What's wrong with the Blackhawks' penalty kill?


What's wrong with the Blackhawks' penalty kill?

DALLAS – Andrew Desjardins was asked about the Blackhawks’ overall penalty kill this season but his first thoughts were on the second power-play goal they gave up on Wednesday night.

“That second one, personally, was my mess up. That was just a complete misplay by me,” he said following Thursday’s optional practice. “I think the first one is one of those where it’s in between, a pretty good tip, a pretty good shot. Just making it too easy on that first one but the second one, that was my man.”

Hey, things happen sometimes. But for the Blackhawks’ kill lately, things have been happening against it too often. In their last 12 games (including their Feb. 9 outing against the San Jose Sharks), the Blackhawks penalty kill has allowed opponents 14 power-play goals (22 of 36 on kills). Their kill is currently ranked 24th in the NHL. That’s a steep drop from previous seasons; it was ranked 10th last season and third in the league in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

So what gives?

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“I still think we have to do a better job of blocking shots up top,” Desjardins said. “We have to pay attention to the details. I think just not giving up those free shots, which is key; doing everything to block those, especially wristers. You don’t want to let those get through because they’re easily tipped.”

The Blackhawks want to get their penalty kill back to where it was earlier this season, hopefully beginning on Friday when they face the Dallas Stars. The Blackhawks gave up two third-period power-play goals against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday. That kill, which has won them games in the past, almost cost them two points the other night.

“I thought it was pretty good to start the year, we were pretty consistent. We’ve slowed down here recently,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Quality of shots, [we’re] not in shooting lanes; whether it’s stick position, awareness of what their strengths and tendencies are, whether it’s neglecting or you get tired, there are some coverage issues that I know we can be better at. Those are the things we want to make sure we shore up on our penalty killing, get it more predictable and consistent.”

Marian Hossa, who’s watched the past three weeks as he recovers from a lower-body injury, said it could be the little details.

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“Well I think the system works; obviously we’ve done it so many years and it was successful. So that’s a great thing. But maybe there’s communication, being that one split second in the right spot,” Hossa said. “There are little things we can make ready. I don’t see a huge issue, but we know how to play it. We just have to be more on the same page.”

Now, missing Hossa and Marcus Kruger, who’s been out with a wrist injury since December, doesn’t help. The two have been critical parts of that kill for several seasons, and getting depth back there should improve the results.

“You get guys who are going to be in the first and third and second and fourth holes,” Quenneville said. “They’ve done it in the past and they’re good at it, and it’s one of their strengths and one of our team strengths is getting through critical penalties.”

But the Blackhawks can’t wait for those two to get back to shore things up. The kill has been a vital part of the Blackhawks’ success the past few seasons. They need it to be good again soon.

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“A lot of nights that can be the difference between winning and losing, especially in key games and in key times in games,” Quenneville said. “We have to get back to being comfortable taking penalties – and when I say comfortable, you get a two- or three-penalty allotment and you’re comfortable in trying to find a way to get through it. But you can lose momentum giving up big goals at the wrong time of games.”


— Hossa participated in the Blackhawks’ optional practice on Thursday. He’ll see where he is after morning skate on whether he can/cannot play against the Stars on Friday night.

— Former Blackhawks left wing Patrick Sharp (lower body) will not play on Friday.

— Corey Crawford will start against the Stars. 

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks


Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade


Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

COLUMBUS — The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets blockbuster trade from the 2017 offseason is always a hot topic in Chicago when things aren't going great. It especially is when the two teams square off against each other, like Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season.

If it wasn't already apparent in Chicago, Artemi Panarin has emerged as a real NHL superstar and is set for a giant payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points in a single season and has nine points (three goals, six assists) through six games this season.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, had a challenging first year back with the Blackhawks in 2017-18 after netting only 35 points in 82 games and is off to a slow start this year as well with zero goals and two assists through six games. After a demotion to the fourth line, he was close to being a healthy scratch on Thursday, which only magnifies where things are at as the two get ready to clash.

But Saad was never going to be able to replace Panarin's offensive production. Everybody knows that. Yet, the offensive comparisons will always be there as a barometer and that's something Saad doesn't think about, no matter how much fans talk about it.

"I don't think I do it," he said. "We're different players. He's a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but at the end of the day you've got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table. He's a great player around the league. You can see his highlights and his goals, he's definitely a special player. But at the end of the day I've got confidence in my abilities too. We both bring different attributes, but they're going to make comparisons regardless."

A big reason why the Blackhawks reacquired Saad, other than his ability to play a 200-foot game, is because he carries a $6 million cap hit through 2020-21, which is two years more than Panarin at the same cap hit. (It's also important to note that the Blackhawks hoped they were getting a reliable, young backup goaltender in Anton Forsberg, but the injury to Corey Crawford thrust him into a role he wasn't exactly prepared for.)

It's not all rainbows for Columbus right now regarding where things stand with Panarin, who has made it clear he's not ready to sign a long-term extension. All signs point to the 26-year-old winger hitting the market, putting the Blue Jackets in a tricky situation ahead of the trade deadline. The Blackhawks very well could have found themselves in this position, too, had a deal not been made.

Both sides are dealing with their own challenges of the trade. Saad is still a key piece to the Blackhawks' puzzle and they're hoping to get more out of him, for no other reason than the team's overall success.

"You want to have success regardless of who you're playing for, who you're traded for, things like that," Saad said. "Naturally, just as competitors, you want to bring that excitement and you want to have success with the team and personally."