Blackhawks-Wild Preview

Blackhawks-Wild Preview

The Chicago Blackhawks are off to the best start in the 86-year history of the franchise, led by a balanced offense, a strong penalty kill and reliable goaltending.

They'll look to continue their well-rounded play when they open a six-game road trip Wednesday night against the Minnesota Wild, who just put a stop to a three-game losing streak.

The Blackhawks (6-0-0) are one of two remaining unbeatens in the NHL, and they already have four road victories under their belt as they begin their longest trip of the season. Sixteen skaters have registered at least one point, including 10 with at least three.

Patrick Kane leads the way with nine, while Marian Hossa's five goals are a team best.

"I think everybody deserves credit," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Everybody's contributing. Everybody was where we wanted them to be. Everybody had good conditioning to start with. Special teams, Crow (Corey Crawford) in net, the team game. I'm pleased."

Their perfect record was in jeopardy Sunday against Detroit, but Nick Leddy scored in overtime for a 2-1 win. Chicago killed off all six of the Red Wings' power plays, improving to 22 of 23 this season.

"We could have been better, but at the same time six (games) in nine (days) could have been a factor," Quenneville said.

Crawford will make his sixth start of the season Wednesday, and he's been one of the best goalies in the league in the early going. His 1.78 goals-against average is nearly a full goal below his 2.72 GAA from 57 games last season.

"I like his approach to the season," Quenneville told the team's official website. "He seems prepared and he's shown that he wants to play and he's determined to be the best he can be. He's taken charge of games at critical times and made big saves."

Minnesota (3-2-1) stepped up at a big moment Tuesday in a 3-2 home win against Columbus. The Wild squandered a 2-0 lead and were in danger of their fourth straight defeat, but Pierre-Marc Bouchard came through with the winning score with less than six minutes left.

Of the Wild's 16 goals this season, it was only the fifth not generated by the top forward line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley.

"Take pressure off the top guys, it's key," said Torrey Mitchell, who assisted on Bouchard's goal. "Secondary scoring is big. Guys are doing the right things and it's going to come around. There's no doubt in the locker room about that. But it's nice to get one, at least tonight."

Bouchard has two goals and is feeling good after playing only 97 games over the last three seasons because of concussions.

"It's pretty fun. The last few years have been pretty tough," Bouchard said. "It's good to be back and play those kinds of games and win some hockey games."

Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival, who has two assists in three games, missed the last two contests with a lower-body injury, but Quenneville said he expects him to skate Wednesday morning.

Jonathan Toews has six points over his last three games against Minnesota.

The Blackhawks are 8-1-3 in the past 12 meetings - getting at least a point in each of their last seven trips to St. Paul - though the Wild took the final two matchups last season in shootouts while Toews was sidelined.

Dennis Rasmussen looks to build off experience

Dennis Rasmussen looks to build off experience

The Blackhawks’ offseason moves have once again left holes, especially among the forward lines. Considering the experience Dennis Rasmussen gained last season, he could certainly grab the third- or fourth-line center spot.

But Rasmussen isn’t going to pencil in anything yet.

“I don’t really think that way. I always think I have to play as good as possible to earn a spot, and that’s what I think this year, too,” said Rasmussen on Day 3 of Blackhawks training camp. “But it’s really up to me. I have to play well to earn my spot here. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.”

After trading Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell this offseason, the Blackhawks will be looking for several players to step up and fill voids. Center is one of those spots, and Rasmussen played 44 games there with the Blackhawks last season. Rasmussen spent the long offseason prepping for this campaign, focusing on one thing in particular.

“I always try to work on getting faster, that’s the part of my game I can really improve,” he said. “I can improve everything. But especially getting quicker, that’s what I’m trying to focus.”

Anything else Rasmussen has to do to take that next step?

“I think he’s got to be a little more proactive than reactive out on the ice,” Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “Kind of be a little bolder in different areas whether it’s in the offensive zone if you’re down between the hash marks, hey, try and take a guy on 1-on-1. But if you’re a neutral zone, you got to be a little more responsible. If you got to pick up the wide winger and come back and play good defensive hockey, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

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Rasmussen showed that when he made his NHL debut last season. The Blackhawks recalled him in early December, when they were looking to bolster their bottom six; any offense added was a bonus. He scored three of his four goals in his first seven games – his first came in his NHL debut vs. Nashville.

“He can make more things happen out there,” Kitchen said. “I think he understands that too because he wants to do whatever it takes to make the team.”

Rasmussen wants to be part of this group. He gained some great experience last year, and he hopes it serves him well in trying to get that roster spot this season.

“It was great for me. I got to play a lot, think I played in some important situations sometimes and I was really happy with last year. It gave me a lot of confidence, a lot of experience too,” Rasmussen said. “So hopefully I can bring that into this year.”

Alexandre Fortin signs three-year deal with Blackhawks

Alexandre Fortin signs three-year deal with Blackhawks

After earning a couple of invites from the Blackhawks this offseason, Alexandre Fortin earned a contract on Sunday.

Fortin agreed to terms on a three-year contract with the Blackhawks, who had invited him to prospect and training camp. The 19-year-old, who was passed over in two NHL drafts, was hoping to latch onto the Blackhawks’ organization.

“You know, it’s a nice day for me. I’ve been working on that since I was young, so now it’s just Step 1 and I’m very excited for the future,” Fortin said following Sunday’s training camp sessions. “I have to thank the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s the first team that really believed in me. It’s awesome.”

Indeed, Fortin was just looking for a chance and he could get it here eventually.

“I think it’s a real plus,” Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “I think he earned a contract. Right from the start, he stepped up and played. He’s been very consistent in every scrimmage. He’s been a threat to score out on the ice. I think he’s done a terrific job. He’s got to be very, very happy about the whole situation. It’s great for the organization: get a free agent who comes in and earns a three-year entry-level contract.”

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The most likely scenario is he’ll head back to his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, after logging some training camp time with the Blackhawks. He could get into a preseason game, too. But the future definitely looks bright for Fortin.

“It’s, for sure, just Step 1. My real goal is to play pro,” Fortin said. “So I’ll keep learning, keep doing what coaches want, I’ll watch (the players) who I have to be like and keep working on that every day until my real dream comes true.”

Keith doing fine

Duncan Keith participated in one of the Blackhawks’ two practices again on Sunday, and Kitchen said Keith did just fine.

“The first day, Duncs, he got through the practice no problem. He didn’t have any issues. Talked to him the next day, the festival game day, and he said he was fine. Today was a little tougher day for defensemen, so we were asking a lot of them. There was a lot of 1-on-1, 2-on-1s, 2-on-2s. Duncs said after practice the forwards had it off and the D had the work day today. But he responded well afterwards,” Kitchen said. “He even asked if he could come out for the other practice, but we said no.”