Blackhawks

Cubs looking for Starlin Castro to take it to the next level

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Cubs looking for Starlin Castro to take it to the next level

Starlin Castro shrugged off striking out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. Not much seems to bother him, and that has to be considered one of his strengths.

Castro lost that battle to Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford on Monday night and froze at the 96 mph fastball that ended the game. Castros attitude: Next time.

That also broke Castros streak of reaching base safely in 43 consecutive games, which dated back to Aug. 15 of last season.

Keep going, Castro said Tuesday. You got to keep going.

That sums up a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop who thinks Why not? when people ask him about 3,000 hits, the Hall of Fame and being the Derek Jeter of the North Side.

If Castro is going to reach those heights or crash the Cubs should get a better idea in his third year in the majors. When team president Theo Epstein talks about parallel fronts, Castro is pretty much at the center of the Venn diagram.

Its a pretty good building block, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Its so easy with him to forget about his age and you think about him as an established guy. Well, hes probably younger that some of the top prospects in the game and hes already hit .300 in the big leagues twice. So sometimes I think we lose sight of that.

Starlin is one of the best young players in the game. Hes already proven at the big-league level (and) we all think theres a lot more in there. I think there is a lot of power in there at some point. Young shortstops make errors. The key (is) concentration. Its every single pitch.

Manager Dale Sveum, an old shortstop, made that a point of emphasis from the first workout in spring training, showing Castro how to gain more ground. Their relationship will be a key part of this rebuilding project.

By October, Castro should have played more than 430 games in the big leagues, perhaps approaching a leadership position within the clubhouse. He will have to cut down on the 56 errors in his first two seasons combined.

Its that time to mature defensively, to mature on the mental side of the game, Sveum said. Hes been very good at responding to everything you ask him to do. I think he realizes that hes going to be held accountable.

Hes pushing himself, putting it on himself, challenging himself each day to see how good he can be on the 100 groundballs hes taken. Thats a big step for any young player to critique himself on his day of work.

For the future of the franchise, Sveum felt it was time to commit to Castro as the No. 3 hitter.

Plate discipline is one area where the Cubs think Castro can unlock some power and take another leap forward. As the Brewers hitting coach, Sveum saw what it did for Ryan Braun (even if some will put an asterisk next to that MVP award).

It just puts you in a whole nother category, Sveum said. The bottom line to hitting home runs is getting a good pitch to hit. Youre not going to hit many home runs if you dont wait for a pitch (where you can) drive the ball out of the ballpark.

Castro found his name in the headlines for the wrong reasons last winter, though people close to him privately insist theres no story there. The kid is still smiling, and really just getting started.

Any player has to (have it) in their own mind that youre always a work in progress, Sveum said. Its just understanding that every single day when we take a field, youre trying to make yourself a better player.

Thats the work in progress, but thats (something) Ive tried to implement with everyone else: Youve never got this thing figured out. You always have to make your skills better every single day or your skills will deteriorate. I dont care how good you are thats just the nature of the beast.

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

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AP

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

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USA TODAY

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.