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Chicago Blackhawks’ Takeaways From Preseason Opener At Columbus

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CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 23: John Hayden
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 23: John Hayden /
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The Chicago Blackhawks — albeit not the full group — took the ice for their first game of the 2017-18 preseason/season. Though many stars were missing, there were several takeaways from the affair.

Hey, hockey is back! The Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets laced up their skates Tuesday night for a preseason game, the Blackhawks’ first of the 2017-18 year. The visiting Blackhawks won the game emphatically, using four second-period goals to coast to a 5-2 result.

Blackhawks fans definitely shouldn’t take this as a sign that everything is hunky dory after a tumultuous offseason, but it’d be wrong to say there weren’t positive elements to extract from this game. Any time you’re viewing primarily prospects, you’re going to get something out of watching.

Let’s go through some of my takeaways from the Blackhawks’ preseason-opening victory.

Nick Schmaltz was solid

Definitely the best Blackhawk, an probably the best player, on the ice Tuesday was Schmaltz. He had a really solid game, posting two points in a Chicago forward-high 18:03 of ice time. He also won 42 percent of his faceoffs, which is actually an improvement from his 30.9 percent mark last season.

Looking a little more closely at his ice time, Schmaltz carried a ton of special teams opportunities. He spent 4:21 on the powerplay and 4:54 on the PK. No doubt this is partially a product of the roster the Blackhawks rolled out, but coach Joel Quenneville could’ve given those minutes to anyone. And he decided to give a ton of them to Schmaltz.

This is a very positive development, as it means Q is trusting Schmaltz’s all-around game. Which also means Schmaltz is giving Q a reason to do so, likely indicating his confidence is still high after the Rockford stint last season.

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Schmaltz’s two points were among the most impressive of the night as well. His goal was a top-shelf snipe across the body of Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo, showing amazing vision and precision to go with good feet (he skated right around a couple Jackets to get in position for the goal).

His assist saw a Marian Hossa-like move on the powerplay, when Schmaltz carried the puck just above the circles from left to right, holding off Jackets and looking for the best receiver. He found that in defenseman Cody Franson, who wristed the puck home from the point.

Cody Franson could be useful

Speaking of Franson, I’d be really happy to have him on the Blackhawks’ third pairing once the season opens. He’s clearly comfortable with his shot, and he saw consistent time on both the powerplay and penalty kill last night.

Franson is a veteran of the game, and while no one will mistake him for The Flash, he’s not nearly as slow as either Trevor van Riemsdyk or Michal Rozsival. He’s going to play an entirely solid style with sheltered minutes, should he make the roster. The preseason game had me comfortable with that concept.

David Kampf and John Hayden were noticeable

These two were second and third, respectively, among Blackhawks forwards in ice time last night (17:34 and 15:15). There’s a reason for that, as both looked to be in a groove all night.

Kampf was showing off some nice passing, both out of his own zone and up the ice. He didn’t finish with any points, but he still managed to stand out in a positive way simply by making the right play over and over.

Hayden, meanwhile, was all over the ice. Easiest to remember was him charging the Columbus net in the second period, taking a Tyler Motte cross check and trying to fight about four Jackets afterward.

Though he got a double-minor for that (a product of Chicago winning at that point, in my opinion) and finished with no points on the night, he was visible in very good ways, like Kampf. Hayden was using his body to try and end opposing chances while also trying to keep Blackhawk possessions alive. Not running out of position — moving with a purpose. Very positive to see from a youngster.

Anton Forsberg was the secondary MVP

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  • After Schmaltz, the next candidate for player of the game was definitely Forsberg. He stopped 38 of 40 shots against his former team, not relenting until Seth Jones found the net twice in the third period. And giving up two goals to Seth Jones is not the worst thing that could happen to you.

    These weren’t all cupcake saves by any means, either. Forsberg showed some great athleticism and quickness with his left-to-right movement. He also stoned former Blackhawk Artemi Panarin on a doorstep chance late in the game. It left Panarin looking skyward, no doubt wondering why the Blackhawks had to trade him.

