Blackhawks power play finds a cure in Columbus

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Blackhawks power play finds a cure in Columbus

COLUMBUS, Ohio Ugly losses against Vancouver and St. Louis had the Blackhawks stewing, and they needed to put that angst back in their game.

So on Thursday they took their frustrations out on the Blue Jackets.

Jonathan Toews scored two goals and Steve Montador recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick in the Blackhawks 6-3 victory over Columbus at Nationwide Arena. The Blackhawks, who were without center Dave Bolland, stopped their two-game losing streak clicking twice on the power play and re-igniting their offense.

And it started and sometimes ended with the Blackhawks defensemen, who combined for eight points on Thursday night. Brent Seabrook and Nick Leddy each had two assists.

I think that makes a big difference when were part of the attack, said Duncan Keith. It alleviates some of the pressure on our forwards, as far as giving them some room. All of the defensemen were better at that tonight.

That includes Montador, who got his goal his first of the season and his assist on his first night on the Blackhawks power play. As Toews said, he made a good argument to be out there. That, coupled with his first-period fight with former Blackhawks defenseman James Wisniewski, earned him the Howe trick.

Hes the first Blackhawks player to have one since March 27, 2009, when Seabrook did it in a 3-2 overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils.

I wanted to have success. I didnt picture this exactly but its definitely exciting to be part of contributing to the success, he said. Sometimes you get on the score sheet, sometimes you dont. Its just about being in front of the net, so its pretty familiar. You have to be an outlet for someone.

Andrew Brunette scored his third power-play goal of the season. Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa also scored; Corey Crawford stopped 27 of 30 for the victory.

The Blackhawks wanted to get going quick on Thursday night and, for the most part, did that. Scoring five straight goals from Toews late first-period score to Hossas early third-period one didnt hurt their cause, either.

Neither did scoring on that much-maligned power play.

Were not talking about (power-play) rank this or that; were just going to stick with it, Toews said with a grin. It doesnt matter who scores the goals or how. Its just the fact that one of our units can go out there and make something happen. Thats what youre looking for.

The Blackhawks defensive core is deep and experienced. On Thursday, they were also the teams biggest catalysts for breaking out of the mini-slump.

I thought our D was very noticeable tonight, coach Joel Quenneville said. We create so much off that and our team game really picks up. It seemed like we had better rotation (on the forward lines), but I thought the D was spearheading the attack.

Kane-like goal?
Jonathan Toews second goal on Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason was from a deep angle, one very similar to the one Patrick Kane had on his Stanley Cup-winning goal two seasons ago.

I dont think Kaner would admit he was shooting for a rebound there, said Toews, who added thats what he was trying to do. I think it just fooled him. It was a tricky shot and it happened to sneak through. I dont think youre going to get that same statement out of (Kane).

Bolland out

Dave Bolland was out of Thursday nights game. Bolland, who blocked a shot off his right foot against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, was seen wearing a walking boot on Thursday. His status for Fridays game against the Calgary Flames is unknown.

Briefly

Daniel Carcillo took an unknown number of stitches in his upper and bottom lip after taking a puck to the mouth. He returned to finish the game, assisting on Kanes breakaway goal.

In honor of Veterans Day, the Blackhawks will sport their camouflage jerseys in warmups when they host the Flames on Friday night.

Nick Leddys eight assists are the most among Blackhawks defenseman.

Marian Hossas goal was his team-leading eighth. Jonathan Toews is next with seven.

Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz's game has made tremendous strides since he came back from Rockford. He's has the puck more. He's playing with more confidence. He's recognizing when to hold onto the puck and when to give it up. 

Now to improve in one other category.

"I've been telling myself that for years now to shoot the puck and I still don't do it enough," Schmaltz said with a little smile. "Definitely shoot more and just play my game."

That, like everything else, will come with confidence more play but there's no doubt Schmaltz is making a bigger impact these past few weeks. Schmaltz celebrated his 21st birthday on Thursday with another multi-point night, this time a goal and an assist in the Blackhawks' 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. The rookie is brimming with confidence as part of the Blackhawks' surging top line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik and has nine points over his last seven games.

For Schmaltz, every lessoned learned this season, including the ones from Rockford, has been put to good use the past few weeks.

"We're just having the puck more. That's my game. I like to have the puck, hold onto it and make plays," Schmaltz said. "I'm making more plays off the rush, in the zone. I'm definitely more accustomed to playing this style and hopefully we can keep it going because I know that's how the Blackhawks have played in the past. And it only helps our team game when every line is playing well."

