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Gail Kauchak The Hockey Writers

Published on Monday, March 5, 2018

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How the Blackhawks Are Embracing Change

The calendar has finally turned over to March, and nothing will ever be the same for the Chicago Blackhawks. This was their first segment of games since the trade deadline. The Hawks said goodbye to two beloved teammates in Ryan Hartman and Tommy Wingels. The fact that they were sellers at the deadline was an official statement by the organization that the Hawks are looking towards the future and not the immediate playoffs. The team also welcomed Matthew Highmore from the Rockford IceHogs, again showing its commitment towards developing new players.

So how did the Blackhawks fare in their first three games of March? Well, a 7-2 thumping by the San Jose Sharks last Thursday was not a good way to start things off. It was embarrassing, how badly they played. The team looked like they had given up on the game and the season.

In Los Angeles, it looked like the same old story. The Hawks scored first for the 16th time in their last 20 games. But they were 5-8-2 in that time-frame when scoring first, so that’s not exactly something to get excited about. Sure enough, the Hawks found themselves down 3-1 at the end of the second frame.

But then something happened. They decided to fight back! The team scored four unanswered goals in the third period and walked away with a refreshing 5-3 win. Winning isn’t going to help their chances of getting a higher draft pick, but the Hawks aren’t quitters.

Artem Anisimov

Artem Anisimov was one of five players to score in Saturday night’s win against the Kings. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Unfortunately, the Hawks didn’t have enough pushback in them to come from behind two days in a row. They met the big, bad Anaheim Ducks on Sunday and fell behind 4-0 in the second period. The intensity wasn’t there in the first, and by the time the Hawks decided to play, it was too little, too late. They lost 6-3, but not without some positive signs. Let’s get to our weekly bullet points.

Winner of the Week: Nick Schmaltz

Schmaltz and his line didn’t give up late in the third period against the Sharks on Thursday. The team was down 6-1, and they were obviously going to lose the game. Yet Schmaltz and his teammates put together a nice sequence that ended with Schmaltz putting the puck in the back of the net.

On Sunday, the Hawks were again on the losing side of the game. But it certainly wasn’t because of Schmaltz. He one-upped himself, scoring two aggressive goals and showcasing his speed and perseverance. He now has 20 goals for the year, which is third on the team behind Patrick Kane (24) and Alex DeBrincat (22).

Since Kane has moved up to the top line, DeBrincat, Schmaltz, and Vinnie Hinostroza have made up a solid third line. They’re listed as the third line, but they’re playing as many minutes as the second line and making more of an impact. These three youngsters are clearly part of the Hawks’ future.

Loser of the Week: The Defense

The defense is a big problem for this team, and being without star goaltender Corey Crawford certainly emphasizes this weakness. In San Jose, the Sharks made the entire blue line look silly. Duncan Keith, Jordan Oesterle, and Carl Dahlstrom all finished the night a minus-3. I’m not sure how Erik Gustafsson escaped the same fate; he and Dahlstrom on the third pairing were a disaster.

In Los Angeles, Keith made two horrible turnovers that led directly to goals against. He was caught standing around as the first goal was scored the next night in Anaheim. Oesterle didn’t defend very well against the night’s second goal.

Duncan Keith

Duncan Keith has been struggling lately for the Blackhawks.  (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Brent Seabrook tries to position himself correctly, but he’s just gotten too slow to compensate. Connor Murphy might be the only bright spot of late. He’s played on the top pairing with Keith the last two games and has actually held his own. But so much more was expected of him this season, as he’s been very inconsistent.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that this current defensive group isn’t going to cut it next season. Yes, the youngsters show potential, and it takes more time to develop on defense than it does on offense. There’s a lot of promise with these individuals, but they just haven’t been able to put it all together. If the Hawks want to get back in the playoff race next year, it would behoove them to attempt to sign another defenseman in the offseason. Who knows, this group could be one defenseman away from being successful.

Highlighting Highmore

Let’s take a look at the newest member of the Blackhawks, Matthew Highmore. We have to remember Highmore’s first game as a Blackhawk was a garbage game for the whole team, where they lost 7-2. He actually played better than his minus-3 rating indicates. He slotted in on the third line with DeBrincat and Schmaltz, where he seemed to keep up and develop some chemistry.

Coach Q’s shuffling put him on the fourth line for the next two games, with David Kampf and Patrick Sharp. But he continued to play his game and show some contributions. His third game against the Ducks is where he really seemed to find his comfort level. Highmore contributed three shots on net, which included this wraparound attempt that almost became his first NHL goal.

Blackhawks News and Notes

  • Captain Jonathan Toews has certainly been busy this week. His goal against the Kings on Saturday turned out to be his first game-winning goal of the season. He also dropped the gloves with longtime nemesis Ryan Kesler on Sunday, although it still didn’t do much to spark the team.
  • Artem Anisimov has been quietly contributing. He tallied an even-strength goal in San Jose and a power-play goal in Los Angeles. He’s scored in five of the past eight games. He has 19 goals on the season, with 11 of them coming on the power play.
  • Does anyone know who the primary goaltender is for the Blackhawks these days? Jean-Francois Berube started against the Sharks but was pulled at the end of the second period after he allowed six goals. Anton Forsberg started on Sunday, but was pulled halfway through the game after letting in four goals. One thing is for certain: the Hawks definitely miss Corey Crawford.
    Anton Forsberg Blackhawks

    Can Anton Forsberg keep his backup spot with the Blackhawks? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

  • Is there a disconnect with this Blackhawks team? Sunday’s postgame broadcast focused on how no one on the team seemed to support their captain after he risked his butt and got in a fight. The Blackhawks pride themselves on having a winning culture, no matter what. That seems to be in jeopardy at the tail-end of this trying season.

What’s on Tap for the Blackhawks

Onward and upward, right? The Hawks have four contests next week. They host the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday, and the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday. Then they head to Boston Saturday and take on the Bruins again Sunday at the United Center as part of a home-and-home matchup.

Can the Hawks be spoilers and help keep the Avs out of a wild-card spot? It will be nice to see some former Blackhawks when the team takes on the ‘Canes. And Boston. The Hawks will be on the other end of all that spunk and energy from Tommy Wingels.

You see, there’s always a reason to watch the Chicago Blackhawks!


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