Younger Blackhawks helping the cause this season


Younger Blackhawks helping the cause this season

Erik Gustafsson and his agent were weighing Gustafsson’s options last spring.

The defenseman was either going to stay in Sweden another year or sign with the Blackhawks. The latter had one caveat: What if he signed and there was no spot available for a while on the usually deep Blackhawks roster?

“But we talked a lot and thought, if you do take a spot on this team, you’ll have a lot of guys who will help you a lot and stuff like that,” Gustafsson said. “I think it paid off here a little bit.”

Gustafsson is in the same situation as a few other young Blackhawks this season. Whether it’s due to the offseason changes or some in-season trades/injuries, they’re getting great opportunities to help the Blackhawks maintain their recent level of success. Be it Gustafsson, Phillip Danault, Artemi Panarin, Dennis Rasmussen or others, the opportunity has been seized.

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With Panarin, there was no doubt he was going to play with the Blackhawks this season. Same with Trevor van Riemsdyk, who came back for the Stanley Cup Final but was otherwise sidelined a good deal of the season with injuries. Others entered the season figuring it would take time to get up here. Gustafsson started the season with the Rockford IceHogs. So did Danault and Rasmussen. One by one, each got an opportunity.

And they’re all still here.

“It’s awesome to be here. It’s what you want, and now you’re here and you want to stick with the team and go for the Cup,” Rasmussen said. “At the same time you take it day by day. I try to prove myself every day.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said the young guys have stepped up when necessary.

“We’ve had a number of guys earlier on in the year who are getting a chance to play. It’s been a number of guys from Rockford who have come in and gotten their turn. Some of them seized the opportunity to play here, but they’ve made a difference,” Quenneville said. “Some guys are getting quality ice time as we’ve gone along here.”

Players, especially young, unproven players, get that ice time thanks in large part to performance. It’s also about trust. The thought that Quenneville doesn’t trust young players is foolish: Quenneville has given young guys extra ice time and/or responsibilities if they’ve shown they’re capable of handling them. He trusted van Riemsdyk immediately last season. This season, Gustafsson is averaging about 16 minutes per game and is part of the Blackhawks’ power play. Van Riemsdyk has become part of the penalty kill.

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You could include Teuvo Teravainen, too; Teravainen filled the top-line center role when Jonathan Toews was out against Colorado and got a shot at left wing when Artemi Panarin missed his first game on Tuesday. He’s also logged power play and penalty kill time.

“Of course, you want a coach that trusts you and believes in you when you’re out there,” Gustafsson said. “I just want to show them all the time that they can trust me out there.”

Andrew Desjardins, who’s played with Danault and Teravainen for several weeks, has been impressed with how young players have worked their way into the lineup.

“Honestly, I can’t say anything but good things about these guys,” Desjardins said. “It seems like they’re veterans already the way they prepare themselves and the way they play the game. It’s pretty amazing. I look at myself when I first came into the league, how I felt and how these guys just embraced it real quick and made a difference fast. They did the right things right away.”

The Blackhawks knew they were going to have to rely on some up-and-coming guys this season. Some have worked a few years in Rockford before getting this chance. Some signed this offseason in the hopes of earning an opportunity. For several, it’s worked out well.

“It’s definitely a fun situation to come into," van Riemsdyk said. “You have so many guys who have such long résumés with so many great accomplishments on there. It’s so nice to learn from those guys who know exactly what it takes. It’s a real privilege and honor to be a small part of this team. Every day I think of how lucky I am to be a part of this.”

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning


Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks on wrong side of history 

Earlier this year the Blackhawks made history by appearing in five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB history has ever done.

But Sunday they found themselves on the wrong side of it after allowing 33 shots on goal in the second period alone. It tied a franchise high for most given up in a single period — March 4, 1941 vs. Boston — and is the most an NHL team has allowed since 1997-98 when shots by period became an official stat.

"It's pretty rare to be seeing that much work in a period," said Cam Ward, who had a season-high 49 saves. "But oh man, I don't even know what to say to be honest. It's tough. We know that we need to be better especially in our home building, too. And play with some pride and passion. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was lacking at times tonight. The old cliche you lose as a team and overall as a team we weren't good enough tonight."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was a tough, tough period in all aspects. I don’t think we touched the puck at all and that was the part that was disturbing, against a good hockey team."

2. Alexandre Fortin is on the board

After thinking he scored his first career NHL goal in Columbus only to realize his shot went off Marcus Kruger's shin-pad, Fortin made up for it one night later and knows there wasn't any question about this one.

The 21-year-old undrafted forward, playing in his his fifth career game, sprung loose for a breakaway early in the first period and received a terrific stretch pass by Jan Rutta from his own goal line to Fortin, who slid it underneath Louis Domingue for his first in the big leagues. It's his second straight game appearing on the scoresheet after recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"It's fun," Fortin said. "I think it would be a little bit more fun to get your first goal [while getting] two points for your team, but I think we ... just have to [turn the page to the] next chapter and just play and be ready for next game."

3. Brandon Saad's most noticeable game?

There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Saad was certainly one of them. He had arguably his best game of the season, recording seven shot attempts (three on goal) with two of them hitting the post (one while the Blackhawks were shorthanded).

He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and five against at 5-on-5, which was by far the best on his team.

"He started OK and got way better," Quenneville said of Saad. "Had the puck way more, took it to the net a couple of times, shorthanded."

4. Special teams still a work in progress

The Blackhawks entered Sunday with the 29th-ranked power play and 25th-ranked penalty kill, and are still working to get out from the bottom of the league in both departments. In an effort to change up their fortunes with the man advantage, the Blackhawks split up their two units for more balance.

They had four power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and cashed in on one of them, but it didn't matter as it was too little, too late in the third period — although they did become the first team to score a power-play goal against the Lightning this season (29 chances).

"Whether we're looking for balance or we're just looking for one to get hot, I think our power play has been ordinary so far," Quenneville said before the game. "We need it to be more of a threat."

Four more minor penalties were committed by the Blackhawks, giving them eight in the past two games. That's one way they can shore up the penalty kill, by cutting back on taking them.

Blackhawks tie franchise record for shots on goal allowed in one period


Blackhawks tie franchise record for shots on goal allowed in one period

Well, things could be going better for the Blackhawks during Sunday's game against the Lightning.

In the second period Sunday, the Blackhawks surrendered 33 shots on goal, tying a franchise record for most in a single period. The previous instance occurred March 4, 1941 against the Boston Bruins, a game that the Blackhawks lost 3-2.

While the Blackhawks tied a franchise record for shots on goal allowed, they actually set an NHL record at the same time. The NHL did not begin recording shots on goal as an "official" statistic until the 1997-98 season.

Consequentially, Sunday's 33 shots on goal allowed in the second period is the "official" record, even though the Blackhawks accomplished the "feat" nearly 80 years ago. Confusing, huh? 

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they also surrendered three goals and scored zero in addition to the plethora of shots on goal allowed. They recorded just six shots on goal in the second period themselves, trailing 4-1 by the time the third period started.