was in the right place when a Duncan Keith shot ricocheted off the back boards and right to him for the tap-in.

We knew it was going to be a tight one, Toews said. Its fun to win those tight ones, especially at the end of this road trip. We didnt start this trip the way we wanted to but we finished a lot better.

The middle of this trip was forgettable but the Blackhawks erased a lot of that bad taste with their work in the California portion of it. They ironed out some defensive issues, got back to playing their team game and salvaged the trip. Now they head home, where theyve played brilliant in the early going.

It was a long road trip and I think we know were excited to go home now, said Keith, who had two assists. I think were happy with the way we played the last three games. It was tough not to get a point in San Jose, but sometimes thats the way it goes. Its nice to finish a long road trip with a couple of wins. Well use that momentum to come home here.

Briefly

Daniel Carcillo was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Quenneville said he wanted to get John Scott in as a forward against the Kings. Scott had some spirited fights with Kings right wing Kevin Westgarth last season. The two did not fight on Saturday night.

Toews was the NHLs No. 1 star of Friday night for his career-best, five-point outing (two goals, three assists) against the Anaheim Ducks. Patrick Sharp was the leagues No. 2 star for that night after he tallied his second career hat trick.

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."