Blackhawks announce 2017 preseason schedule, which includes Columbus and Boston

Blackhawks announce 2017 preseason schedule, which includes Columbus and Boston

Columbus and Boston are new additions to the Blackhawks' preseason schedule, which the team announced on Thursday morning.

They'll also make their first trip to the new Little Caesar's Arena in Detroit when they face the Red Wings on Sept. 28. The Blackhawks host Detroit in Sept. 21.

The Blackhawks will open their preseason schedule in Columbus on Sept. 19, hosting the Blue Jackets on Sept. 23. They'll travel to Boston on Sept. 25 and then host the Bruins on Sept. 30.

First goal with Blackhawks 'a release' for Tomas Jurco

First goal with Blackhawks 'a release' for Tomas Jurco

Tomas Jurco's reaction to his first goal on Monday night was as much celebration as a little bit of relief. The forward, acquired by the Blackhawks about a month ago, had had a few great scoring chances in recent games but just couldn't capitalize.

Finally, he got that first of the season against Tampa Bay.

"It's kind of a release, you know?" Jurco said on Wednesday. "I've had a lot of good chances and it would just never go in for some reason. Obviously I'm very happy that it went in and hopefully this is the start of, I would say, more luck for me."

Looking for consistency in his own game as well as a consistent spot in the lineup, Jurco was looking for a boost of confidence. Getting that first goal could be part of it, as a bit of a weight disappears with that zero in the goal column. 

"That's a hurdle that can be in the back of your mind a lot and all of a sudden it could be a nice release," coach Joel Quenneville said of that first goal. "He's progressing in our team game, technically. Whether it's his pace of play or going to the right areas quickly, we're looking for progression. We saw it [Monday] night and I think he'll continue to get better off that. But certainly that should help him get confidence as we go along here."

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Jurco's been around the net, something the Blackhawks always encourage, for most of those scoring opportunities. Perhaps some of that puck luck wasn't quite there. But Jurco is gaining confidence in recent games, and getting that goal could boost it that much more.

"I've always said, especially in my case, scoring helps that confidence come easier. It brings that fun to the game," Jonathan Toews said. "Maybe if you're not feeling it or not playing with high energy, at a certain point in a game when you score, for some reason you get that jolt, you get that jump. For [Jurco], he's been playing well when he's been in, and no doubt that scoring a goal like that can help boost confidence and help him find his game, which we know he has and will continue to show."

The scoring hurdle has been cleared and Jurco is gaining confidence. Will he carve out a consistent spot in the lineup? Quenneville has some options through the bottom six. That, coupled with the Blackhawks playing inconsistent hockey lately and missing that four-line rotation, Jurco's been one of several who have been in and out of the lineup. But Quenneville said on Wednesday, "I don't see making constant changes once the [playoffs] begin." If Jurco keeps getting chances and capitalizing on a few, and if he ends up as part of a rotation that's successful again, he could stick.

Jurco waited a little bit for that first goal. He hopes it's just the start.

"You know eventually it's going to go in but it was just frustrating. Another game and another and another with good chances and it just wouldn't go in. So it's a big release," Jurco said. "Hopefully I'll keep going, keep producing."

Thoughts and musings on a Blackhawks off day

Thoughts and musings on a Blackhawks off day

The Blackhawks continue on their road trip but we are watching from afar. Up close or from here, it doesn't matter: The Blackhawks continue to surge at the right time and, going back to the start of February, have now won 14 of their last 17 games. Entering Saturday night's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Blackhawks sit atop the Western Conference with a three-point lead over the Minnesota Wild.

Since we're not traveling, we're thinking. And musing. So here are some thoughts and muses regarding the Blackhawks' last few games.

***

The Blackhawks and Scott Darling said the backup goaltender was fine, despite coming back in 10 days off a hand injury that originally had a three-week timeline. Apparently so. Darling was stellar on Thursday night, stopping 33 of 34 shots in the Blackhawks' 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.

Missing a few games, Darling had no rust. Good thing, because the Senators gave him a steady dose of shots, including some great looks in the third period. So with 12 games remaining before the playoffs, it looks like the Blackhawks are ending the regular season the way they started it: winning with top-notch goaltending.

And the Blackhawks' goaltenders have once again been busy. In his last two starts against Minnesota and Montreal, Corey Crawford saw 44 and 42 shots, respectively. Darling saw 34 on Thursday. Are the Blackhawks relying too much on goaltending again? Well, given those shot totals against the Wild and Montreal Canadiens, you could argue that.

It helps that, offensively, the Blackhawks have done a lot with a little. They took a 2-0 lead over Minnesota on their first two shots and a 2-0 lead midway through their game in Montreal. The Blackhawks finished with 22 shots against Minnesota, 24 against the Canadiens. They had a few more shots and took a bit longer to break through vs. Ottawa (credit Senators goaltender Mike Condon for that). But even with leads, Darling and Crawford have been pulling their share of weight lately.

*** 

Nick Schmaltz didn't have to get the reminder to shoot more — he knows that already. Still, be it the Blackhawks' prompting or his own, Schmaltz responded on Thursday with three shots against the Ottawa Senators.

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Now can he stay consistent with it? Shot totals have been feast or famine for Schmaltz lately. He had three against Ottawa, Detroit and Pittsburgh, zero vs. Montreal and Minnesota. The Blackhawks like Schmaltz's shot and encourage him to take it more often, but confidence in taking that shot is like everything else with a young player: it takes time. Schmaltz regained confidence in his overall game, and it shows. He had confidence to play second-line center in Artem Anisimov's injury absence because that's the position he's played most of his career. The confidence to take that shot more consistently will come, too.

***

Richard Panik falls under the “he should shoot more” category, too, but maybe it's time to just let him be on that subject. Through 70 games Panik has 132 shots, an average of less than two per game. He also has 18 goals. Panik's strength, much like Anisimov's, has been being at or near the net. Both have had most of their production there, either planting and waiting for a pass or cleaning up on rebounds. (By the way, to further illustrate our point, Anisimov has 22 goals on just 105 shots this season.) I understand the shoot-more demand for some players but for others, it's more about being in the right place at the right time and knowing what to do when they're there. Panik has been great with that all season.

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This last thought is courtesy of a two-part tweet from Pierre LeBrun on Thursday night, in which he credits the Blackhawks for once again going through turnover yet thriving in the wake of it. Among the responses was this: why no Jack Adams talk for coach Joel Quenneville?

When that topic arises, Quenneville gets the Crawford-esque argument: “of course he's good. Look at the team he's got.” It's easy to look at the Blackhawks' core, the one that's been in place for several seasons and three Stanley Cups, and put all the credit on them. They deserve a lot of it. But it's also about knowing who to put with who, and Quenneville, (sometimes maddening) line changes and all, usually gets it right. He knew how to use his rookies, who to trust and who to give more responsibility to when they showed they could handle it. So much for that fallacy of him disliking/distrusting young players, eh?

Other coaches are probably going to get more Jack Adams notice this season, especially if their teams are finding new success (please see John Tortorella in Columbus). But there's something to be said for sustaining success through changes, and Quenneville has done that.