For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

Ulf Samuelsson saw the changes the Blackhawks made this season, his hiring as assistant coach being one of them. Soon he’ll be working with the team’s defensemen, another area that’s had some upheaval.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, some uncertainties and some moving parts that I probably, typically haven’t seen going into a season. So that makes it even more interesting and challenging,” Samuelsson said. “So I’m looking forward to this opportunity to really develop and work with some of the younger players.”

From its immediate coach to its personnel, the Blackhawks’ defense is dealing with plenty of change that will continue when the season begins this fall. The Blackhawks have had some addition (Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta and Jordan Oesterle) but dealing with the subtraction (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk) will nevertheless be tough. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday that pairings are a work in progress.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we're going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” he said. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

For Murphy, who was acquired in the deal that sent Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, there are no set expectations as to where he fits yet.

“With any team you go into training camp proving where you’re going to be. Everyone has to come in and earn certain positions, especially me being a guy who they’re not as familiar with; I have to show what I can do,” Murphy said. “I definitely want to bring a more physical edge to defending at times and be able to skate well, have a good reach, make smart reads and try to help out with whatever’s needed with that.”

As for young players, the opportunity is there. Gustav Forsling admits he wasn’t happy that fellow Swede and role model Hjalmarsson was traded. But Forsling, who looked strong coming out of camp last September, knows he has to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I want to take the next step and play more,” he said. “I want to keep progressing my game and keep developing.”

The same goes for Jordan Oesterle, who the Blackhawks signed to a two-year deal on July 1.

“When I wanted to come here the opportunity was tremendous. Just the chance to come in and try to make the top six is there, it’s a battle with a number of us guys but that’s all you ask for in the situation I’m in,” he said. “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more. I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Again, the Blackhawks could re-address defense once they implement Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve after the season begins. General manager Stan Bowman said there’s “no exact plan” right now on how they use that space – “that’s probably going to be dictated by where we’re at when we get to October, how the team’s playing, what areas are strong, what areas we want to add to,” he said.

It remains to be seen on that front. Regardless, from coaching to personnel, much has changed with the Blackhawks defense. 

Several Blackhawks veterans will sit out vs. Ducks

Several Blackhawks veterans will sit out vs. Ducks

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Blackhawks have two more regular-season games, with no significant attachment to either. So on Thursday, with the season nearly done, the Blackhawks will rest a few more veterans.

Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are expected to take the night off when the Blackhawks face the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday. Niklas Hjalmarsson will also be out; he's still back in Chicago attending to family matters. The moves give veterans the chance to rest up for the postseason and younger players to show what they can do.

"I mean, if you can skip a game towards the playoffs it's a luxury," Hossa said. "Some guys can get the rest. We have a lot of extra guys, so coaches can make decisions in the first round. They can show the potential, too. So it's a luxury we have right now."

There could be more veterans back in the lineup on Saturday, when the Blackhawks finish the regular season against the Los Angeles Kings.

Gustav Forsling, who the Blackhawks recalled on Wednesday, will draw into the lineup. Forsling had a good start to this season but didn't progress as the Blackhawks hoped he would, prompting a trip to Rockford.

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"His best stretch was at camp. It looked like he was going to be one of those guys that could play in all situations, meaningful minutes. Down there, he's played more, and we're probably looking for progression when he does play tonight," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He has an upside to his game, just the way he moves and anticipates and offensively sees and makes plays is a great asset to have. We're looking for that progression. That's the area that, down there we probably didn't see it like we were hoping, but we still think he has all the intangibles to capture."

Meanwhile, Artem Anisimov continues to skate back in Chicago. Quenneville said Anisimov is progressing well but the second-line center will not join the Blackhawks on this final regular-season trip.

