Blackhawks

Tough stretch run can help young Blackhawks prep for playoffs

Tough stretch run can help young Blackhawks prep for playoffs

Ryan Hartman was on the ice in the waning minutes of the Blackhawks' game against the Dallas Stars on Feb. 4, a rookie thrown into a critical situation after earning the extra responsibility.

Good thing, because Hartman's diving block of a Jamie Benn shot probably saved the Blackhawks two points. It certainly saved them a trip to overtime.

"Situations like that can only improve your game as you're going along, add that depth to our team," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're going to need these kids to be playing in some crucial situations and applying it now, it's a good learning curve."

As good as this stretch run is for the Blackhawks overall, it's especially good for their young players. The hockey is that much more intense, that much more meaningful. Some teams are looking to improve their postseason seeding. Some teams are still fighting to get into the playoffs. Either way, the tests are plentiful and a good primer for young players for the postseason.

And that's fine with them.

"This time of the year has always been my favorite (since) coming up through juniors," Hartman said. "That's when the real teams show up, and that's when that playoff drive and that desperation comes for some teams that are fighting for playoffs spots. It's a fun time of year, and I think we're all ready for the challenge."

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Quenneville has given more responsibility to young players who have earned it. Hartman has gotten more — playing in late-game situations is part of that. Tanner Kero has, too.

"It's good for getting that experience and trying to get confidence in those big, tough games," Kero said. "You know how hard you have to work and the little things are so important, all throughout the game. That one play could cost you or could go in your net. You have to work hard every shift and can't take a shift off."

Dennis Rasmussen has gone from a bubble player to a consistent bottom-six player, be it on the wing or at center. Rasmussen wasn't here for the Blackhawks' postseason in 2016, but he could be here this time around. If so, these games mean a lot.

"If you want to be a team that wins in the end, you have to be a team that gets better every day — team and players, especially the young guys, the rookies," Rasmussen said. "I count myself as a young guy, and I feel I need to get better if we want to win it. That's the focus we have every practice and every game."

Since September, the Blackhawks have said they need everyone to contribute this season. That goes for the postseason, too. Who knows if all of them will be here once the playoffs start. But for those who are, the more they learn, the more responsibility they take on and the more they succeed, the better the overall team will be.

"We need them to improve and to be a part of it, playing in key situations," Quenneville said. "Their enthusiasm is healthy for our team as well. We're putting them in situations where the experience will be necessary."

Four takeaways: Blackhawks follow same script in eighth consecutive loss to Jets

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Blackhawks follow same script in eighth consecutive loss to Jets

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Tuesday:

1. No words

We're running out of words to explain the Blackhawks' poor starts. Everyone is. They gave up three goals on 15 shots in the first period, and didn't record their first shot on goal until the 17:36 mark.

At one point the Jets were outshooting the Blackhawks 14-0 while leading 3-0 on the scoreboard. The Blackhawks have allowed the first goal in 11 straight contests and are now being outscored 27-6 in the first period over that stretch.

"At some point talking about it isn't helping," coach Jeremy Colliton said after practice on Monday. "Try to give them some ideas about how to fix it, but not dwell on it. We'll see."

2. Three unanswered

After going down 4-0, the Blackhawks took advantage of a Jets team that took their foot off the gas by scoring three unanswered — two in the second period and one in the third — to cut their deficit to 4-3.

It followed the same script as the past several games, where the Blackhawks get off to a poor start, push back, and then come up short of a potential comeback. They're shooting themselves in the foot and until they get out of their own way, won't make any progress. The Jets scored the next goal to make it 5-3 — the empty-netter put it at 6-3 — and it sucked the life out of any momentum the Blackhawks were trying to build.

3. Careless penalties and a struggling kill

The Jets entered Tuesday with the third-ranked power play, converting on 28.7 of their chances. The Blackhawks committed five penalties — most of which were unnecessary or preventable — and the Jets made them pay three times. And they all came at key times.

Mark Scheifele's put the Jets up 1-0, Kyle Connor's second of the night extended their lead to 4-0 and Mathieu Perreault's was the dagger that put it at 5-3. 

On Sunday, it was missed opportunities on the power play that cost the Blackhawks. On Tuesday, it was the penalty kill. Special teams remains a work in progress.

4. Chemistry developing between Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome?

Time for a positive. The two best forwards on the Blackhawks may have been Kane and Strome, both of whom were on the scoresheet — Strome with a goal and Kane with two assists. 

It was Strome's fourth goal in eight games as a member of the Blackhawks and Kane's second straight multi-point game. Kane also extended his point streak to four games, and has six points (two goals, four assists) over that span.

But back to Kane and Strome as a duo. The two of them were on the ice for 9:34 of 5-on-5 time and controlled 64.7 percent of the shot attempts when they were together, and also generated four scoring chances, according to naturalstattrick.com. When they were separated, Strome's percentage was at 14.3. Perhaps Colliton will go back to that line — along with Alex DeBrincat — to start the game on Wednesday against Pittsburgh and build off the chemistry they're creating.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks prospects edition and World Juniors preview

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks prospects edition and World Juniors preview

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Slavko Bekovic and Charlie Roumeliotis talk about Adam Boqvist's emergence with the London Knights in the OHL, how his game has developed and when we could see him with the Blackhawks.

The guys provide updates on a handful of Blackhawks prospects, including Rockford IceHogs forwards Victor Ejdsell and Dylan Sikura, defensemen Nicolas Beaudin and Ian Mitchell, and NCAA's leading scorer Evan Barratt. Why hasn't Sikura been called up yet and should he be? What kind of player could Barratt turn into?

They also preview the IIHF World Junior Championship and which Blackhawks prospects to look out for.

0:55 – What did Charlie learn in 1-on-1 with Boqvist?

2:00 – How has Boqvist adjusted to smaller ice surface?

3:10 – How has Boqvist developed in OHL?

5:00 – What is the benefit of playing with Evan Bouchard on a loaded team?

6:45 – Boqvist comps with Erik Karlsson

9:35 – What did Knights GM Rob Simpson say about Boqvist?

10:35 – Brian Campbell helping develop Boqvist

12:10 – Boqvist on Sweden’s World Junior roster

14:25 – Sikura, Ejdsell and Louis updates in Rockford

18:45 – Evan Barratt leading NCAA in points

22:15 – Ian Mitchell makes Team Canada preliminary roster

24:40 – Nicolas Beaudin underrated prospect?

28:35 – Could Jokiharju play in the World Juniors?

30:00 – Brandon Hagel a pleasant surprise

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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