Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks Just Need A Few Small Tweaks

By Colin Likas
Apr 13, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (4) knocks Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) to the ice during the first period in game one of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (4) knocks Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) to the ice during the first period in game one of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /
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Any sadness for Chicago Blackhawks fans over Wednesday night’s 1-0 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues in the teams’ Stanley Cup Playoffs opener should have quickly dissipated once the bigger picture came into view. The Blackhawks, without a player who drives a large portion of their offense and keys a big portion of their defense in Duncan Keith, pretty summarily outplayed the Blues on the road in a postseason game. This is a positive, and a major one at that.

Of course, not everything is perfect. Obviously the Blackhawks lost, though it took a fluky goal for that to happen. Ironically and unfortunately, I wondered out loud why Corey Crawford hadn’t swallowed the puck instead of pushing it back out into open ice just moments before David Backes‘ shot/pass attempt hit Trevor van Riemsdyk‘s skate and went through Crow’s legs. But that’s not something you need to “clean up,” by any means. Goofy things like that happen, and it’s on Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks to make sure they don’t decide a game’s result moving forward.

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Overall, there were some strong positives to take away from this game. First of all, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin pretty much had their way with the Blues despite Ken Hitchcock getting last change. Toews recorded a game-best seven shots, while Panarin had five and Kane added four. Marian Hossa also contributed five shots. The better part about many of these chances was, while the Blackhawks did have five powerplays, they were making more things happen in 5-on-5, which was something they had struggled with. The conversions will come if this rate of action continues.

The defense was also surprisingly successful, getting in lanes and using active sticks to limit the Blues’ scoring chances. In 5-on-5 action, the Blues had just six chances which were considered medium or high danger, according to war-on-ice.com. That had a lot to do with guys like Niklas Hjalmarsson and van Riemsdyk getting in lanes, as well as Seabrook and Michal Rozsival using their sticks to deflect passes and shot attempts. (Side note: If Hjalmarsson was badly injured by that shot block in the opening few minutes and didn’t return, this game would have been about as fun as smashing you fingers in a car door.)

Crow also was strong throughout the game, seeing few pucks actually getting to him but making key saves when necessary. That unfortunate bounce off TVR’s skate aside, Crow looks to be in fine form for this series.

But, as I said above, not everything was a rousing success, or even kind of a success. So here are some things the Chicago Blackhawks need to do or can do in order to not only win Game 2 on Friday, but also to dent the scoresheet with some regularity while also keeping the Blues off it.

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Apr 13, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Viktor Svedberg (43) fight for position on the ice during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Sit Viktor Svedberg. With Keith returning Friday, one of the defensemen is going to have to go. Rozsival and TVR were pretty solid throughout the game Wednesday, so it pretty much boils down to Svedberg or Erik Gustafsson. With Gustafsson, you at least have a guy who can move the puck from the blue line, something the Blackhawks really don’t have outside Keith. Gustafsson even made a suave play to get a scoring chance right between the circles last night, but the puck rolled off his stick before he could get a shot.

Svedberg, meanwhile, was a big body who definitely didn’t play like one. He was falling all over the ice at the slightest contact and committed a really silly penalty because he couldn’t take all of two steps to catch Alexander Steen behind the net. I don’t see any upside to having Svedberg in the lineup moving forward, and Gustafsson sticking around would at least give the Blackhawks two puck-moving options on defense, even if Gustafsson isn’t going to see a ton of ice time. Svedberg just give me heartburn.

Sit Brandon Mashinter. This did not take very long to become an obvious need. Teuvo Teravainen and Tomas Fleischmann were clearly stifled by having a useless buffoon on their wing, as the only scoring chances they really had all night involved the two of them passing amongst themselves or with the defensemen. They couldn’t afford to pass it to Mashinter, because he has no idea what to do with the puck when he gets it, thus ruining scoring drives.

But what sealed it was the inane penalty Mashinter committed late in the second period. He got caught flat footed trying to pressure defenseman Carl Gunnarsson — which makes absolutely no sense to begin with — and instead of just trying to follow Gunnarsson up the boards to limit his passing options, Mashinter stuck his stick out and blatantly tripped Gunnarsson. It was perhaps the laziest penalty ever, and we’re only going to see more of the same if he’s in the lineup. Mashinter couldn’t crack 80 minutes in a near-70-minute game, and he wasn’t deterring any kind of Blues physicality. So for the love of god, please let Richard Panik (preferably) or Dale Weise back in the lineup.

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Apr 13, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) blocks a shot behind the screen of Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) during the first period in game one of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Get below the circles on offense. Both teams spent a strange amount of time last night trying to fire shots from the point or well above the circles. I’m not sure if both squads figured this was going to be a grind-it-out game and a dirty goal would probably be required, but they seemed content to just fire the puck at people’s legs and hope it deflected three or four times before beating the opposing goaltender.

This is how the teams managed to combine for 42 blocked shots. While the Blues spent very little time actually trying to take the puck to the crease, the Blackhawks did this on occasion, resulting in their best scoring chances of the night. And even when the puck wasn’t going in, they were drawing penalties against the Blues, which at one point led to a 35-second 5-on-3 advantage for Chicago. Playing below the goal line against St. Louis will result in bumps and bruises, but it’s a much more successful offensive option than hoping for a deflection from the point.

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Stop being stupid. As we’ve already discussed, Svedberg and Mashinter took a pair of bad penalties last night. However, they weren’t the only ones trying to put a potent Blues’ powerplay to work. Rozsival also had a silly over-exuberant check that turned into interference, and the Blackhawks got away with a few reckless high sticks and perhaps a trip or two. Seabrook’s penalty prevented a breakaway chance for Scottie Upshall and was the result of an errant Andrew Ladd pass attempt, so I’ll let that one slide.

But the Blues play a style that causes them to commit quite a few penalties, and you knew they’d try to suck the Blackhawks into this style with big hits and borderline plays that could cause Chicago players to retaliate. If the Blackhawks want to limit a successful Blues scoring avenue, they’ll stop putting St. Louis on easy powerplays, and fast.

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