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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Red Wings: Lacking jump

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Red Wings: Lacking jump

DETROIT – Getting the early lead was one thing. Following it up was another, and the Blackhawks couldn’t do that against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Playing without Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson didn’t help – coach Joel Quenneville didn’t want to tax the two players, both coming back from injuries, with three games in four days. But the Blackhawks’ overall game just wasn’t there.

Anyway, it’s a pretty quick turnaround. So let’s get to the notables.

What Worked: The Red Wings’ response after Justin Abdelkader’s hit. Oh, the Blackhawks’ immediate response was fine. Abdelkader hit Brian Campbell high and late, and Trevor van Riemsdyk went after Abdelkader. But it was the Red Wings who capitalized following that fracas, scoring twice in the final 3:35 of the first period, turning the Blackhawks’ early 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit.

What Didn’t Work: The Blackhawks’ overall game. It’s been a while since we’ve said this but the Blackhawks were flat. As Patrick Kane said, it was surprising that the Blackhawks’ last game at Joe Louis Arena didn’t draw the expected enthusiasm level. Hey, this rivalry isn’t what it used to be thanks to realignment, and perhaps coming off the back to back – or even looking ahead to Sunday – factored into Friday’s bad game.

Star of the game: Tomas Tatar. Net-front presence is big, and Tatar was supplying it all night. When he wasn’t providing a screen on Andreas Athanasiou’s late-first period goal, Tatar was assisting or scoring his own. He finished with two goals and an assist, to give Detroit their last victory over the Blackhawks at Joe Louis Arena.

He Said It: “Yeah, nice to see Riems jump in there. I didn’t see the hit but it must’ve been pretty bad for Riemer to jump in. Good to see him stick up for his teammate.” — Corey Crawford on van Riemsdyk’s reaction to the hit on Campbell

By the Numbers:

4 – Goals allowed by the Blackhawks on Friday, the most they’ve allowed since Jan. 26 (vs. Winnipeg).

900 – Career regular-season games for Duncan Keith.

400 – Career regular-season games for Andrew Desjardins, who was back in the lineup on Friday.

1,127 – Career points for Marian Hossa following his assist on van Riemsdyk’s second-period goal. Hossa is now 55th all-time in NHL history in points.

Blackhawks suffer second straight loss in final game at Joe Louis Arena

Blackhawks suffer second straight loss in final game at Joe Louis Arena

DETROIT – Over the last month the Blackhawks have been a different team, with a strong four-line rotation, a lot of high-scoring games and plenty of energy.

Friday's game featured none of that.

Tomas Tatar scored twice, including the game-winning goal, as the Detroit Red Wings beat the Blackhawks 4-2 in the final meeting between the two at Joe Louis Arena. The Blackhawks, who were without Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya for this one – they were given a rest night – have lost two in a row for the first time since late January. They'll enter Sunday's game against the Minnesota Wild trailing by three points; the Wild beat the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

The Blackhawks have been stellar since the start of February but they looked listless on Friday night. After so many years of great games between the two rivals, Friday's Wings-Blackhawks game was decidedly mediocre.

"Last game at the Joe, you'd think you'd have a lot of jump and energy," Patrick Kane said. "Frustrating. We had the start we wanted, then give up two goals there late in the first. Not the way you want to finish that period."

Kane also talked of his own tough outing.

"It probably falls on me tonight, lot of bad turnovers and plays and missed coverage in our end," he said. "Being on for four goals against isn't good enough. Gotta be better than that."

The Blackhawks' biggest burst came early, when Artemi Panarin's 21st goal of the season gave them a 1-0 lead. But for the most part after that, the Blackhawks got quiet. Justin Abdelkader hit Brian Campbell near the boards, which drew the anger of Trevor van Riemsdyk.

"It was a pretty hard hit and we didn't like it too much. That's how it goes after something like that," van Riemsdyk said. "I ended up sitting in the box longer than you'd like to, but I just saw the hit and that was my reaction."

Coach Joel Quenneville had no problem with van Riemsdyk's reaction.

"Sometimes you go in there, doesn't necessarily means it's a fight, but it ended up being one," he said.

But the Red Wings reacted better after all of that, scoring twice within the final 3:35 of the first period (Xavier Ouellet and Andreas Athanasiou).

"It seemed like we were in a good spot and, boom, they scored two quick ones and now we're chasing," Corey Crawford said. "Tough spot to be in, second half of a back-to-back and playing catch-up hockey."

The Blackhawks couldn't catch up. Now they'll face the Wild, which should definitely get their attention. The Blackhawks have played great hockey over the last month or so. Friday's game just wasn't one of those outings.