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.

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

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The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.