Chicago Blackhawks: Niklas Hjalmarsson

Homestand becoming nightmare for Hawks

February, 22, 2015
Feb 22
7:26
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks and their fans possessed grand visions for an eight-game homestand.

The Blackhawks never had such a long homestand, and everyone envisioned the possibilities. They were going to take care of home ice now in order to secure it for later, and make their move on the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. It had the makings of a nonstop party at the United Center for two-plus weeks.

The fans who didn't depart and remained for the third period of Sunday's 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins can fully grasp how far from a celebratory atmosphere the inside of the United Center was. Aside from the occasional shout from the beer vendors, the game may as well have been played in an empty building, as only the sounds of the puck hitting sticks and skates on ice filled the air.

[+] EnlargeNiklas Hjalmarsson
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesBlackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said the team was very motivated after Friday's loss to the Avs, which made Sunday's drubbing by the Bruins all the more difficult to explain.
What couldn't be heard, but certainly could be felt -- from the team's bench to the 300-level -- was the shock of what had happened so quickly. The Blackhawks were in the game down by just a goal to begin the second period and suddenly found themselves trailing by five goals 20 minutes later. Add in the fact that Chicago was outscored 3-0 in the third period in a loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Friday and fell to 2-2-3 on the homestand, and those grand visions had been completely decimated by the time the final horn sounded Sunday.

"That was one of those games where you can't be happy about anything that went on today," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "The first period we're down 2-1. The second period was hard to watch. The third period was just another period.

"That definitely gets your attention. I know the last game was disappointing, but today is a different approach. So, across the board, we all should be looking forward to what we can do better."

The Bruins and Blackhawks entered Sunday's game with similar mindsets. Both teams were coming off bad losses, had been losing ground in the standings and were driven to fix that. The Bruins were the only ones to act on it, though. The situation was similar on Friday when the Avalanche appeared to just be hungrier than the Blackhawks.

"We were really motivated [after Friday]," Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "I couldn't really see this coming. Yeah, I don't really have an explanation.

"Obviously this was pretty embarrassing, especially in front of our home crowd. At the same time, they had a couple bounces that went their way. But they were better than us today, for sure. Have to admit that."

How the Blackhawks were outworked may not be explainable, but there are a number of reasons why Chicago hasn't been succeeding lately.

For one, the Blackhawks haven't been building leads in the first period. They are 19-2-0 when they lead after the first period. In their past 11 games, they have led once after the first period. They have been outscored 8-2 in the first period during that span.

Secondly, the Blackhawks still aren't getting consistent defensive play. Quenneville has tried a bit of everything in the defensive pairings and hasn't been satisfied. On Sunday, the overall defense had issues, but Michal Rozsival could have prevented two goals at the net and was on the ice for three goals total. The Blackhawks' defenseman depth was already questioned before Johnny Oduya suffered an injury Sunday that could keep him out a few games.

The Blackhawks also aren't getting a lot of scoring as of late. They have tallied 21 goals, including 11 5-on-5 goals, over the past 11 games, which is well below their 2.83 goals-per-game average. They also haven't been getting much production outside of their top-six forwards.

The Blackhawks have been a difficult team to put a finger on all season. They have had positive and negative stretches throughout their 60 games. They struggled to score early in the season, then went through a span in which they looked like the best team in the NHL, then went on the decline in late December, then were working their way back up to begin the current homestand, and again are trending the other way.

So what now? The Blackhawks know they have some issues, but they're not so easy to correct, as forward Patrick Kane admitted.

"If anything, I just think it shows when you're struggling -- it's not flip a switch and it's going to change right away," Kane said. "It's a process to get through and no matter how much talent, how much skill is in the room -- it's not like you can just turn it on and off. It's a process. We have to be way better starting right now in preparing ourselves for the next game."

The Blackhawks' dressing room was opened later than usual and an unusual number of players were still at their stalls when media members were allowed in after the game, but no one would officially say there was a team meeting or elaborate on what had been said.

Regardless, Hjalmarsson shared what had to be on all of his teammates' minds.

"We just have to find a way to get through this," Hjalmarsson said. "At the same time, this is the time to really show your true colors when stuff is going against you and you're not playing that great. It's going to be a good test for the group in here to find a way out of it."

Unsung Hjalmarsson key to Hawks' defense

February, 2, 2015
Feb 2
3:20
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BlackhawksCal Sport Media/AP ImagesNiklas Hjalmarsson has built a reputation as a tough defenseman who is unafraid to throw his body in front of the puck.


