Jeremy Morin, forward, Rockford IceHogs (AHL), acquired via trade in 2010: The 22-year-old Morin had his points streak snapped at 13 games on Friday. He didn’t record a point in the IceHogs’ 8-3 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals. He had 11 goals and nine assists during the streak. He got back to his production with an assist on Saturday. He has 22 goals, 23 assists and a plus-nine rating in 46 games this season.
Ryan Hartman, forward, Plymouth Whalers (OHL), drafted first round in 2013: The 19-year-old Hartman has scored in three of his last four games. He had a goal and an assist in the Whalers’ 3-1 win over the Saginaw Spirit on Sunday. He has three goals and two assists in four games in March. He has 25 goals, 26 assists and a minus-13 rating in 50 games this season.
Teuvo Teravainen, forward, Jokerit (Finland), drafted first round in 2012: The 19-year-old Teravainen scored a goal in a 3-2 loss on Wednesday and had an assist in a 4-3 win on Thursday. He has nine goals and 34 assists in 47 games. He is tied for sixth in the Liiga with 43 points.
The 19-year-old Fournier was selected by the Blackhawks in the second round as the 48th overall pick of the 2012 NHL draft.
Fournier has 13 goals, 19 assists and a plus-10 rating in 36 games this season for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He hasn’t played since Dec. 29 due to an upper-body injury.
Fournier has 31 goals, 77 assists and a plus-19 rating in 207 career QMJHL games over the past four seasons.
1. The line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Andrew Shaw was dominant for the second consecutive game. In the past two games, Saad has had a 81.8 Corsi (30 shots for, seven against), Toews a 70.5 (31 for, 13 against) and Shaw a 78.4 (29 for, eight against). They have combined for five goals and two assists in the two games. The trio connected for an aesthetically-pleasing goal on Sunday. From the right side, Shaw hit Saad going to the net. Saad came in from the left and got Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth to commit to him. Saad then delivered a pass to Toews, who was waiting for the puck on the right doorstep and Toews knocked it home. Toews has done a nice job of putting himself in goal-scoring spots in the past few weeks and then capitalizing when the puck comes his way. He's scored in the past four games. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville may have something to think about when Marian Hossa returns healthy. Does Quenneville keep Saad on the top line or does Quenneville go back with Patrick Sharp there? The Sharp-Toews-Hossa line had produced much of the season.
2. There aren't many players capable of scoring like Patrick Kane did in the first period. It can only really be appreciated watching it in slow motion over a number of times. With the puck loose and Kane and the Sabres' Christian Ehroff approaching it, Kane reached out with his stick in his right hand, knocked the puck to his left and put it between Ehroff's legs. When it came out the other end, the puck was too far ahead of Kane, so he reached and fully extended himself and his stick with his right arm and backhanded the puck to himself while Sabres defenseman Chad Ruhwedel converged. Kane gathered himself and the puck as he got to the middle of the ice, created some space between him and Ruhwedel by skating to his left and fired the puck into the top right corner over the shoulder of Enroth. It ended up No. 5 on SportsCenter Top 10 on Sunday night.
3. Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford again didn't face a whole lot of shots, but he continued to be consistent. Since allowing four goals on Jan. 22, Crawford has held opponents to two or fewer goals in 10 of his past 12 games. He has a 1.58 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in that span. He only saw 21 shots against the Sabres, but they had some quality looks and Crawford was there to stop them. One of his biggest saves came with 5:32 remaining in the third period when Brian Flynn got past Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. With Flynn coming at him, Crawford attempted to reach to his right for the puck with his stick. Flynn got the shot off before that happened, and Crawford had to react to his left and caught the puck with his glove.
4. Defenseman David Rundblad had a quiet first game for the Blackhawks. He had one missed shot and played 10 shifts for 7:38 of ice time. He gave the Sabres a quality scoring chance when Ville Leino beat him for the puck and skated past him at the Blackhawks' blue line midway through the third period. Nick Leddy bailed Rundblad out by diving to block Leino's shot attempt. Leddy may not be the optimal partner for Rundblad because both are more offensive-skilled players. It'll be interesting to see how much Rundblad actually sees the ice in the coming weeks.
