Chicago Blackhawks

Five Things from Blackhawks-Red Wings: Winning another tight one

Five Things from Blackhawks-Red Wings: Winning another tight one

Let's look at Five Things to take away from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night:

1. Blackhawks' recent dominance against Detroit continues.

The Red Wings own a 336-269-14-84 record all-time in the regular season against Chicago, but it's the Blackhawks that have had their way with their arch rival in recent years.

With Tuesday's 4-3 overtime win, the Blackhawks improved to 12-1-4 in their last 17 meetings against Detroit. The final meeting of the season will be March 10 at the Joe Louis Arena.

"We were asked today, is there still a rivalry between Detroit and us?" Joel Quenneville said after the game. "I think you could sense it right off the bat, in the building, and the fans, and the chants, and the enthusiasm. ... It was fun playing against these guys. I think the players look forward to it because it’s always a good game and playing the right way against them is something we talk about a lot, that you have to do.

"But I still think there’s still some history there that it’s fun playing these guys. There’s a lot of mutual respect."

2. A productive night for the power play.

The Blackhawks had six power-play opportunities, and cashed in on two of those, most notably the game-winner in overtime thanks to a Duncan Keith slapper from the point.

It's an area the Blackhawks are trying to be more consistent in, and it could serve as a springboard going forward.

"The first one was OK, the second and third one we had a lot of chances," said Brian Campbell, who scored the first of two power-play goals. "We had a couple penalties, so you get 10 seconds on the power play, so it's still an 0-for — I know that makes the PP coach not very happy," he joked. "And obviously [Keith], 4-on-3, we haven't had one in a while but we struggled there early in the season so that was big to get that going."

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3. Brian Campbell back on the scoresheet.

Campbell had a 423-game iron-man streak that ended in December, in large part due to a crowded blue line. Nonetheless, he was still a healthy scratch in two of four games last month, but is starting to get more comfortable as of late.

He scored his fourth goal of the season on the power play in the win, which is now tied for second on the team among defensemen. 

"I think we're starting to roll our lines a lot better," he said. "We're picking up the tempo of the game a little more."

That suits Campbell's style.

4. Third line keeps shining.

The Blackhawks' third line of Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero and Richard Panik combined for two goals and three assists, continuing their hot stretch. 

While they didn't have great possession numbers — they're certainly improving — the trio is most importantly gaining Joel Quenneville's trust on both ends of the ice.

"They were great tonight," Quenneville said. "You can talk about each one of them and describe their game. They’ve got some physicality in the puck area, they’ve got some separation, counter hits where they’ve got the puck protected. And made some good plays off the rush. They go to the net, they hang around the net. All their goals were like that.

"But they generated a lot of offense and offensive zone time, as well. They’re getting better. That line was outstanding."

5. Blackhawks win another tight one.

The Blackhawks' success in tight games continued with Tuesday's overtime win, improving to 17-6-5 in one-goal games this season. 

What gives?

Keith: "We've played a lot of tight games, and I think that's a good thing. We're finding ways to win some of them. I think we know that there's still room for improvement if we want to be a team that goes all the way. We're not going to get ahead of ourselves. We know there's still half a season here, but we've done good things. We're trying to get better."

Quenneville: "We had a lot of close games. Every game, you look around the league, they’re close games. I think the number of overtime games is a little higher than we’ve seen in the past. Everybody plays comparable. All the teams are pretty even. You look at the standings, you see just about every team .500 or above. I think 28 of the 30 are almost in that same neighborhood. I think teams know how to play to keep themselves in games. And then the score dictates a lot of the way the game is being played. Seems like there’s so much balance in the league, the parity’s as good as it’s ever been, or close as it’s ever been."

Blackhawks’ likely backup Anton Forsberg passes first test

Blackhawks’ likely backup Anton Forsberg passes first test

For Anton Forsberg, the challenges were going to come early. It wasn’t just getting the start for the Blackhawks’ first preseason game, it was getting tested early and often in that game on Tuesday night.

A small sample size, but Forsberg had a strong preseason debut. And if he can continue off that start, he’ll be the latest in a successful run of backup goaltenders here.

With a young Blackhawks group in front of him, Forsberg was a steady presence in net. He stopped 38 of 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 5-2 victory; that included 14 shots in the first period, when penalties added up and the Blackhawks were on the short end of a 5-on-3 for 54 seconds.

“It’s always nice to get a couple of shots. The first one hit my chest so I got the feel for the puck and I feel like it’s nice (rather than) standing there and waiting for the first shot,” he said. “It was coming a couple quick ones there right away. After that I was in the game and it was pretty easy to keep going.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said Forsberg looked comfortable immediately.

