Chicago Blackhawks

Defense saves Sox, costs Tigers

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Defense saves Sox, costs Tigers

The AL Central-favorite Tigers' greatest weakness was on display to the sellout crowd of 38,676 at U.S. Cellular Field Friday, with Miguel Cabrera and Delmon Young doing nothing to dispel the notion that they're both defensive liabilities.

Young botched a pair of balls hit his direction, the second of which led to the White Sox adding an insurance run in the eighth. And Cabrera whiffed on a barehanded attempt at a grounder in the second that nearly cost the Tigers an early run.

Meanwhile, the Sox saved their fourth win of the season thanks to a pair of outstanding defensive plays -- one from an unexpected source, and the other from someone who should've won a Gold Glove by now.

In the top of the seventh, Detroit had runners on second and third with two out and Andy Dirks up at the plate. Dirks laced a line drive into left off Addison Reed, but Dayan Viciedo got a good read on the ball and made a spectacular diving catch, saving a pair of runs from scoring that would've put the Tigers up by a run.

"My first reaction was to definitely make sure I caught the ball," Viciedo said. "Fortunately for me, Alejandro De Aza told me to move over for that play, and fortunately, I was in the right position. So I just had to make sure that I caught the ball."

While the catch may have been surprising given Viciedo's previous defensive struggles in left, one of his teammates wasn't shocked.

"He's very athletic, so what he did out there doesn't surprise me," said Alexei Ramirez through a translator. "He can do great things out on the field."

Despite Viciedo's play, Robin Ventura still went ahead and used Brent Lillibridge as a defensive replacement the following inning. Although the latter party joked he was a little confused by the move.

"After that play, I was like 'you guys really need me to go out there, because I think we're good,'" laughed Lillibridge.

An inning later, Cabrera stepped in with runners at the corners and one out against Matt Thornton. But Cabrera's ground ball up the middle was stopped on a diving effort by Alexei Ramirez, who shoveled the ball to Gordon Beckham, who made a quick pivot to turn a run-and-lead-saving double play.

"A good day for the Cubans today," smiled Jake Peavy. "We're liking the Cubans on our side of town. These guys were awesome today. The plays that Alexei and Dayan made saved the game, ultimately."

While it bears repeating that Ramirez should've been awarded a Gold Glove by now, Viciedo's a long ways off from that point. Switching positions twice certainly hasn't helped, but both changes were necessary for his own career and the White Sox.

"You gotta tip your hat to Dayan Viciedo. The kid's worked his rear end off," Peavy said. "He's been moved all around the field and he's never complained about it one time. It's not like he's going to win a Gold Glove this year, but the effort you see him give, the way he goes about his business, the way he works in between starts, I think that's indicative of our team and indicative of our staff in the way we're going to go about things."

Viciedo's comfort level has slowly been rising in left, which also could explain his solid offensive performance to start the season.

"During spring training when he was struggling offensively, it carried out in the field and compounded things," Lillibridge said. "He wanted to do well in spring training to prove he should be out there every day. Once he started swinging at the end of spring training, which is obviously a perfect time to do it, it just came back. Confidence kind of leads into everything. It's hard not to take it on the field one way or another"

While Viciedo may be a work in progress defensively, a diving catch like he made can only help the 23-year-old's confidence. And he certainly seemed confident after the game, speaking about his long-term defensive outlook.

"I definitely feel I will be good defensively," Viciedo said. "Its a matter of continuing to practice every day. The more I get accustomed to it, the more comfortable Ill be."

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

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USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

Nick Schmaltz seemed to be everywhere the puck was on Saturday night. Great pursuit of the puck, great passes to Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat and an all-around confidence that’s becoming more apparent by the game.

So has coach Joel Quenneville seen what he’s needed to from Schmaltz at second-line center?

“And more.”

It’s been a pretty impressive showing for Schmaltz this month. The 21-year-old has played in all three of the Blackhawks’ preseason games and keeps getting better in each one. The uncertainty Schmaltz understandably showed as a rookie is gone; the NHL game no longer feels uncomfortable.

“I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, just seeing plays,” Schmaltz said. “I know what I’m doing with the puck before I get it. It feels good and just trying to get better every day.”

Schmaltz and his fellow second liners didn’t connect for goals in the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The three combined for 12 of the Blackhawks’ 54 shots on goal – Kane and DeBrincat each had five – and the chemistry continues to build between the three.

Jonathan Toews talked on Saturday morning of how much more relaxed Schmaltz looks with the puck now, and that was evident again later that night.

“He’s really starting to get comfortable physically at this level,” Toews said. “He thinks the game so well, puts himself in good spots, much like Kaner where he can skate with the puck and use his speed. He has his head up so he backs guys off. Those two were making great plays tonight and Brinksy was fitting in well. They couldn’t buy a goal but Schmaltzy’s getting better and better, and you’re’ seeing that calm poise that he has really come out the more he gets comfortable.”

Schmaltz was likely getting a second-line audition in some capacity this fall; the original thought was at left wing in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s trade. But Schmaltz has always felt at his best at center. He’s showing that. And more.

“It’s always fun to play no matter if it’s preseason or regular season," he said. "I’m always happy to play, especially when you’re playing with great players. I feel like I’m more comfortable in the middle, able to use my speed a little bit more, create more offense that way.

"I think it’s going well. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy.”