5. Quenneville still doesn't consistently trust Bryan Bickell, especially in close games. Bickell was held to 11 shifts and a team-low 7:22 of ice time against the Sabres. He played three shifts in the third period. He had been averaging around 10 minutes the previous four games. Bickell's line, which also included Kris Versteeg and Peter Regin, had positive possession numbers when it did play on Sunday.
6. The Blackhawks' penalty kill came up big. The Blackhawks killed off all five of the Sabres' power plays. It was especially key because their power play wasn't any help, going 0-for-5 and having four shots on goal. The Blackhawks have killed off 17-of-18 power plays in the past four games. Their penalty kill has come a long way since the beginning of the season. The Blackhawks are now 19th in the NHL with a 81.1 penalty kill percentage.
One of them was NHL.com’s Brian Hedger, who noted Roy’s usual honesty.
“We know that Chicago is going to be on top in our [division],” Roy said at the time. “We don’t think we’re going to battle with Chicago in the standings.”
One, his team must not have received that memo. And two, he probably assumed the St. Louis Blues would lose to a division opponent at some point in regulation this season.
On Sunday, the Blues beat the Wild 3-2 in overtime, improving their division record to 18-0-1 this season. It’s as ridiculous as it is impressive. The win moved Ken Hitchcock past Ron Wilson for seventh on the all-time win list with 649. It also opened up a four-point lead in the Central for the Blues, whose 94 points are the most in the NHL this season.
It’s an impressive total that starts with taking care of your division opponents.
“We have, for some reason, won a lot of game in the division in overtime or shootouts,” Hitchcock wrote in an email Sunday night when I tried to get an explanation for the success against a pretty stacked Central Division. “Games have been so close, it’s unreal. Even against the non-playoff teams.”
As the world learned during the Olympics, T.J. Oshie is a heck of a weapon to have at your disposal in the shootout. He converted again Sunday night to help the Blues improve to 8-3 in the shootout. Those are points that could end up being critical in a tight race atop the Central.
And make no mistake, it’s a race the three teams battling for the top desperately want to win. After beating Detroit on Friday night, Colorado’s Matt Duchene didn’t hide his team’s deep desire to win the Central and send the message that they are for real. Beating Chicago and St. Louis would definitely win over converts that still expect the Avalanche to backslide at some point before the playoffs arrive.
“We’re not going to,” Duchene said when we chatted after the game. “We work hard. We have skill and we have great coaching. It’s not going to happen.”
The motivation for Hitchcock is a little different. His Blues already have proved they can put together an impressive regular season. He wants to win the division for the advantage it gives the Blues later on in the spring.
“It’s not so much winning the division,” he wrote in the email exchange, “it’s getting home ice as much as possible.”
In between them sit the reigning champion Blackhawks, who have been average against the Central, at 9-9-3, but have done most of their damage while cleaning up against the Pacific, at 14-1-6.
All three have made it this far, which takes us to this week’s Next Question: Which Central contender should smart money pick to win the division?
First, let’s take a look at the remaining schedule for St. Louis, Chicago and Colorado and determine which has the toughest path.
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Editor's note: These rankings are based on player production in terms of Hockey Prospectus' GVT valuation metric. If you are unfamiliar with GVT and how it works, you can find more here.
Every week, Hockey Prospectus will provide updated Player Power Rankings for the top 10 skaters and top five goalies in the NHL based on HP's proprietary value metric GVT, a statistic that combines player contributions in all aspects of the game, including defense, goaltending and the shootout. The data presented here includes a value for offensive GVT, defensive GVT, shootout GVT and overall GVT (stats through Saturday).
Top 10 skaters
Although it's hard to find fault with Crosby's game, here's one: His even-strength points have dropped significantly from the pace of the past three seasons, when he averaged 1.12 even-strength points per game. He's at 0.84 even-strength points per game this season.
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After struggling for long stretches of the regular season, Chicago is now 53-of-57 in its past 16 games, close to 93 percent as the regular season stretches into its crucial final 18 games.
"Everybody's kind of been talking about our penalty-kill ranking all year," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said on Sunday. "It's still not where we want it to be but if you can make a difference in a minor way and help us win these tight games like it did tonight, then that's what it's all about."
A penalty kill that once ranked near the worst in the league is now creeping toward the middle of the pack. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said the penalty-killing unit has rounded into shape at just the right time for his team.