    But after this performance, a little confidence has been added to the Blackhawks’ backup situation behind Corey Crawford. That’s definitely a welcome development.

    Laurent Dauphin is intended to replace Marcus Kruger

    I think this to be true more than the idea of Tanner Kero replacing Kruger. Dauphin was used for 13:26 of ice time last night, and 6:05 of it came on the penalty kill. While he was just 25 percent at the dot, there was a lot to like about Dauphin’s activity on the ice.

    He seems very adept at tracking players and pucks while on defense. He has no problem using his body to end matters (three hits and three blocked shots Tuesday), but he also doesn’t get out of position too often (at least he didn’t in this game).

    That faceoff percentage would have to improve if Dauphin was used as Kruger 2.0, but I think there was a specific reason general manager Stan Bowman acquired Dauphin in the Niklas HjalmarssonConnor Murphy deal. It might not mean Dauphin starts 2017-18 in the NHL, but I think we’ll see it sooner rather than later.

    On forward movements

    There’s two things I want to touch on here. The first involves the penalty kill, which got a ton of work Tuesday. The Blue Jackets acquired nine powerplay opportunities (more on that later), but the Blackhawks killed all but one.

    It seemed like the Blackhawks PK was a lot more active with actual movement in this game. I don’t know if that was an experiment for the regular season or a product of who was on the roster, but I really liked it.

    In recent seasons, the Blackhawks have opted to stand still and shift ever so slightly as the puck is passed around. That doesn’t help kill a penalty, in my mind. Sure, you can get in trouble overpursuing guys on the PK, but when it’s a controlled, consistent bother like the Blackhawks used last night, I think that is a more effective way to stop a team from scoring a man up.

    The second item under under “movements” was a less positive one, among the few less-positive notes to take away from this game. The Blackhawks still allowed 40 shots on goal, which is just a ton no matter who is on your roster. On this end, I think the forwards were almost too active at times.

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    There were points where I would see three forwards up above the circles skating right at one or two Jackets. That’s just an easy way to get yourself thrown out of position, and it leaves your defensemen and goaltender at the mercy of whoever isn’t being covered anymore.

    I’m not suggesting the Blackhawks stand still at 5-on-5, but you have to be careful how many guys, especially forwards, you’re just throwing at the puck carrier. The movement I was suggesting on the penalty kill was more 1-on-1 focused. This 5-on-5 action was not.

    The penalties

    This was the true negative point from the game. I know the league is working on two things: cutting down on faceoff violations, and being more vigilant on slashes. But, man, was that overblown to an extreme proportion in this game.

    The Jackets received two faceoff violation penalties, and five slashing penalties were called. Outside that, a lot of nitpicky stuff was also attacked. There were obvious penalties, like the interference on Mark Stuart and the board by Michal Kempny, but most of the rest was just silly.

    Specifically on the topic of the faceoff violation penalty, which is outlined here by Sports Illustrated …

    "When the faceoff takes place at any of the nine faceoff spots, the players taking part shall take their position so that they will stand squarely facing their opponent’s end of the rink, and clear of the ice markings (where applicable). The sticks of both players facing off shall have the blade on the ice, within the designated white area. At the eight faceoff spots (excluding center ice faceoff spot), the defending player shall place his stick within the designated white area first followed immediately by the attacking player. When the faceoff is conducted at the center ice face-off spot, the visiting player shall place his stick on the ice first."

    … Blackhawks TV play-by-play man Pat Foley said the penalties would help speed up the game. Well, considering guys like Boston’s Brad Marchand view the rule as “an absolute joke” already, I’m guessing we’re just going to see an even greater number of penalties, leading to even slower game play.

    Next: Blackhawks' Possible Second Line: Sharp-Schmaltz-Kane

    The NHL rarely gets its rules and regulations right the first time. This is something that could need to be looked at midseason, though, if it gets too out of hand.

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