The Blackhawks have developed a better four-line rotation and a big part of that is the chemistry Schmaltz, Toews and Panik have formed on that top line. Panik said he's seen the change in Schmaltz lately.

"I think he just holds onto the puck more," Panik said. "He doesn't give it up quickly and that's what he's good at, just possession with the puck and making a space for him and he finds me or Toews."

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday]

Coach Joel Quenneville was particularly complimentary of Schmaltz's game in Minnesota, which featured a "spectacular" pass to Toews on what was the captain's second goal of the night. 

"The one thing we want him to do is play with the puck, play to his strengths and have it. Now he wants it," Quenneville said. "He had the puck a lot [on Thursday], like he did in Minnesota. I just think he's improved his pace and his strength in the puck area is coming along. For young guys, that's always an area where you get better over your first few years. But the quickness and confidence with the puck is definitely more noticeable."

Sure, Schmaltz should shoot more. In his time with the Blackhawks Schmaltz has had two or fewer shots in all but one game (Nov. 23 vs. the San Jose Sharks). When he has shot lately it's led to good results. Sometimes the decision to shoot is easy — please see the 2-on-1 with him and Toews to start Thursday's game — but the Blackhawks want to see him take a few more chances.

"You're a young guy and sometimes you feel the need to move the puck a little bit but he rolled that half wall early in the Minnesota game and we kept saying, ‘Shoot the puck, think shot, think shot,'" Quenneville said. "I think that will open up his other options and all of a sudden they're going to have to respect him coming out of those tight areas with a quick snap shot in that area. He can work and get better in that area knowing, get a little more comfortable with it, snapping it."

The Blackhawks have shown steady improvement this season. The same goes for Schmaltz. The start of the season was a little rough and not surprisingly so; the transition from college to pro isn't easy. But Schmaltz is now looking like he belongs here, and he wants to keep building.

"I feel I'm playing at a high level, where I need to be. But I can't get happy or complacent in my game," Schmaltz said. "I have to keep working and keep that level as high as possible."

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

The Blackhawks were finally getting healthy and now may be missing a key player once again. That depends on how Niklas Hjalmarsson feels after suffering an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

It was certainly the toughest part of the Blackhawks' victory, a 6-3 triumph that has the Blackhawks closing in on the Wild. We'll see what the Hjalmarsson update is over the weekend. Until then, let's look at the notables from this one.

What Worked: The offense. We'll give an honorable mention to the penalty kill, which snuffed out all of the Coyotes' chances including a double minor that overlapped the second and third periods. But the offense was just buzzing again. Here's another shocker: the top line is still working just fine. The trio got things started with Nick Schmaltz's goal just 37 seconds into the game (Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik assisted). And much like in their meeting with the Coyotes earlier this month, the Blackhawks needed just about every bit of that offense. While we're on this topic...

What Didn't Work: The first-period defense. The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape up 3-1 but then they gave up two goals within a minute late in the period. Michal Rozsival had a rough start in his first game since Jan. 15, but overall, the Blackhawks' defense through that first period looked discombobulated. Obviously, it didn't help that the Blackhawks lost Hjalmarsson during the first, either.

[RELATED: Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes]

Star of the game: Patrick Kane. One game after Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick Kane did the same, scoring his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. On a night in which the Blackhawks dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Kane got a little extra playing time. His first goal came on a first-period shift with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero, the second off a long pass from Brent Seabrook and the third with his usual line mates.

He Said It: "I didn't play much before I got hurt, then I missed four weeks with my injury. It wasn't easy but definitely the way the team's playing now, it made it easier for me. It felt like the first game of the season for me but glad we got the victory and glad I was back playing. I enjoyed it." — Michal Rozsival on returning to the Blackhawks' lineup. 

By the Numbers: 

6 – Number of times, in their last eight games, the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals.

342 – Assists for Jonathan Toews, who tied Dennis Hull for 12th all-time in franchise history in that category.

35 – Combined points for the Blackhawks' top liners Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik in their nine games together. The breakdown in those nine games: Toews has 16 points, Panik 10 and Schmaltz nine.

1997 – The last time the Blackhawks had hat tricks in back-to-back regular-season games. Alexei Zhamnov and Eric Daze had them on April 11 and April 13, 1997, respectively.