"You're always going to have some good stretches and bad stretches," he said after Sunday's win. "We certainly had a tough stretch for too long, but I like the way we're trending."
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford said Chicago's defensemen have done a great job of blocking shots during the team's recent run of penalty-killing success.
"All five guys on the ice, we've been on the same page for a while now," Crawford said. "Our D-men have been great, I don't think they get enough credit."
Ryan Miller is no longer a concern for the Chicago Blackhawks when they play the Buffalo Sabres, though his impact on their playoff goals is officially a much bigger issue. The 12-year veteran goaltender was traded by Buffalo to Central Division-leading St. Louis just days before the trade deadline, giving a team with Stanley Cup aspirations a shutdown netminder to use against the defending Cup champions.
Miller has four career starts against Chicago, allowing eight goals and going 2-2 with a .939 save percentage in those starts. It's a small sample size for sure, but Quenneville knows overcoming St. Louis for the Central Division title became that much harder with Miller in net for the Blues.
"He's certainly a top goalie in the game and he's always tough to beat. He always plays well against us," Quenneville said. "I think that St. Louis helped themselves with him in the net, and he's played well since he's been there."
Chicago remains four points back of the Blues, who also won Sunday night with a 3-2 shootout win over Minnesota. Brian Elliott started for St. Louis Sunday, but Miller has won his first four starts with the Blues, who have now won five straight.
"It's something that makes our division even tougher and even stronger in that race," Quenneville said. "To be in first place is going to be challenging for us. Certainly our ambition is to try and be first, but [when] you have a goalie like that he's going to make you a better team."
Chicago has two home games left against St. Louis this season, next Wednesday and on April 6.
Sabres forward Tyler Ennis thought he had a goal early in the first period when Crawford lost the puck while handling it outside of his crease. Ennis swung at the stick of Crawford, who fumbled the puck and watched as Ennis sent a backhand into the net to apparently tie the game at one with 5:23 gone in the first period. Instead, the goal was waved off as Ennis was called for a hooking penalty and went to the penalty box. After the game, Ennis wasn't very happy with the call.
"He kind of lost a handle on it," Ennis said. "It didn’t really have anything to do with my slash, I guess you could call it. I had one hand on my stick."
"That was a tough call," he added later. "Obviously that was the difference in the game."
Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson left Sunday's win after blocking two shots on a shift early in the third period. He returned to the ice and Quenneville said his sturdy blueliner was OK after the game.
"He's a warrior-type guy," Quenneville said. "He always finds a way to get through it."
"I think he's returned from the Olympics in great shape," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. "The puck seems to be following him."
Toews' goal, the sixth in a four-game stretch, came on the rush after wingers Andrew Shaw and Saad broke into the Buffalo zone on their first shift of the third period. Saad took a cross-ice pass from Shaw and sent it back across the ice to a waiting Toews, who had an open net waiting for him.
"It was a good tic-tac-toe play for that line," said Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who made 15 saves in the win and had one of the best views of the passing play from his crease. "[Toews has] been on fire of late. He's just continuing to play well."
Toews' 25th goal of the season gave the center 62 points in 65 games this year, inching closer to his career-best 76-point total in the 2010-11 season. Toews admitted afterward his line started slow on Sunday, but his mark reflected its strong finish.
"We maybe got into a few bad habits, but we played better in the third period," Toews said. "For myself, it's just trying to do the same thing with my line. We maybe didn't have the best start to the game, but near the end we were playing better and got a response."
Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane added the other goal in the first period for Chicago, a highlight-reel tally in which he shredded the Sabres' defense and ripped a shot past Buffalo goaltender Jhonas Enroth. In a game that featured few scoring chances for either team, Kane said Toews' consistency and ability to find the net was the difference on Sunday night.
"He's playing great," Kane said. "He's getting to the net and finding ways to score, different ways to score every game."
Kane added that keeping the top line on the score sheet is key to mounting an extended postseason run this spring.
"He's definitely a guy you want going in the playoffs," Kane said, "and the thing with him is whether he scores or not he's going to bring the same thing every night. He plays the same way and gives you the same effort, so it's kind of an added bonus that he's scoring right now."
BUFFALO -- Here’s a quick look at the Chicago Blackhawks' 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Sunday.