“For the guys who played in front of him, I think he showed a lot. Organizationally it was nice to see him battle through a lot of traffic and action around his net. He fought through a busy game and did an outstanding job,” he said. “It gives you confidence as well knowing, going forward, you’re comfortable in your new surroundings and go off of these levels, which would be a good beginning.”

The Blackhawks hope Forsberg is the latest in a recent line of successful backup goaltenders they’ve had. It’s been quite a run, from Ray Emery to Antti Raanta to Scott Darling. Forsberg’s NHL experience is minimal – he played in nine games for the Blue Jackets the last two seasons. But neither Raanta nor Darling had played an NHL game prior to joining the Blackhawks and clearly that didn’t prove to be an issue.

General manager Stan Bowman said in July, when the Blackhawks traded for Forsberg as part of the deal that brought Brandon Saad back, that Forsberg had earned the chance at the backup job. The Blackhawks signed Jean-François Bérubé on July 1 but, as of now, it looks like the backup job is Forsberg’s to lose. Whoever earns the job has to be prepared because the Blackhawks have had to rely on their backups for extended times. Corey Crawford has been sidelined several times in recent seasons, including last year when he missed nearly all of December with appendicitis – Darling started 11 consecutive games during that stretch.

“We know the emphasis on goaltending is huge and having confidence and trust no matter who’s in the net. For the team, just having that confidence in that guy in the net is a big factor. Coming in here early and demonstrating that can help him as well, getting comfortable with his teammates,” Quenneville said. “We’d love to see him continue on, knowing that he could be a big part of our team.”

Playing against his former team was motivation enough on Tuesday. But for Forsberg it’s about the opportunity ahead of him, not the one he didn’t really get in the past. The Blackhawks have done well in this department the last few seasons. If Forsberg can continue to advance past Tuesday’s start, the Blackhawks could have another strong 1-2 punch in goal again.

“It's always fun to play old teammates and my old team, but it’s a game and it’s my first game [with the Blackhawks]. I've got to [give] a good first impression and I do whatever I can to do that,” he said. “I felt like it turned out pretty well.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 win over Blue Jackets in preseason opener

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 win over Blue Jackets in preseason opener

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Tuesday's preseason opener:

1. Anton Forsberg sharp in debut.

The former Blue Jackets netminder who was acquired by the Blackhawks in the Artemi Panarin-Brandon Saad offseason deal shined in his first game action with his new club, stopping 38 of 40 shots he faced. Many of them were quality saves, too.

He was a perfect 14-for-14 in the first period, with eight of those coming while Columbus was on the power play, which also included a 5-on-3 stretch. He stood tall and looked comfortable in net, and it's an encouraging sign for the Blackhawks who are hoping he can become a reliable backup goaltender to ease the load off Corey Crawford.

2. Cody Franson, Jan Rutta stand out on defense.

The Blackhawks brought in Franson on a professional tryout agreement, and he didn't waste any time making his presence felt. The 30-year-old defenseman recorded four of the team's nine shots in the opening frame, all of which came on the power play, and the fourth one found the back of the net to open up the scoring. He served as a solid quarterback on the man advantage, and wasn't afraid to utilize his heavy shot.

Rutta was no different. He led all skaters with 23:52 of ice time, and was rewarded with a goal in the second period after his slapshot from the point bounced off the boards, ricocheted off the back of Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo's skate and trickled into the net. The 27-year-old Czech defenseman also registered two blocked shots and had two of the club's seven takeaways.

3. Nick Schmaltz's confidence and game continues to grow.

There is a noticeable difference in Schmaltz's confidence and game this year compared to last year. He looks bigger, faster and more confident with the puck, and his strong showing at training camp translated into the first preseason game.

Serving as the first-line center, Schmaltz led all Chicago forwards with 18:03 of ice time and spent time on both the power play and penalty kill units. He showed off his wicked wrist shot with a goal in the second period to make it 4-0, and displayed his playmaking ability by recording a primary assist on Franson's goal. He was one of four Blackhawks who had multi-point efforts in the win (Franson, Tomas Jurco and Graham Knott).

4. Blackhawks finish strong in faceoff department after rough start.

The Blackhawks ranked second-to-last in faceoff win percentage last year at 47.5, and they appeared to be headed down that path again. They opened the game 0-for-8 at the dot, but ended up finishing strong by winning 37 of the next 60 draws for a win percentage of 61.7. Matthew Highmore, Vinnie Hinostroza, Graham Knott and John Mitchell led the way by combining to go 19 of 25 (76 percent) at the circle.

5. NHL cracking down on several rules.

The league has made it clear about its intentions of laying down the law regarding a few rules and it was evident Tuesday that they won't be messing around. Seventeen penalties were called in the game, including five slashing and two faceoff violations.

Those are the two areas that will be focused on closely, the former in an effort to protect the NHL's stars and the latter to ensure a fair chance for both centers. Prepare for more whistles and power plays early on.