Despite leading Western Conference, Blackhawks want more consistent play in season's second half

Despite leading Western Conference, Blackhawks want more consistent play in season's second half

The Blackhawks headed into Saturday liking how they fared the two previous nights, taking four points and busting out of a pre- and post-Christmas slump.

Are they happy with their overall game? Well, not quite. Just past the midway point of their season — they played their 42nd game on Friday, a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes — the Blackhawks will take where they are in the Western Conference standings. But they know that playing complete games was an issue through the first 42 and that they have to shore up a few things in the final 40.

“I think the last couple we’ve started well and before that, we weren’t starting the way we liked,” Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “We just have to find that consistency, making sure you start on time, making sure you’re setting the tone for the games so you don’t feel like you’re chasing it the whole night.”

The starts, or lack thereof, have been a nonstop narrative for the Blackhawks this season. The Blackhawks were out-shot in many first periods this season, though we have to be careful in judging off that. In a lot of those games, Friday night’s included, they led after one despite being out-shot by a solid margin. It’s more about the lack of energy they’ve showed and the quality scoring opportunities they’ve allowed.

What’s helped the Blackhawks out of those sluggish starts is their comeback ability and, more than anything, their goaltending. What the Blackhawks are ultimately looking for in the second half is more consistent outings to help that goaltending.

“We need to play all 60 because in the past we’ve had bad starts but good finishes and sometimes we have good starts but not good finishes,” Artem Anisimov said. “We just need to play all 60 minutes, how we can play.”

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There’s another, more positive way to look at the Blackhawks’ first half. Despite a horrendous start to the penalty kill, they’re leading the conference. Despite several key injuries (Jonathan Toews missed nine games, van Riemsdyk missed 20, Corey Crawford was out 10 and Marian Hossa missed five), they’re still in good shape. Despite less depth at forward and the ongoing search for a top-line left wing, the Blackhawks are winning.

Credit young players for progressing well, perhaps faster than expected. Ryan Hartman is emerging as a strong player who has seven goals and draws more penalties than he commits. Vinnie Hinostroza is gaining confidence in his game and trust from his coaches.

But if you’re looking to make the postseason and go on another playoff run, you don’t rest on being satisfied with where you are. The Blackhawks have scratched and clawed and goaltended their way to a very good first half. They’ll have to be better in a few areas to replicate that in the second half.

“Obviously we have to step everything up,” Dennis Rasmussen said. “Play better as we get to the second half here, work on the small things and do them right.”

Artemi Panarin shows off Duncan Keith's Russian singing skills

Artemi Panarin shows off Duncan Keith's Russian singing skills

Duncan Keith isn't quitting his day job anytime soon, but maybe he can moonlight as a Russian singer.

Artemi Panarin — Keith's Blackhawks teammate and a native of Korkino, Russia — posted an Instagram video Friday of Keith signing along to a song called "Gop-Stop:"

Канадский #розенбаум 😂 Canadian #singer @dk_2_

A video posted by @artemiypanarin on

Here's the YouTube video of the song, which is a famous Russian gangster song:

This is exactly what social media was made for: Bringing worlds together for the amusement and entertainment of others.

Also, hat/tip to Keith for his quality singing/rapping skills.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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