Blackhawks begin with a dud in Dallas

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Blackhawks begin with a dud in Dallas

Box score Highlights
Coach Q: Only a few guys impressed
VIDEO: Toews, Hossa Crawford comment

DALLAS -- Season openers can be a mixed bag. The Chicago Blackhawks had as much of that as anyone on Friday night.

Some great scoring chances bested by better goaltending. A few mistakes that proved costly. And a couple line changes.

Hey, it's Game 1. It's not a bad time to tinker.

Coach Joel Quenneville switched up some lines to start the second period and the Blackhawks generated everything but goals in a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. No matter which of the Blackhawks were firing, no one could really solve Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who was stellar in stopping 37 of 38 shots.

Defenseman Nick Leddy broke through with 13.6 seconds remaining in regulation to deny Lehtonen the shutout. Alex Goligoski and Jamie Benn scored for the Stars.

Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 33 in the loss. He was particularly sharp early, which couldn't be said for the rest of the Blackhawks. The Stars got prime chances, some breakaways, but Crawford turned away 13 in the first period.

"Crow kept us in the game in the first. You could say they could've had a bigger lead on us the first 20 minutes," said Jonathan Toews. "That's not the way we wanted to start the season score-wise, but the way we played there were a lot of mistakes and we gave up too many quality chances."

So the Blackhawks changed up some lines. It wasn't a total surprise; with injuries (Dave Bolland, Viktor Stalberg and Ben Smith) and a suspension (Daniel Carcillo), the Blackhawks were down a forward and not running four full lines anyway. Michael Frolik was with Toews and Patrick Sharp for a while, and Patrick Kane joined Toews and Sharp toward the end.

The changes generated opportunities, as the Blackhawks outshot the Stars 22-12 in the second period.

"We shook up the lines a little bit and it seemed like we finally found some jump and some things were going," said Marian Hossa, who was double-shifting and finished with a team-high eight shots on goal. "We were creating more chances and spent more time in the offensive zone."

Quenneville said, "we're still trying our lines to begin with so we were just looking for something that sparked us. I think that was a tough first goal (by Goligoski) because Crow had a great first start. It was one of those nights; we got behind 2-0 and couldn't get that first one until it was too late."

The goals, however, didn't come. They didn't even materialize on the power play, on which the Blackhawks went 0 for 4. The Stars did find a way. Goligoski's came off a Blackhawks turnover and Benn got the rebound goal when Crawford couldn't hold on to Sheldon Souray's initial blast.

"I didn't see the first one right off the stick. The second one was a bullet there and I just couldn't hang onto it," Crawford said.

A mixed bag, some good and bad. The Blackhawks tinkered but came up short. They won't have long to wait to try and right the wrongs.

"Some mistakes we need to get better at and we left too many guys wide open and gave them too many quality chances," Toews said. "We'll tighten it up tomorrow, relax and let everyone do their own job. We'll have more energy and speed going into their zone tomorrow night."

Briefly

Quenneville is "optimistic" that Bolland (upper body) will play tomorrow vs. the Stars.

Kane, who Quenneville thought was just fine at center, won six of nine faceoffs.

John Scott was the lone healthy scratch for the Blackhawks.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

General manager Stan Bowman saw the potential in Tomas Jurco several years ago.

For the 24-year-old forward, it wasn’t working out with the Detroit Red Wings. Perhaps a change of scenery, an opportunity on a team that could vie for another Stanley Cup, makes a difference. The Blackhawks are about to find out.

The Blackhawks acquired Jurco for a third-round pick in this year’s draft on Friday afternoon. The 24-year-old Jurco has played in 16 games with the Red Wings this season but has yet to collect a point. In four seasons with the Wings, Jurco had 15 goals and 24 assists in 159 games. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press that, “things haven’t worked out” for Jurco there and that he wanted to go elsewhere.

Jurco was on a bye as a member of the Red Wings but, now that he’s with the Blackhawks, the bye ends. Bowman was hopeful Jurco would join the Blackhawks at practice on Saturday. Also, to clear a roster spot for Jurco, the Blackhawks reassigned Vinnie Hinostroza to the Rockford IceHogs.

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks]

Bowman said he’s been watching Jurco for a few seasons now.

“We’ll be patient with him but we really think there’s a good fit there, looking at his skills and the style of hockey we play,” Bowman said. “He’s been an accomplished player at a lot of different levels. He’s shown flashes in the NHL, not as consistently as he or the Wings would like, but you can see the talent and potential. You have to have some patience with these guys. It doesn’t always come together right away. I’m not expecting him to carry our team but I think he can contribute.”

