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 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.