Longtime Sweden coach Par Marts doesn’t remember many teenagers who were bold enough to enter his office and ask to be traded.

Niklas Hjalmarsson did just that.

Hjalmarsson was 19 years old and playing for Marts on HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League in 2006. Hjalmarsson’s talent had already been identified as he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks the year before and he was playing in the top Swedish league with more experienced players. The problem was Hjalmarsson wasn’t getting a lot of ice time, and he was concerned it would affect his selection to play for Sweden in the World Junior Championships.

Hjalmarsson saw the only way to ensure himself a spot on the team. He needed to go elsewhere and play more. So, he knocked on Marts’ door.

“He’s prepared to pay the price to reach his goal,” Marts said by phone from Sweden. “I haven’t heard that from many players, but he stepped in my office and said, ‘Send me away. I don’t care where.’”

Hjalmarsson got his wish. Marts agreed to trade him. Hjalmarsson went to a lower division team, flourished there and was chosen to play in the World Junior Championships. He returned to HV71 after the tournament and was given a larger role by Marts. A season later, he made his NHL debut.

Determination is the word most commonly associated with Hjalmarsson. Whether it’s asking to be traded at 19, blocking pucks and fighting through the pain that follows or putting in the time to develop such skills as his ability to optimally defend with his stick, Hjalmarsson has always been driven to do whatever it takes to succeed. It’s an approach that’s helped him become one of the league’s premier shutdown defensemen and a key piece to the Blackhawks' success.

“I think that’s been one of my strengths since growing up that I’m pretty aware of what I have to do,” said Hjalmarsson, who has played 531 regular-season and playoff games for the Blackhawks since making his debut in 2008. “I’m usually aware of when I play good and when I play bad; when I’m playing bad, what I can do to get back to where I want to be. I don’t know, good intuition, I think.”

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Year in review: Best and worst of 2014

December, 30, 2014
12/30/14
2:11
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Patrick Kane, Jonathan ToewsAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Hawks made sure their future will remain bright by re-signing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
The Chicago Blackhawks were going to have a difficult time matching 2013 no matter what they accomplished in 2014. The Blackhawks did come close to defending the Stanley Cup in 2014, but fell short of their goal. Recapturing the Cup is where the bar is set now, and anything less is a disappointment for the franchise and its fan base. The Blackhawks can be hopeful their success in the last few months of 2014 leads to another celebratory year in 2015.

BEST MOMENTS


5. Making their countries, Hawks proud: The Blackhawks were well-represented in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Ten Blackhawks were picked to play in Sochi: Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp helped Canada won gold again, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger and Johnny Oduya won silver medals with Sweden, and Michal Handzus (Slovakia), Marian Hossa (Slovakia), Michal Rozsival (Czech Republic) and Patrick Kane (U.S.) also participated in the Olympics.

[+] EnlargePatrick Kane
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonPatrick Kane added to his playoff legacy with a tie-breaking goal in Game 6 of the Western finals.
4. Outdoor fun: The Blackhawks hosted their second outdoor game, and this one went better than their loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field. Despite having to play through wind and snow, the Blackhawks skated around the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 5-1 victory at Soldier Field on March 1. Jonathan Toews stole the show with two goals and an assist. Kris Versteeg became the first player to score at Wrigley Field and Solider Field.

3. Kane delivers again: Patrick Kane has had his share of special playoff goals. He added to them in 2014. One of his biggest of the year came in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings when he broke a 3-3 tie with a goal with 3:45 remaining in the third period. The Blackhawks won 4-3 and forced a Game 7. Altogether, he had four game-winning goals and 20 points in the playoffs last season.

2. Survive and advance: The Blackhawks were on the ropes after losing the first two games of the opening round of the playoffs to the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks needed someone to step up in Game 3, and Corey Crawford answered the call. Crawford denied all 34 shots he faced and the Blackhawks pulled out a 2-0 win. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock thought Game 3 was his team’s best game. Kane scored an overtime game-winner in Game 4. Toews scored an overtime game-winner in Game 5. The Blackhawks went on to win the series 4-2. The Blackhawks also took the Western Conference semifinals 4-2 over the Minnesota Wild.

