Hurting Blackhawks limp into All-Star break

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Hurting Blackhawks limp into All-Star break

Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 10:55 p.m.

The Blackhawks found out on Saturday what happens when youre not careful against the opportunistic Nashville Predators. They got a refresher course on Tuesday night.

Craig Smith and Mike Fisher scored off Blackhawks turnovers, and Pekka Rinne stopped 24 of 25 in the Predators 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks. It was the second consecutive loss for the Blackhawks, who were without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp and had five rookies in their lineup. They dropped to sixth in the Western Conference and fourth in the Central Division.

It definitely was not the way the Blackhawks wanted to go into the lengthy All-Star break.

Its just the way it is against Nashville: you need to have a good start and unfortunately just a couple of breakdowns cost us goals, defenseman Duncan Keith said. Weve done some good things, but these last two games against Nashville we werent happy with the way things went. We got behind early and unfortunately you cant get behind these guys.

Dave Bolland scored a power-play goal with 12:40 remaining in regulation, but the Blackhawks could get nothing more off the Predators goaltender. Nashville forward Colin Wilson scored an empty-net, power-play goal with 13 seconds remaining.

Corey Crawford allowed two goals on 25 shots.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday morning that the Blackhawks had to take a business-like approach into this pre-break finale. But they were careless early with the puck, and it cost them twice.

We sagged off that first goal; we lost a lot of momentum, Quenneville said. The start was OK, but for most of the first and all second we didnt have anything going. No pace. They were stronger in the puck area; very noticeable.

Defensive lapses have been a sore spot for the Blackhawks a few times this season. And the Predators, with their stifling brand of hockey, can be dominant with a two-goal lead.

We thought coming in it would be a grinding, low-scoring game. We had those two unfortunate giveaways -- mine was the first -- and you cant do that to a team like this, Sean ODonnell said. It was a big one going into the break and we just made some mental mistakes in the first that cost us.

The Blackhawks will have some time to get away from hockey and regroup for the stretch run. There isnt much wiggle room in the Central or West, and the Blackhawks will have to shore things up defensively if they want to be back atop both of them.

Its a tough loss, Crawford said. You look at the other teams in our division, it seems like everyones rolling right now. Were kind of up and down. Well see where we are when we start rolling after a couple games.

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

The Blackhawks strengthened their organizational depth Thursday, announcing the signing of forward Nathan Noel to a three-year entry-level contract that kicks in next season and runs through the 2019-20 campaign. 

Noel, a fourth-round draft pick (No. 113 overall) in 2016, tied a career high with 24 goals — including six game winners — and added 26 assists for 50 points in 52 games during his fourth regular season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was sidelined for a little more than a month in December and January due to an upper-body injury.

The 19-year-old center has raised his game in the postseason, racking up eight goals and 18 assists in 33 games from 2015-17, including six assists in 12 contests so far during the 2017 QMJHL playoffs. Across four years at Saint John, he amassed 208 points (85 goals, 123 assists) in 242 career regular-season games.

Noel is teammates with forward Matthew Highmore, who leads the Sea Dogs in scoring and was signed by the Blackhawks in March to a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent.

Noel is an undersized forward at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but he's a fast skater with offensive upside. He'll likely start the 2017-18 season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, who desperately needed scoring last year. 

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Nick Schmaltz will be joining Blackhawks teammate Trevor van Riemsdyk on Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, the club announced Thursday.

It will be his first career appearance on the U.S. men's national team and third time representing his country in world-championship play, most recently winning a bronze medal at the 2016 World Juniors. He scored two goals and added six assists in seven games during that tournament.

Schmaltz just completed his first professional season with the Blackhawks, where he tallied six goals and 22 assists in 61 games. 

After the year ended, he spoke about the possibility of playing for USA in this tournament and what it would mean to him.

"I think it's a great tournament," Schmaltz said. "You get to play with a lot of great players. Look like a lot of great players are going to the tournament, so it's definitely a big stage. It would be a fun tournament."

The roster now includes 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. Among the other NHLers going for the Americans: Danny DeKeyser, Noah Hanifin, Jimmy Howard, Dylan Larkin, Anders Lee, Charlie McAvoy, Connor Murphy, Brock Nelson and Jacob Trouba.

Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger (Sweden) and Artemi Panarin (Russia) will also compete in the tournament, which begins May 5 and runs until May 21 in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.