Blackhawks cruise past Oilers for fifth straight win

Blackhawks cruise past Oilers for fifth straight win

EDMONTON, Alberta – There have been times where the Blackhawks have gone into breaks playing so-so hockey.

They've looked tired, unmotivated, like they've flipped the calendar to their off day a few hours too early. But on Saturday, the Blackhawks looked like a team that was going to earn a few days off.

Richard Panik had two goals and an assist and Jonathan Toews added two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-1 on Saturday night. The Blackhawks went 5-1-0 on their Ice Show trip and enter the break on a five-game winning streak, three points behind the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild.

Patrick Kane had a goal and and two assists. Scott Darling stopped 30 of 31 shots for the victory and Artem Anisimov scored his 20th goal of the season.

The Blackhawks got steadily better on this road trip and they saved their most convincing victory on it for the end.  Patrick Maroon gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead four minutes into the game after Connor McDavid picked Niklas Hjalmarsson's pocket. That was pretty much the last time the Blackhawks were caught playing careful.

"We're playing good hockey," Darling said. "That's a super talented team with a lot of skill. We weathered the storm and took over the game. We played 200-foot hockey and that helped give me an easier night."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Indeed, when the Oilers made mistakes, they capitalized – Trevor van Riemsdyk's goal off Oscar Klefbom's gaffe was one such example. Their power play was stellar. Kane scored from behind the net on one advantage, shooting the puck off Edmonton goaltender Cam Talbot's skate. Panik cleaned up a rebound on the second, which gave the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead late in the second period.

The four-line rotation was evident again but the top line did the most damage. Panik had his second three-point night of the season – his other one was his hat trick against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 15.

"If you get a goal your confidence is high," Panik said. "When you're hot you have to keep doing it as long as it goes because if you go on a cold streak you can go on it for a while. That's what happened to me at the beginning of the season."

Considering how well the Blackhawks are playing right now you wouldn't have been surprised to hear a player or two wish they could delay the bye and keep playing. Nope. As Darling said, "we'll be back pretty quick."

"We'll use it to our advantage," Duncan Keith said. "We'll try to use it to rest up and feel as good as we can, come back and try to carry on the momentum. At the end of the day it's been a good stretch of games here lately. All four lines, defensemen and goalies are playing great. It's just something we can keep in our heads, of what we can do."

The Blackhawks have had a habit of sliding into a break. They could've done it again on Saturday, coming off big victories over the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets and playing on the second night of a back to back. Instead, whatever energy they had remaining, they used it wisely.

"Minny, which had our number going back eight games, we knew the importance of that game. Winnipeg owned four games against us and good response [Friday] night. Earlier this season we got pounded here. Good response all three games," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're certainly happy how we're going into the break. Everyone should enjoy it, knowing we put a nice standard going into it."

Blackhawks make another change, fire Rockford coach Ted Dent

Blackhawks make another change, fire Rockford coach Ted Dent

Ted Dent was another longstanding member of the Blackhawks' organization. On Tuesday, he was the latest to be let go.

Dent, head coach of the Rockford IceHogs for the past six seasons, was fired on Tuesday morning. Dent spent a total of 11 years in the organization; he was the IceHogs' assistant coach for five seasons before taking the head coaching job for the 2011-12 season.

Just over a year ago, the Blackhawks gave Dent a three-year contract extension that was set to run through the end of the 2018-19 season.

"The Chicago Blackhawks thank Ted for all of his contributions throughout his tenure with the organization," Blackhawks general Manager Stan Bowman said. "He played a major role in helping a number of players reach the NHL level with the Chicago Blackhawks, many of whom became Stanley Cup champions. We wish Ted and his family the best."

The IceHogs didn't have the depth this season they had in previous years, and they struggled all season en route to a 25-39-9-3 record. The struggles got worse after the March 1 trade deadline, when the Blackhawks sent Spencer Abbott and Sam Carrick to the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks AHL affiliate). At the time, Abbott led the IceHogs in points with 35 (15 goals, 20 assists) and Carrick was second with 28 points (11 goals 17 assists).

After the two were traded, the IceHogs went 4-12-1.

It's the second consecutive day in which the Blackhawks fired a member of their organization's coaching staff. Mike Kitchen, the Blackhawks' assistant coach since 2010, was fired on Monday. Kitchen and head coach Joel Quenneville have been friends going back to their NHL playing days, when the two were teammates with the Colorado Rockies and the New Jersey Devils. Kitchen was also part of Quenneville's coaching staff in St. Louis.

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman addressed the media on Saturday, he said that there would be change. That started on Monday when assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired.

The move came five days after the Blackhawks were swept out of the first round by the Nashville Predators. Bowman said in a statement that, “we believe this decision is best for our organization moving forward. Mike had an impact on two different Stanley Cup championship teams during his tenure in Chicago. We appreciate his many contributions and wish he and his family success in the future.”

Kitchen has been a member of coach Joel Quenneville’s staff since 2010. The two go back to their playing days, however, when they were teammates with the Colorado Rockies and also the New Jersey Devils. Kitchen was Quenneville’s assistant when the two were with the St. Louis Blues and when Quenneville was fired as Blues coach midway through the 2003-04 season, Kitchen was promoted to head coach.

As part of the Blackhawks’ staff Kitchen’s focus on special teams, mainly the penalty kill. That kill finished the regular season 24th overall in the league, although that has to come with an asterisk. The penalty kill started the 2016-17 season so poorly that it was never going to get too far out of the basement. It did get stronger as the season wore on, and it was fourth overall during the Blackhawks’ short stay in the playoffs.