Jeremy Colliton

Injury-ridden Blackhawks in dire need of bounce-back win

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USA Today

Injury-ridden Blackhawks in dire need of bounce-back win

The Blackhawks must find a way to win and gain momentum before things spiral out of control. The Hawks, last place in the Central division after giving up 12 goals in their past past two games against the Avalanche, will face the defending Stanley Cup champions down a man with an injury-ridden roster.

The Blackhawks will be without Duncan Keith (groin), Drake Caggiula (concussion protocol), Dylan Strome (concussion protocol), Andrew Shaw (undergoing further evaluation) and Robin Lehner (flu), forcing them to play with just 11 forwards and six defensemen, due to salary cap restrictions, when they face the St. Louis Blues on Monday at the United Center. The Blues are first in the Central, six points ahead of the Avalanche. 

"Very impressive," Patrick Kane said of the Blues. "And then you look at their lineup, and they have a lot of injuries too. They obviously have a formula that works over there. Started with the back half of last year and then into the playoffs and winning, and then what they've done to start off this year is pretty impressive too. It'll be a tough matchup."

It's likely the Hawks will be missing some of those players when they head to Boston Thursday before going into New Jersey on Friday.

"We have to respond to adversity," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "To me, you can look at adversity as something you don’t want to have. No question, everyone would like it to be smooth all the time. But it’s an opportunity for us to take another step forward. We can develop as a team when you go through these stretches. I’d like for us not to miss this opportunity to respond. It can propel us forward."

"It's just like that all year," Kane said of the challenging games ahead. "You could've said the same thing about our last five, 10 games. It seems like we're traveling all over the place, playing some tough teams. It's definitely difficult being in the Central and the travel we have to deal with, but it is what it is and every team in our division has to go through it at some point."

The Bruins are first in the Atlantic division of the Eastern conference, 12 points ahead of the Panthers. New Jersey is last in the Metropolitan division.

Prior to Friday (5-2) and Saturday's (7-3) debacles against the Avalanche, the Hawks were getting great goaltending and finding ways to win, going 5-2-1 in their previous eight games, including a 3-0 shutout of the Stars in Chicago with Crawford in net on Tuesday.

"We've played some good hockey, Jonathan Toews said following Monday's morning skate. "I think we played a good road game in Dallas, we played good at home against Dallas. Since then we've maybe taken a few steps back, so I think it's time to bounce back tonight. The areas where we need to be better are pretty obvious, so we'll do our best to correct that."

Big numbers 

Toews is slated to become the 10th player to skate in 900 games with the Blackhawks on Monday.

"Oh, it's tonight?" Toews asked with a smile. "I think it's special to hit certain marks. I don't think you ever go out there every single night thinking about that, unless your 'Kaner and it happens every 20 games or something. You look at 'Seabs and 'Duncs and it doesn't feel like we've been here for that long, but then you look back to clips over the years and you go, 'Time really has flown by.' 

"It's special and I think when you're going through the same routine almost every year with training camp, [coming] to the United Center... It's not that you take it for granted, but it does in some way become a routine.

"So every time you're able to hit a milestone like games played or points, or whatever it is, it's definitely a moment to stop and say, 'Hey this is pretty special and I can be thankful for what I've been a part of and what I've been given, especially playing here in Chicago for the fans and for this team."

Kane will be looking to extend his 15-game point streak (24 points; 11 goals, 13 assists) on Monday. 

"You just know the number," Kane said of streaks. "Other than that, you try to put that in the back of your mind and go out there and play the same way. It's nice when you're consistent and on a little run, but every game you try to treat as a new slate, and produce scoring chances, produce chances for yourself, and play the right way, and hopefully those things take care of itself." 

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Four takeaways: Blackhawks overcome two-goal deficit to beat Golden Knights for first time

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USA Today

Four takeaways: Blackhawks overcome two-goal deficit to beat Golden Knights for first time

LAS VEGAS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday:

1. Blackhawks beat Golden Knights for first time ever

The Blackhawks entered this matchup the only team that hadn't beaten the Golden Knights since they entered the NHL in the 2017-18 season. They were 0-5-2 in the first seven games against them, despite having plenty of opportunities to beat them. As recently as Oct. 22, the Blackhawks were 1:33 away from shutting out Vegas before eventually falling in a shootout.

Despite giving up the first two goals, the Blackhawks rallied to score five straight and hung on for their first victory against the Golden Knights. They also won back-to-back games for the first time this season and improved to 3-0-1 in their last four games.

"It's good for the guys, good confidence boost," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "A reminder that we're trending the right way. By no means are we perfect. We got lots of work to do but that's a good team and they're going to be a top team this year, no question, and we took two points in their barn."

2. Wild end-to-end action

The Blackhawks know that their new schematic change will make for some entertaining hockey games. It will be high risk, high reward and fast-paced. And that's exactly what Wednesday was: a track meet between two teams that like to play quick.

