Five Things from Blackhawks-Predators: Net-front presence

Five Things from Blackhawks-Predators: Net-front presence

Finding another way to win, even with one of the more different hat tricks the Blackhawks have ever seen. You take ‘em how you can get ‘em, and Ryan Hartman and the Blackhawks felt that way, whether it was with his first career hat trick or their 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Indeed, that hat trick made the score look more lopsided than it actually was, but the Blackhawks will take their third victory in a row.

Speaking of heating up, as we look to warmer temperatures – yes, 30 degrees sounds downright balmy right now – let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over the Predators.

1. One interesting, but effective, hat trick. With less than 1:15 remaining in regulation you wouldn’t have expected Ryan Hartman, with one goal at that point, to finish with a hat trick. But two empty-net goals later that’s what Hartman did. Hartman, who also had the reviewed game-winner, got his first empty-net goal with 1:14 remaining and the next with 31.6 seconds remaining. But hey, does it matter two were empty netters? As Patrick Kane said, “I think it’s one of those things where you get your first hat trick and then three or four days from now, no one’s going to even remember that he had two empty net.”

2. Getting to the net. We really can’t underestimate how valuable Artem Anisimov has been, even when he doesn’t score a goal. Exhibit A came in the first period, when Anisimov screened Pekka Rinne as Niklas Hjalmarsson’s fifth goal of the season got through. Richard Panik and Hartman got to the net late, and again the result was a goal. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “normally you need traffic and presence. It’s not easy to get there but that’s the reward, by getting to the front of the net.”

[RELATED: Ryan Hartman's hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Predators]

3. Getting the right response. Artemi Panarin had barely given the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead before the Nashville Predators tied it up in the first period. Part if it was a bad line change, and the Predators took advantage. While the Blackhawks had the right response following Hjalmarsson’s goal the Predators pushed – and just about scored – again following Hartman’s go-ahead goal in the third. Even without P.K. Subban and James Neal, the Predators were still dangerous.

4. Niklas Hjalmarsson’s career-high fifth goal. Sure, Hjalmarsson’s chief job out there is blocking shots, and he does that well. But on Sunday he added some offense, recording his fifth goal of the season. Any time the Blackhawks defensemen are engaged on the offensive side it usually leads to good things. Hjalmarsson will take it. “I just get more pucks through now, I guess. At the same time, it’s a little luck, too,” he said. “I probably could’ve had a couple more the past few seasons. Sometimes you get those lucky bounces. It’s been going in so far, so hopefully it can keep going.”

5. Panarin, anywhere near the left circle, does it again. OK, Panarin was slightly above his normal shooting area – “his backside might’ve been touching the boards,” Kane said. But it was the same result, as Panarin scored his 17th goal of the season. The kid just has an incredible shot and if he’s anywhere in the vicinity you’ve got to expect him to fire it. Again, it’s still stunning how much space he gets around there to take that shot.

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”