Broadcast information

Time: 9 p.m.
TV: CSN
Live Stream: CSNChicago.com
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Blackhawks forward lines

Tomas Jurco-Nick Schmaltz-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Tanner Kero-Patrick Kane
Ryan Hartman-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Desjardins
John Hayden-Dennis Rasmussen-Jordin Tootoo

Defensive pairs 

Johnny Oduya-Gustav Forsling
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk
Michal Rozsival-Michal Kempny

Goaltender

Corey Crawford

Injuries

Artem Anisimov (left leg)

Ducks forward lines

Nick Ritchie-Ryan Getzlaf-Patrick Eaves
Andrew Cogliano-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg
Rickard Rakell-Antoine Vermette-Corey Perry
Chris Wagner-Nate Thompson-Logan Shaw

Defensive pairs

Shea Theodore-Brandon Montour
Korbinian Holzer-Josh Manson
Jaycob Megna-Kevin Bieksa

Goaltender

John Gibson

Injuries

Cam Fowler (lower body)

Blackhawks prep for energetic Oilers

Blackhawks prep for energetic Oilers

A week ago, the Blackhawks rolled an Edmonton Oilers team that was lackluster coming off their bye week. Now the Blackhawks will try to avoid the same fate.

Corey Crawford will start and Michal Kempny returns to the lineup when the Blackhawks host the Oiler Saturday night at the United Center. The Blackhawks are coming off their six-day bye following their Ice Show trip, during which they went on a five-game winning streak.

The Oilers, meanwhile, have gotten their legs back under them. After falling to the Blackhawks, they rattled off a 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes and a 6-3 triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Blackhawks don’t want to come off the bye week the way the Oilers did last Saturday.

“We had a really good game against Edmonton away. We have to play the same way here tonight, get to the same pace,” Dennis Rasmussen said. “But it’s really important to have short shifts in the beginning, being off a couple of days.”

Most teams haven’t been successful coming off the bye week. Here’s the breakdown of how teams have done thus far (keep in mind, even if a team had the five-day break, they could practice after 4 p.m. local time on the fifth day):

TEAM DAYS OFF RESULT
Arizona Coyotes 5 W
Calgary Flames 5 L
Carolina Hurricanes 5 OTL
Colorado Avalanche 5 L
Edmonton Oilers 5 L
Florida Panthers 5 L
Los Angeles Kings 6 L
New Jersey Devils 5 L
New York Islanders 5 OTL
New York Rangers 5 L
Ottawa Senators 5 L
Philadelphia Flyers 5 L
Pittsburgh Penguins 7 W
Toronto Maple Leafs 5 W

The Blackhawks made three changes to the lineup out of last Saturday’s game, including Crawford getting back in net. Kempny is back in (Gustav Forsling remains in Rockford) and Andrew Desjardins draws back into the lineup (Vinnie Hinostroza also stayed in Rockford).

Regardless of lineup, the Blackhawks want to come out strong and stay that way.

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“Concerns are when we’re playing a team in that situation, where it’s like the start of the season, coming off breaks, we’re always emphasizing shooting the puck, getting traffic at the net. Being ready to play with the mental and simple approach is what we’re trying to do and making sure that there’s a purpose behind how we’re ready to start,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Especially against a quick team like this, we want to make sure we’re going to be aware of their rush game and their transition game. That’s why we want to be simple and ready.”

Broadcast information

Time: 6 p.m.

TV: WGN, NHL Network

Radio: WGN 720 AM

Blackhawks forward lines

Nick Schmaltz -Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa

Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Andrew Desjardins

Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender

Corey Crawford

Injuries

None

Oilers forward lines (via team website)

Patrick Maroon-Connor McDavid-Jordan Eberle

Milan Lucic-Leon Draisaitl-Anton Slepyshev

Drake Caggiula-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Zack Kassian

Matt Hendricks-Mark Letestu-Iiro Pakarinen

Defensive pairs

Andrej Sekera-Matt Benning

Oscar Klefbom-Adam Larsson

Brandon Davidson-Eric Gryba

Goaltender

Cam Talbot

Injuries 

Jujhar Khaira (wrist), Darnell Nurse (ankle), Tyler Pitlick (knee), Kris Russel (undisclosed)