Blackhawks' killer instinct returns

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Blackhawks' killer instinct returns

The Blackhawks penalty kill was a thing of beauty in the early season. Its ability to shut opponents down, and score a few short-handed goals to boot, had it ranked in the top five in October.

Then November hit and well, lets just say it dropped. A lot. But in recent games the Blackhawks kill has had the killer instinct again. And on Thursday night, it came up really big at a critical time.

The Blackhawks killed nearly two minutes of a 5 on 3 en route to their 3-2 overtime victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday. It was part of a 6-for-6 penalty kill performance for the Blackhawks, who are 17 of 21 on the kill in their last eight games.

The Islanders 5 on 3 came moments after they scored their first goal to cut the Blackhawks lead to 2-1. The Isles had the momentum and 1:56 on the two-man advantage; but despite four shots on goal, they came up empty.

We got six or seven clears in that time, goaltender Ray Emery said. So thats huge when those guys can put that effort in.

The Blackhawks penalty kill is getting better. No, its certainly not top five in the NHL anymore. Its more like 27th. But considering this teams kill was languishing in last for weeks, its recent performances are encouraging.

Our penalty killing been good for us lately, Duncan Keith said. Its something weve talked about, taking pride in that. Its starting to pay off and help win us hockey games.

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.

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

The Blackhawks' season ended much sooner than expected after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Nashville Predators.

But for some players, their hockey season may not be finished yet.

The IIHF World Championships begin May 5, and an early postseason exit gives several Blackhawks an opportunity to play in the tournament.

With the National Hockey League saying it will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, players may be more inclined to join given the uncertainty of when they'll be able to represent their countries again — if ever, for some.

Here's an update on which Blackhawks players could be participating:

— Patrick Kane said Saturday he's taking the weekend to mull over Team USA's offer, and will make a final decision in the next "day or two."

— Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews each declined their invites from Team Canada, electing to use a lengthy offseason to recharge and focus on training for the 2017-18 NHL season.

— Corey Crawford and Nick Schmaltz said they have not been contacted by their respective countries, but both said they would consider going if they are.

— Artemi Panarin has reportedly already accepted Team Russia's offer to play.

— Niklas Hjalmarsson said he's "thinking about" Team Sweden's offer after the NHL's decision not to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics. "Who knows when I'll ever get a chance to play for my country again, so that might be factor," he said.

— Marcus Kruger said he's talking with Team Sweden officials, and has expressed interest in going.

— Marian Hossa said he informed Team Slovakia that he will not be playing: "Let the young guys play."

— Richard Panik will not be participating either, saying he doesn't want to risk injury as he seeks a new contract.