Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks working to improve power play

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Blackhawks working to improve power play

DENVER Five Blackhawks gathered on one side of the Magness Arena ice at the University of Denver on Wednesday afternoon. Next five had their turn. Repeat. Practice makes perfect. Or at least, hopefully, it makes production.

The Blackhawks power play has been another source of frustration this season, and especially during this recent 0-5-1 skid. So on Wednesday, with several players out with illnesses, the Blackhawks spent practice solely on that listless power play.

It worked out that the guys who were on the ice are power-play guys. We were moving it around pretty good, said coach Joel Quenneville. That has to be a point of emphasis; that we have to rely on that to get us through tough times. We dont want it to lose momentum for us like it has recently.

That happened as recently as Tuesday night in the Blackhawks 5-2 loss against the Colorado Avalanche. They were down 3-2 in the third period when they went on two power plays within four minutes of each other. The Blackhawks didnt even get a shot on goal in either. Same goes for a first-period power play.

We know if we score a power-play goal last night its a different game. But we didnt, Marian Hossa said. Were just trying to make things more simple, more flowing, get the basics and just take shots at the net. Right now we feel like we can win the games by the power play and were not scoring any goals.

Theyve now gone four consecutive games without a goal on the man advantage (0 for 10). The Blackhawks road power play was ranked eighth in the league prior to Tuesdays game, but recent outings arent helping that figure or the Blackhawks win-loss record.

Its been letting us down and could be a key part of us winning games, said Patrick Kane, who was on the first power-play unit with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Hossa and Brent Seabrook. We practiced it and I think we have some different setups, things to be excited about. Hopefully it starts clicking soon because its a big part of us losing games here.

The Blackhawks are trying to improve a bunch of parts to their game right now. The power play is just one portion thats been struggling.

The power plays huge for us, Sharp said. We want to put teams away and a big goal does a lot. Today we saw some good units and a lot of guys playing different schemes. Its a work in progress.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

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USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

Nick Schmaltz seemed to be everywhere the puck was on Saturday night. Great pursuit of the puck, great passes to Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat and an all-around confidence that’s becoming more apparent by the game.

So has coach Joel Quenneville seen what he’s needed to from Schmaltz at second-line center?

“And more.”

It’s been a pretty impressive showing for Schmaltz this month. The 21-year-old has played in all three of the Blackhawks’ preseason games and keeps getting better in each one. The uncertainty Schmaltz understandably showed as a rookie is gone; the NHL game no longer feels uncomfortable.

“I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, just seeing plays,” Schmaltz said. “I know what I’m doing with the puck before I get it. It feels good and just trying to get better every day.”

Schmaltz and his fellow second liners didn’t connect for goals in the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The three combined for 12 of the Blackhawks’ 54 shots on goal – Kane and DeBrincat each had five – and the chemistry continues to build between the three.

Jonathan Toews talked on Saturday morning of how much more relaxed Schmaltz looks with the puck now, and that was evident again later that night.

“He’s really starting to get comfortable physically at this level,” Toews said. “He thinks the game so well, puts himself in good spots, much like Kaner where he can skate with the puck and use his speed. He has his head up so he backs guys off. Those two were making great plays tonight and Brinksy was fitting in well. They couldn’t buy a goal but Schmaltzy’s getting better and better, and you’re’ seeing that calm poise that he has really come out the more he gets comfortable.”

Schmaltz was likely getting a second-line audition in some capacity this fall; the original thought was at left wing in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s trade. But Schmaltz has always felt at his best at center. He’s showing that. And more.

“It’s always fun to play no matter if it’s preseason or regular season," he said. "I’m always happy to play, especially when you’re playing with great players. I feel like I’m more comfortable in the middle, able to use my speed a little bit more, create more offense that way.

"I think it’s going well. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy.”