Chicago Blackhawks

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.

Jonathan Toews explains why he altered his offseason training regime: 'I might have overdone it'

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Jonathan Toews explains why he altered his offseason training regime: 'I might have overdone it'

Days after the Blackhawks were swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Jonathan Toews made it known that he wanted to make "some little changes" to his offseason training program.

He went on to say that he never quite reached the level of play that he wanted to during the 2016-17 season after scoring a career-low 21 goals and totaling 58 points for the second straight year. Not bad, but not great by his standards.

In a recent interview with Sportsnet's Chris Johnston, Toews opened up about why he altered his offseason regime from the previous year.

“Last summer is the first time I really got the time to train really hard and I might have overdone it in the wrong way," Toews admitted. "Just worrying about power and strength all the time. I came into the season and just couldn’t move, just felt slow. I mean the game is so fast nowadays. It’s kind of a wake-up call in that sense.”

The game indeed is getting faster, and younger players are breaking into the league much quicker because of it. Look no further than Connor McDavid, who's quickly emerged as the face of the NHL.

It's also evident after watching the Pittsburgh Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups with their speed, not necessarily grit.

Toews recognizes that, and it's why he's making the necessary changes to help return to top form and get the Blackhawks back on track in doing so.

“When you see the top players nowadays they’re all on the ice,” Toews said. “They’re on the ice all the time just working on skill and that’s something I’m really going to focus on going forward.

"Just getting back to playing with the puck, knowing that that’s the type of player I am, and not just being overly concerned with the defensive two-way hockey but knowing that I can go out there and contribute with the best of them, too, if I put my mind to it a little bit more.”

Projecting Blackhawks' Opening Day lineup in 2017-18

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USA TODAY

Projecting Blackhawks' Opening Day lineup in 2017-18

With Blackhawks single-game tickets having gone on sale Monday — and less than a month away from the first preseason game of the 2017-18 season — it's time to start breaking down what the team's lineup could look like on Opening Day.

Brian Campbell, Scott Darling, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Artemi Panarin and Trevor van Riemsdyk were among Chicago's key departures in an offseason makeover, along with Marian Hossa, who's sitting out the upcoming campaign with a medical condition.

There are plenty of important shoes to fill. So how will the reformed Blackhawks stack up?

Let's give it a crack.

(A quick note: All indications are that the Blackhawks will place Hossa on long-term injured reserve as soon as the regular season starts, so we didn't include him on the 23-man Opening Day roster even though he will be. Instead, we added an extra player we believe will serve as the 23rd man going forward.)

First line: Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Richard Panik

Second line: Patrick Sharp - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane

Third line: Ryan Hartman - Nick Schmaltz - Tomas Jurco

Fourth line: Lance Bouma - Tanner Kero - Tommy Wingels

Extras: Jordin Tootoo

Thoughts: 

— It's practically a lock that Joel Quenneville will open the season with Saad-Toews-Panik at the top, but that doesn't necessarily mean it'll stay that way or finish like that. At the Blackhawks Convention in July, Quenneville toyed with the idea of even putting Sharp on the first unit alongside Saad and Toews after the 35-year-old veteran looked "unbelievable" in the gym during offseason workouts.

— Speaking of Sharp, we're slotting him in at that second-line left wing position to start based off Quenneville's high praise of the winger. And it makes sense, trying to rekindle some magic with Kane off the bat and provide stability on the top-six while spreading out the bottom-six.

— Schmaltz could certainly be a candidate to jump up to the second line with Anisimov and Kane (or perhaps even swap center positions with Anisimov, but we won't get cute early on). The lack of center depth, however, might force him into a third-line center role to start, which isn't the worst idea. He won only 30.9 percent of his faceoffs last season, and the only way to get better is by taking more reps. 

— Hartman and Jurco each spent more time on the left wing than right with the Blackhawks last year, but Jurco played more on the right side in Detroit so that's where we pegged him here. He's probably going to get a longer leash to nail down a full-time spot, and be put in a position to succeed in a third-line role. 

— To round out the four-line rotation, Kero is surely going to play the role of Kruger by handling the bulk of defensive zone draws with newly-signed versatile forwards Bouma and Wingels serving as his wingmen. Tootoo comes in as the extra. 

— It will be tempting to throw highly-touted prospect Alex DeBrincat into the fire right away, but there's no need to rush it and we don't believe the Blackhawks will, either. He's still only 19 years old, and it'd be asking way too much of the 5-foot-7, 170-pound OHL player of the year to log important minutes straight out of juniors.

— That leaves Laurent Dauphin, Alexandre Fortin, John Hayden, Vinnie Hinostroza and David Kampf off the roster for now as well, and it's not a bad thing. There just isn't enough room for everybody, and their developments are better served playing every day in the AHL rather than being fringe players in the NHL and taking turns sitting in the press box.

No. 1 defensive pairing: Duncan Keith - Connor Murphy

No. 2 defensive pairing: Michal Kempny - Brent Seabrook

No. 3 defensive pairing: Gustav Forsling - Jan Rutta

Extras: Jordan Oesterle, Michal Rozsival

Thoughts:

— First off, there is no replacing Hjalmarsson. He was a linch-pin on the Blackhawks' blue line for a decade. It will take a collective effort to help alleviate that loss. While Murphy's defensive game needs improvement, he has to be the favorite to play alongside Keith strictly based on balancing out the rotation. It also helps that he's a right-handed shot, complementing the left-handed two-time Norris Trophy winner.

— Kempny and Seabrook had really strong possession numbers together last season, and should formulate the second unit. Kempny struggled to anchor down an every-day spot in his rookie campaign because of his defensive inconsistencies, but Quenneville is likely to give him an extended leash just like he did with the youngsters last year, simply because he has to.

— Forsling showed real promise in training camp a year ago, and it was enough to break last year's Opening Day roster. He stayed on for the first half before being assigned to Rockford, but it was necessary for his development in order to secure a full-time spot this year.

— Oesterle and Rutta — and perhaps even prospect Ville Pokka — are expected to vie for the sixth spot, with Rozsival serving as the seventh defenseman for insurance. We have the 27-year-old Czech defenseman getting the first crack at it, but it could be an ongoing competition for much of the year.

Starting goaltender: Corey Crawford

Backup goaltender: Anton Forsberg

Thoughts:

— For the first time in a while, the Blackhawks are heading into the season with some uncertainty surrounding their backup goaltending situation. Crawford is the clear-cut starter, but for two-plus years the Blackhawks felt like they've always had two No. 1s with Darling.

— Forsberg legitimately might be the X-factor for the Blackhawks' season. Darling appeared in 32 games last season, and 29 the year before, essentially starting one-third of the team's games over the last two years. And he thrived in that role. Forsberg has high potential, but can he take that next step and be a consistent goaltender the Blackhawks need him to be? That's the question that nobody can answer until we actually see it.

— If the Forsberg experiment doesn't work out, or they prefer to enhance his development with every-day starts in Rockford, the Blackhawks signed Jean-Francois Berube who could see some playing time. But it's Forsberg's job to lose.