How it happened: Jonathan Toews scored 1:34 into the third period, taking a cross-ice pass from Brandon Saad to snap a 1-1 tie. Saad's pass may have been a return pass to winger Andrew Shaw, but the puck slid past the winger in front and right to the Hawks captain, who had an easy finish into the open net.
Patrick Kane scored a highlight-reel goal in the first period, taking advantage of some bad defending by the Sabres to snap a wrist shot over goaltender Jhonas Enroth's glove to give the Blackhawks the lead just 3:12 into the contest. Kane took a Patrick Sharp pass in the neutral zone and deked by a lunging Christian Ehrhoff to gain the zone, then created space and used Chad Ruhwedel as a screen to rip a shot into the far corner, bringing a large Blackhawks contingent to its feet inside a sold-out First Niagara Center.
What it means: Chicago wins its second straight to improve to 38-13-14 on the season. The Hawks now have 90 points on the year and remain in second place in the Central Division. Chicago moves three points ahead of third place Colorado in the division race, as the Avalanche sat idle on Sunday night. Chicago sweeps the season series with the Sabres after a 2-1 win at home on Oct. 12.
Player of the game: Toews scored the game winner and now has goals in four straight games for the Blackhawks. He has six goals and an assist during the four-game stretch.
Stat of the game: Chicago was 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and is 53-for-57 in its past 16 games.
What’s next: The Hawks' two-game road trip concludes with a game in Colorado against the Avalanche on Wednesday.
Patrick Kane celebrated his trip home to Buffalo by also scoring in helping the Blackhawks beat the Sabres for a fifth consecutive time. Cory Crawford made 20 saves in making his 12 straight start.
By improving to 3-3 since the end of the Olympic break, Chicago (38-13-14) avoided its longest road losing streak since a six-game drought from Feb. 2-14, 2012.
Drew Stafford scored for the league-worst Sabres (19-37-8), who had a three-game home winning streak snapped.
A few hundred fans looked on during Chicago's morning practice before Sunday night's contest, many sporting Kane jerseys and shirts or Blackhawks hats.
"I've never seen that many people at a morning skate," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Bickell would measure his game by the number of goals and assists he had. He was pleased when he was producing and frustrated when he wasn’t.
“Most important thing I think in my stage of my career, I don’t think points are what I need,” Bickell said after practice Saturday. “We need two points as a team. I’m here to help.
“It seems like earlier in my career you want to get points and play your best to be an elite player in this league. I think I’ve established what I’ve done and what I can do. Points are going to come and go. Whether you’re winning is the most important thing.”
Points have been coming Bickell’s way as of late. He’s scored goals in two of the four games since returning from the Olympic break. He knocked in a puck around the net against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field on March 1 and while on the move cleaned up a rebound from a Kris Versteeg shot for a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.
Versteeg said Bickell’s goal Thursday was the perfect example of what Bickell could give the Blackhawks.
“It was a great goal by him,” Versteeg said. “He went to the net and the puck landed on his stick and he put it in. He has a great goal-scoring touch for a big guy. He’s a heck of a factor on the ice when he wants to be. Hopefully it’s a positive and we can all keep rolling forward.”
“He’s on target,” Quenneville said after practice Saturday. “He looks good. He’s working hard in the gym there. I think some point this week he’ll be on the ice. Hopefully he’ll be playing before we know it.”
If Hossa returns to practice this week, he could return to the team’s lineup during a four-game stretch beginning the week of March 16.
“Yeah, maybe it’s going to be in the middle of that [two-to-three week range,]” Quenneville said. “I don’t think it’s going to be shorter than two.”
Hossa has 24 goals, 26 assists and a plus-25 rating in 57 games this season.
Toews has found his normal energy level difficult to come by since returning from Sochi, Russia, where he helped Canada win its second consecutive Olympic gold medal. But what he’s lacked in energy, he’s made up for by playing with an overflowing amount of confidence.
“I’m not going to lie, there’s been a couple games in the last week where physically it’s been tough to get up for that and play with the energy I've wanted to play with,” Toews said after the Blackhawks’ 6-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. “I think mostly with the speed of the game, I feel just more relaxed with the puck and confident I can hang onto it and keep making plays. The offense is going to come.
“Playing in the NHL, it’s a much more offensive game than that Olympic style. I think everyone talked about that when we were out there. I’m definitely taking some confidence away from that tournament.”
