Blackhawks survive see-saw affair in shootout

602906.png

Blackhawks survive see-saw affair in shootout

The Blackhawks defensive game still isnt where it needs to be; but sometimes you take the two points and go from there.

Jonathan Toews scored a short-handed goal in regulation, then added the shootout winner in the Blackhawks 5-4 decision over the New York Islanders at the United Center. The Blackhawks have now won three of their last four games and are tied with Detroit for the second-most points in the Western Conference (33).

But it got interesting in the third period, when a determined Islanders team outshot the Blackhawks 23-7. The Blackhawks had given up just 15 shots in the previous two periods.

The first 10 minutes we took it to them; then that third period we got away from it again. Its something we need to address, said defenseman Sean ODonnell, who assisted on Andrew Brunettes goal in the first period. The win was nice, but its not the kind of hockey we want to play.

Coach Joel Quenneville said the better defense was there in the first two periods but panic seemed to set in during that third.

We have to be more composed, particularly when the games on the line in our own end, he said. The D-zone coverage got way out of sorts. We need to tighten it up and trust we have to play our own positions. We really ran around there in the third. We didnt like the way we played in our own end for sure.

The Blackhawks got enough offense on the other side to force shootout. Ben Smith scored his first of the season and Patrick Sharp added a power-play goal in the third. Toews, who has been stellar this past month, bested Islanders goaltender and Chicago-area native Al Montoya with a wrister in the shootout.

Corey Crawford, who stopped 37 of 41 in regulation -- including 21 of 23 in the third period stopped two of the Islanders shootout attempts. Matt Moulson hit the post on his shot.

No, it wasnt a comfortable victory. The Blackhawks are still giving up a lot of offense to teams that usually dont score much. The Islanders are currently ranked last in the league in goals per game with 2.04, and thats including tonights game.

They found a way to win on Friday. But they know defensive problems still exist. The more they tighten things up, the less theyll be sweating these out.

(There were) just a couple little mistakes that we have to get after and learn from, especially late in that game where were protecting a lead. If we do that, well be a little more relaxed, a little more comfortable in the third period trying to go for two points, Toews said. Either way, we found a way to win, and get two points. We just have to be better in those certain areas.

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.