Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews and consistent linemates 'makes a world of difference'

Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews and consistent linemates 'makes a world of difference'

For several games now Jonathan Toews’ glances to line mates have been to the same players: Nick Schmaltz to his left and Richard Panik to his right. The same guys for more than a game or two. Not bad, really.

“It makes a world of difference,” Toews said. “We were talking on the bench and we had a couple of goals midway through the game [on Wednesday]. We got that confidence going and we want to build on it and not just sit around and be OK with it.”

When the Blackhawks make changes it’s usually to provide a spark or get more of a four-line rotation. But there’s something to be said for familiarity, and especially giving your captain a chance to have some of that. Schmaltz, Toews and Panik, first put together on Feb. 2 against the Arizona Coyotes, have started to click. After each scored a goal in the Blackhawks’ victory over Minnesota, the three combined for six points in the team’s 5-1 triumph over Edmonton on Saturday night.

Panik said giving the three a chance to figure things out has been beneficial.

“Sometimes it happens overnight when you click with someone and the chemistry’s there. Sometimes you have to work on it, watch videos and talk about plays. That’s what we were trying to do, just talk to each other and figure out where we should be,” Panik said. “So it’s started working the last couple of games so we’ll just keep doing it.”

It’s also about knowing how and when to feed off each other, when to be selfish and when to give up the puck. When Schmaltz went to the top line the concern was him passing to Toews too often instead of taking his own opportunities. Schmaltz has fallen into that trap now and then but he’s also has not been shy about calling for the puck, as he did to Toews for his fourth goal of the season on Wednesday.

“[We talk] a lot, especially on our goal there. He told me he didn’t even see me, he just heard me and kind of threw it to that area,” Schmaltz said. “Communication is huge and the more we talk, you just know if you have pressure, if you have time, stuff like that. We’ll keep talking and keep building the chemistry.”

The top line’s budding chemistry benefits the Blackhawks overall, but especially Toews. In his last five games, Toews has two goals and five assists.

As Panik said, you can’t always assume chemistry will be there right way. The Blackhawks’ latest top line was given a chance to formulate some and they’ve done that. They’ve collected some points and confidence, too.

“I think when you start playing well or start getting a feel for what it’s like to play with a couple of line mates you want to continue to build on that confidence… be predictable and make plays and know where everyone is going to be on the ice,” Toews said. “I think we’ll look to keep working on that. Whether they go in or not I think as long as we’re working, we’ll get our chances.”

Blackhawks send four to Rockford

EDMONTON, Alberta – For most of the Blackhawks, this week will be for rest. For some of the team’s younger players, however, it’s time to go back to work.

The Blackhawks sent defenseman Gustav Forsling and forwards Vinnie Hinostroza, Tanner Kero and Nick Schmaltz to the Rockford IceHogs. The IceHogs face Milwaukee today and Cleveland on Wednesday and Saturday.

Additionally, the Blackhawks activated defenseman Michal Rozsival from injured reserve.

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”