1. Re-signing Kane and Toews: The Blackhawks may not have won the Stanley Cup in 2014, but they increased their chances of winning future Cups by re-signing Kane and Toews to identical eight-year, $84-million contracts. The contracts were Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman’s priority the last few years, and the deal was completed on July 9. Their extensions go into effect next season and they will be signed through the 2022-23 season.

WORST MOMENTS


5. Wakey, wakey: Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook was suspended three games after his elbow connected with Blues forward David Backes' head in Game 2 of their first-round series. Backes appeared dazed and was slow to get up after the hit, and a microphone caught someone say “Wakey, wakey” to him. None of the Blackhawks admitted to it. Backes missed two games with an upper-body injury.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Toews
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsThe Blackhawks' Stanley Cup defense came to an end against the Kings thanks to Alec Martinez's game-winner in Game 7.
4. Second-half slump: The Blackhawks weren’t exactly cruising into the playoffs last season. They went 18-14-8 from Jan. 1 to the end of the regular season. They had three losing streaks of three games or more and just one winning streak of more than two games during that span. They finished in third place in the Central Division and had to start the playoffs on the road.

3. Quenneville fined: Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was fined $25,000 for inappropriate conduct when he grabbed his groin area and yelled at the officials during Game 1 against the Blues. Quenneville apologized and described it as a stupid move. Fans had fun with the GIF of his action for some time.

2. Kane and Toews’ injuries: The Blackhawks finished the regular season without their top two players due to injuries last season. Kane missed the final 12 regular-season games after suffering a lower-body injury against the Blues on March 19. Toews endured an upper-body injury when he was hit into the boards against the Penguins on March 30. He sat out the final six regular-season games. The Blackhawks were also highly criticized for not retaliating against Brooks Orpik and the Penguins for the hit on Toews. The Blackhawks had been without Kane and Toews at the same time in just one game prior to last season.

1. Kings eliminate Blackhawks: The Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup defense and chance at back-to-back championships ended when the Los Angeles Kings' Alec Martinez scored a game-winning overtime goal in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. The Blackhawks had won six consecutive playoff series before falling to the Kings, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Quenneville: Hjalmarsson worthy of All-Star Game

December, 28, 2014
12/28/14
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Niklas HjalmarssonMike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsNiklas Hjalmarsson is putting up impressive numbers on defense this season.


CHICAGO -- The NHL All-Star Game is about scoring goals, not stopping them, which is why Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson isn’t likely to be included in it anytime soon.

But if the NHL ever decided to include a defenseman who excels just defensively, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville thought Hjalmarsson would be worthy of an All-Star Game invitation.

“In today’s era, a lot of the guys who get consideration for the top defensemen, Norris trophy candidates, they have to have output offensively,” Quenneville said. “He loses that consideration. Maybe they can come up with a best defensive defenseman. That criteria, he’d be all right in that.”

Hjalmarsson is often matched up against the opponents’ top players. He leads the Blackhawks defensemen in time on-ice against quality competition, combined neutral and defensive-zone starts and takeaways and is tied for second in blocked shots. He also is a plus-10, has a 54.0 Corsi percentage and a 57.5 goals-for percentage (he’s been on the ice for 23 goals for and 17 goals against in 5-on-5 play).

“Game in and game out, the one thing you look for in a defenseman is consistency and that’s him,” Quenneville said. “Whether it’s blocking shots, good stick, great gap, comes up with loose pucks, he does everything you want in a defenseman.”

Hjalmarsson recently said he didn’t expect to be picked for this year’s All-Star Game.

“I really don’t count on making that,” Hjalmarsson said. “But obviously if I do that anytime in my career, it would be an honor. I know it wouldn’t be for my offensive skills. It would be more for my defensive plays. It would be fun if fans could see that, too, and appreciate to get a defensive-minded player in the All-Star Game, too.”

Hjalmarsson joked they could add a new skill challenge for defensive-minded players.

“I don’t know if they can make up some new games for that,” Hjalmarsson said. “Try to block [Shea] Weber's and [P.K.] Subban's shots from the blue line, just keep shooting. I don’t know.”

The Blackhawks have five players ranked in the top six in All-Star Game voting. The top six finishers will automatically be included in the game. Hjalmarsson is No. 38 in voting.

Opposing power plays have been no match for Blackhawks' PK

December, 23, 2014
12/23/14
9:58
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Marian GaborikMike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsThe Blackhawks have allowed just eight power-play goals in 95 opportunities this season.
CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane entertains his Chicago Blackhawks’ teammates by the different ways he’s able to put pucks inside opponents’ nets.