The Blackhawks and Golden Knights combined for 116 shot attempts, 68 shots on goal, 59 total scoring chances, 36 high-danger chances (according to Natural Stat Trick) and eight goals. Each team also had a penalty shot, but Zack Smith rang his shot off the crossbar 44 seconds into the game, and Jonathan Marchessault missed on his in the second period.

"Tonight was kind of a track meet," Calvin de Haan said. "We were taking a lot of odd-man rushes here and there, but we were creating a ton at the same time. Obviously we just out-capitalized them. These guys play hard at home and we weathered their storm. It was a fun game to play overall, but there's some things we can clean up. But we got the two points and it's about wins and losses."

3. Blackhawks score five in a row

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in each of their previous three games, the Blackhawks found themselves on the other side of that on Wednesday, with the Golden Knights striking twice in the opening 6:29.

But it didn't faze the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane responded 16 seconds after the Golden Knights went up by two with a goal in his fourth consecutive game, and his team later scored the next four. 

Kane (one goal, two assists) and Dylan Strome (one goal, two assists) each had three-point outings while Kirby Dach (one goal, one assist), Alex DeBrincat (two assists) and Zack Smith (two assists) also had multi-point efforts. It was a huge character win for the Blackhawks.

"That was big," Colliton said of rallying from a two-goal deficit. "Because I thought we were close early. ... We had a decent beginning of the game and we're down 2-0. Maybe five games ago that could have gone south on us but I really liked how we responded."

4. An entertaining goaltending battle between two of the best

When they're both on, Corey Crawford and Marc-Andre Fleury are two of the top goaltenders in the league. And their talents were on full display on national television Wednesday night.

Crawford faced 21 high-danger chances and stopped 39 of 42 shots for a save percentage of .929. Fleury was solid also even though the numbers don’t show it, facing 15 high-danger chances and giving up five goals on 26 shots for a save percentage of .808.

The final score was 5-3, but it could've been much higher if it weren't for the two of them matching high quality save after high quality save throughout the game.

"It was a fast game," Crawford said. "They’re a really good hockey team. I think they lost a few before tonight, so obviously they were gonna be hungry. Seems like they always come out hard in the first period there. But we didn’t fold. We just kept playing. This offense is so good that, we get a little sniff and we’re still in the game. ... It was a fun hockey game."

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Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

The Blackhawks made a schematic change after their four-game road trip and they've seen the benefits of it immediately. They're 2-0-1 in their past three games and have scored 12 goals over that stretch.

We broke down on Monday what changes were made systematically and how it has freed up the offense, but head coach Jeremy Colliton elaborated on it Tuesday and explained the reasoning behind the decision.

"All it is is, our weak side forward, we pushed him up higher in defensive zone coverage," Colliton said. "Before, we had four low a lot of times, to try and overload in certain situations. That's good, it gets you out of D-zone, but the problem is when you win the puck back, a lot of times you're very close together and it's harder to make clean plays, it's harder to exit with space to make plays. So we were having trouble entering the zone.

"There's been a lot of talk about how we have been dumping too many pucks in. Well, we're not trying to dump the puck in, but when you're attacking and you don't have numbers, you don't have space in behind, you have to, you're forced too. I think we're doing a much better job of getting from D-zone clean, because we have a forward a little bit higher, there's a little more space, it happens quicker. And then I think we've done a good job with the low three [of] someone jumping by and then we can create a little bit more space off the rush and we don't have to chip it in. We can enter clean, make some plays and I think the guys are doing very well."

Patrick Kane, who has erupted for seven points (four goals, three assists) in the past three games since the change, sees the change opening up more opportunities for the Blackhawks on offense.

"I think a lot of us probably stressed that there wasn't as much flow to it, for whatever reason that was," Kane said. "They made a change and all of a sudden it seems like we have more options coming out of our end, we have more motion, more speed coming out of our end, which is always a good thing."

The Blackhawks' dump-in rate, as Colliton noted, has been much higher this season and it’s noteworthy because they generated a lot of their offense off the rush last season from mid-December and on. But what we didn’t know was the exact reason why the Blackhawks altered the way they entered the offensive zone.

Aside from the obvious answer of cutting down on neutral zone turnovers and limiting the amount of odd-man rushes against, Colliton notes the Blackhawks were forced to dump it in more because they weren’t entering the zone with numbers. The defensive scheme didn’t really allow them to.

But with the recent fundamental change, the Blackhawks have more options to exit their own zone cleanly, pick up speed through the neutral zone and do what they do best: by carrying the puck in and having more freedom to create offense. It’s something the coaching staff and players discussed with each other, and the consensus is it will maximize the talent of this group.

"We kind of felt it was time," Colliton said. "I mean, we're always talking with them for sure and guys, they want to score more. They want to produce, guys want to make plays. And so we're just trying to find the balance. We want to continue to work on being good defensively, but we've got to score more than them. I think we can still hold onto those defensive gains we've made and score more goals."

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