Toews wasn't rolling offensively in terms of numbers in the Olympics like he is now, but very few players had a lot of offensive production in Sochi. Toews finished with a goal and three assists and was tied for fourth on Canada with four points.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville closely monitored all of his players during the Olympics and was impressed by Toews throughout the tournament.
“He was outstanding in the Olympics,” Quenneville said Thursday. “I thought he was arguably one of the best players in the whole tournament. I thought the last few games he’s looked like he’s on that same pace.”
CHICAGO -- Why the Chicago Blackhawks rolled to a 6-1 win victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday is debatable.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville’s shifting of lines might have had an impact, whether physical or psychological. The Blackhawks might have simply been the better team and would have been just fine against the Blue Jackets, whom they have defeated 12 consecutive times, if they'd kept the same lines from their previous game. The Blackhawks might also have been playing with additional motivation coming off a disappointing defeat to the Colorado Avalanche and given their recent lack of production.
Whatever the reason, the Blackhawks needed a victory exactly like Thursday's. With 18 regular-season games to go and the Central Division race continuing to heat up, the Blackhawks got their heads straight while pouring in goals and cruising to a victory against Columbus.
“It’s good for us to get back on track,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “That’s a hard-working, simple team that doesn’t give up much. We went out there, worked hard and skated and we wore them down. Eventually, we just got plenty of scoring chances.
“We know we don’t have too many games left this year and every point is important. But at the same time, we want to keep improving every period. I think we got a good bounce-back, I guess, from the softer effort against Colorado.”
Toews’ new-look top line factored into that bounce-back effort. Reuniting Toews with Brandon Saad after Marian Hossa's recent injury didn’t take much thought from Quenneville. But Quenneville was working on a hunch that Andrew Shaw would gel well with Toews and Saad. Shaw hadn’t played on the top line since his first career NHL game, in 2012.
“It’s an opportunity,” Quenneville of mixing his lines. “When you got a guy out, you try things. You give the guy a chance. Saader looked immediately like he felt comfortable there. And then looking for a little balance with [Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line], Shawzy took advantage of the chance.”
Toews and Saad did their parts, too. Toews scored twice and had a plus-2 rating. He has notched five goals in his past three games. Saad had an assist and a plus-2 rating.
“Being back with Saader, I think it’s like old times,” Toews said. “We have a lot of experience playing together. I think we’re similar players. We both seem to be thinking the same thing when either guy has the puck and there’s an opportunity to go to the net or help either to find a way to create a scoring chance.
“I think we fit in well with Shawzy. He was working. Almost like [Hossa] the way he was working to recover the puck and he was throwing his body around. Nice to see him get a few, too.”
Saad had the prettiest moves of the night. In the second period, he received the puck at the top of the right circle and skated to his left, toward the middle of the ice. As the Blue Jackets’ James Wisniewski approached him, Saad brought the puck to his backhand and broke to his right to avoid Wisniewski. Saad encountered Columbus’ Nathan Horton a moment later and quickly cut to his left to leave Horton behind. Saad shot it, saw it blocked, retrieved the rebound and dished it to a wide-open Toews for a goal.
“I didn’t even realize how many times he kind of dangled it through,” Toews said. “I was just waiting for the puck to come to me at the goal line. Eventually it did, so great play by him.”
The victory meant that the Blackhawks did not lose any ground to the Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues. The Blues remained atop the division with a win Thursday and improved to 42-14-6 with 90 points. The Blackhawks stayed in second place and have 88 points with a 37-13-14 record. The Avalanche also won Thursday and are 41-17-5 with 87 points.
The Blackhawks are keeping tabs of everyone’s results each night, but Toews said the division race isn’t the only factor driving them the last month of the regular season.
“I think at the end of the day we’re motivated to build ourselves into the team we want to be come playoff time,” Toews said. “[The division race] adds to it in a way to keep us honest and make sure we’re competing the right way for these points every single night because we know it’s important. We’ll keep going forward with that attitude.”
Shaw left no doubt he was still out for first place.
“There’s some great teams in the Western Conference,” Shaw said. “Positioning is huge. You want the home-ice advantage. We have to go there and get it.”
Thursday’s win got the Blackhawks moving in the right direction again.