Kane’s teammates entertain him with the ways they keep opponents’ power plays from doing the same on the Blackhawks’ net.

“It’s fun to watch,” Kane said. “You’re confident when you take a penalty that it’s going to be killed off. They’re doing a great job.”

Great may not be a strong enough adjective for what the Blackhawks' penalty kill has been doing. Their penalty kill is headed toward becoming the NHL’s best of all time. The 2011-2012 New Jersey Devils hold the league’s regular-season record with an 89.6 penalty-killing percentage. The Blackhawks have a 91.6 percentage through 34 games.

Like Kane’s offensive game, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill can beat an opponent in a lot of different ways. They disrupt passing lanes. They’re aggressive when they need to be, but also hold back when the situation calls for it. They work together like an orchestra in a lot of ways. They possess depth with each forward and defenseman being as capable as the one they replaced. They’re not afraid to step in front of shots. It’s also helped their goaltenders have made saves when the puck has gotten through to the net.

Put it all together, and the Blackhawks’ penalty kill is difficult to score upon. The Blackhawks have allowed eight power-play goals in 95 opportunities this season. They have shut out opponents on the power play in 27-of-34 games. In December, the Blackhawks have killed off 23-of-25 penalties.

With the Blackhawks’ power play still lacking consistency -- it’s ranked 16th in the league with a 18.0 percentage -- it’s the penalty kill which has often come to the special teams' rescue, especially in close games. The Blackhawks have held their opponents without a power-play goal in six of their 11 one-goal wins this season.

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Patrick Sharp likely back next week

December, 4, 2014
12/04/14
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp likely will return from a lower-body injury next week, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Thursday.

Sharp has been out since suffering an apparent leg injury against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 4. He was expected to miss 3-4 weeks. He began practicing with the team again on Tuesday.

“We’re going to count him out for [Friday’s game against the Canadiens],” Quenneville said after practice on Thursday. “Likely, probably next week on the trip.

“We want him to be more than ready. I think whether it’s more contact or he’s comfortable in all areas where he feels that strength underneath him. The pushing and the shoving in the tight areas is what we’re looking at. And we have time, so let’s make sure, like I said, he’s more than ready.”

Sharp has three goals and six assists in 13 games this season. He led the Blackhawks with 34 goals and 78 points last season.

Blackhawks defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith and Johnny Oduya did not participate in the team's 20-minute practice on Thursday because they were resting, Quenneville said.

By the numbers: The circus trip

November, 30, 2014
11/30/14
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Los Angeles Kings loseJuan Ocampo/Getty ImagesThe Blackhawks capped a 5-1 road trip with a victory over the Kings Saturday.


Here’s a look by the numbers at the Chicago Blackhawks' six-game circus road trip:

• The Blackhawks went 5-1-0 on the trip. They have gone 11-2-0 in the last two years on the circus trip and 27-12-4 since 2007.

Corey Crawford started every game on the trip. He stopped 143 of 154 shots for a .929 save percentage. He allowed two-or-less goals in four of the six games.

Patrick Kane had four goals and nine points on the trip. It matched his point total during last year’s circus trip when he had nine points in seven games. He has four multi-point games this season. He leads the team and is tied for 14th in the NHL with 23 points.

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By the numbers: Crawford off to best start

November, 28, 2014
11/28/14
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Here’s a look by the numbers at the Chicago Blackhawks:

" Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford's .926 save percentage is the highest he’s ever had through 16 games of any season. His previous save percentages through 16 games have been .913 (2010-11), .904 (2011-12), .925 (2012-13) and .917 (2013-14).

" Eleven of Crawford’s 16 starts are categorized as quality starts. A quality start is considered a start where a goaltender has at least a .917 save percentage or allows two goals or less with a .885 save percentage.

" The Blackhawks have increased their 5-on-5 production, but it’s still likely to go up. The Blackhawks have a 6.58 shooting percentage in 5-on-5 situations, which ranks 25th in the league. They haven’t had less than an 8.01 shooting percentage in the previous five seasons. They ranked fifth last season with an 8.43 shooting percentage.

" One of the Blackhawks’ focuses this season was improving their record in one-goal games. They were 27th in the NHL with a .425 winning percentage and 17-8-15 record in one-goal games last season. So far, they have slightly improved. They’re 13th in the league with a .500 winning percentage and have a 7-6-1 record. They have won their last three games decided by one goal.