It was an under-the-radar trade for Bowman but that’s not surprising. In late January, Bowman said he probably wouldn’t do much at the trade deadline; he liked how the Blackhawks’ young players were progressing and figured, if that continued, the team would be in good shape. Since then the Blackhawks have won eight of their last nine and are just three points behind the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild. As the Blackhawks kept winning it looked like, if they did anything, it would be a depth move.

So will there be any more moves? At this point it doesn’t seem likely, be it on forward or defense – Bowman didn’t have an update on Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) but said he’s happy with the depth in Chicago and Rockford on defense. Bowman said he’ll keep talking but, “but it’s a little bit different than in previous years when I thought we definitely needed something and were lacking in an area.”

“I’ve had a feeling about our team, not just recently but even a month ago. I liked the way this group was starting to come together,” Bowman said. “We’ve seen that enhanced over the last couple of week here. We’ve seen players step up, [Nick] Schmaltz in particular. [Ryan] Hartman’s been good all year. We’ve seen Jonathan [Toews] become a dominant player again. It gives your team a confidence that you have balance, scoring in different lines. We just added a young player to help us now as well as in the future. There’s a lot to be excited about. I’m not expecting more trades. I can’t predict more will happen but I have a good feeling about this group right now.”

 

Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz's game has made tremendous strides since he came back from Rockford. He's has the puck more. He's playing with more confidence. He's recognizing when to hold onto the puck and when to give it up. 

Now to improve in one other category.

"I've been telling myself that for years now to shoot the puck and I still don't do it enough," Schmaltz said with a little smile. "Definitely shoot more and just play my game."

That, like everything else, will come with confidence more play but there's no doubt Schmaltz is making a bigger impact these past few weeks. Schmaltz celebrated his 21st birthday on Thursday with another multi-point night, this time a goal and an assist in the Blackhawks' 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. The rookie is brimming with confidence as part of the Blackhawks' surging top line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik and has nine points over his last seven games.

For Schmaltz, every lessoned learned this season, including the ones from Rockford, has been put to good use the past few weeks.

"We're just having the puck more. That's my game. I like to have the puck, hold onto it and make plays," Schmaltz said. "I'm making more plays off the rush, in the zone. I'm definitely more accustomed to playing this style and hopefully we can keep it going because I know that's how the Blackhawks have played in the past. And it only helps our team game when every line is playing well."

The Blackhawks have developed a better four-line rotation and a big part of that is the chemistry Schmaltz, Toews and Panik have formed on that top line. Panik said he's seen the change in Schmaltz lately.

"I think he just holds onto the puck more," Panik said. "He doesn't give it up quickly and that's what he's good at, just possession with the puck and making a space for him and he finds me or Toews."

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday]

Coach Joel Quenneville was particularly complimentary of Schmaltz's game in Minnesota, which featured a "spectacular" pass to Toews on what was the captain's second goal of the night. 

"The one thing we want him to do is play with the puck, play to his strengths and have it. Now he wants it," Quenneville said. "He had the puck a lot [on Thursday], like he did in Minnesota. I just think he's improved his pace and his strength in the puck area is coming along. For young guys, that's always an area where you get better over your first few years. But the quickness and confidence with the puck is definitely more noticeable."

Sure, Schmaltz should shoot more. In his time with the Blackhawks Schmaltz has had two or fewer shots in all but one game (Nov. 23 vs. the San Jose Sharks). When he has shot lately it's led to good results. Sometimes the decision to shoot is easy — please see the 2-on-1 with him and Toews to start Thursday's game — but the Blackhawks want to see him take a few more chances.

"You're a young guy and sometimes you feel the need to move the puck a little bit but he rolled that half wall early in the Minnesota game and we kept saying, ‘Shoot the puck, think shot, think shot,'" Quenneville said. "I think that will open up his other options and all of a sudden they're going to have to respect him coming out of those tight areas with a quick snap shot in that area. He can work and get better in that area knowing, get a little more comfortable with it, snapping it."

The Blackhawks have shown steady improvement this season. The same goes for Schmaltz. The start of the season was a little rough and not surprisingly so; the transition from college to pro isn't easy. But Schmaltz is now looking like he belongs here, and he wants to keep building.

"I feel I'm playing at a high level, where I need to be. But I can't get happy or complacent in my game," Schmaltz said. "I have to keep working and keep that level as high as possible."