" The Blackhawks are tied for fourth with a 52.6 faceoff winning percentage. They were tied for fifth last season at 52 percent. Jonathan Toews is leading the way this season with a 57.4 percentage (281 of 49) and is followed by Marcus Kruger (56.8, 104 of 183), Ben Smith (51.6, 81 of 157), Brad Richards (48.0, 95 of 198) and Andrew Shaw (47.1, 98 of 108).

" The Blackhawks’ scoring by period has been a bit strange this season. They have scored 25 goals in the first period and 24 goals in the third period, but just 13 goals in the second period. Last season, they scored 68 goals in the first period, 102 in the second and 90 in the third.

" Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith rank seventh and eighth in the league in defensive zone faceoff starts. Kruger is at 47.3 percent and Smith at 47.2 percent. Kruger was seventh last season at 50.7 percent. At the other end, Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg rank second (47.7), third (47.6) and fourth (47.2) in offensive zone faceoff starts.

" Hitting doesn’t matter in the Blackhawks’ game, but it’s always interesting to see how far they are away from the league’s leader. The Blackhawks rank 29th in the league with 349 hits. The Los Angeles Kings are first with 697 hits.

" Patrick Kane has had a lot to do with the Blackhawks’ power play this season. He is tied for sixth in the league with 11 power-play points.

" They don’t seem to come back to haunt the Blackhawks often, but Niklas Hjalmarsson has the third most giveaways in the league with 28. On the other side, Marian Hossa is tied for fifth with 21 takeaways.

" The Blackhawks have six players among the league’s top-25 Corsi for percentage leaders (minimum 200 minutes). Those players include Trevor van Riemsdyk (6th, 60.0), Hossa (7th, 59.7), Duncan Keith (11th, 58.6), Toews (19th, 57.9), Kruger (22nd, 57.6) and Hjalmarsson (25th, 57.4).

" The Blackhawks allow 0.98 goals against per 60 minutes in 5-on-5 situations (min. 200 minutes) with Smith on the ice. He ranks 12th in the league in that stat. Hjalmarsson is the best Blackhawks defenseman in that category. He ranks 13th among all defensemen with 1.21 goals against per 60 minutes.

Hawks thoughts: Hjalmarsson putting the hammer down

November, 27, 2014
11/27/14
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Niklas HjalmarssonJohn Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesNiklas Hjalmarsson is in the midst of an excellent defensive stretch for the Blackhawks.

Here are six thoughts on the Chicago Blackhawks after their 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday:

1. This is how good Niklas Hjalmarsson has been on defense lately: He’s been on the ice for two goals in 5-on-5 situations over the past 10 games. That's really something. To compare, Brent Seabrook has been on the ice for 10 such goals, Duncan Keith for eight and Johnny Oduya for five. Hjalmarsson has a plus-45 Corsi over the span, with the Blackhawks having 176 shots for and 131 against with him on the ice in 5-on-5 play, according to war-on-ice.com.

2. How Marian Hossa didn’t score Wednesday is baffling. He had the quantity and the quality on the night -- nine shots on goal. Yes, nine shots on net, the most Hossa's had in a regular-season game since joining the Blackhawks in 2009. The only time he had more was in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2013, when he had 10. He somehow didn’t score in that game, either. To say Hossa is due for some goals is an understatement. He has three goals on 70 shots for a 4.3 shooting percentage this season. He has one goal and 20 shots over the past five games.

3. Patrick Kane entered the list of the league’s top 20 points producers after his three assists Wednesday. After having just 10 points through 16 games, he’s accumulated 11 points over the past six. His spike can be accounted for him joining Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg on a line and the Blackhawks’ recent power-play success. Kane has eight even-strength points on the season, and five of them have come with Richards and Versteeg. Kane has five power-play points over the last six games.

4. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville made three significant strategic moves in Wednesday's third period: (A) He didn’t play rookie defenseman Adam Clendening for the final 13 minutes, 18 seconds of the frame. The trust obviously isn’t there. Quenneville probably needs to get there eventually with Clendening, David Rundblad or someone else. (B) He opted to skate Andrew Shaw with Kane and Versteeg late in the game. Quenneville has come around to Richards playing on the second line, but he still preferred Shaw in a defensive situation with the game on the line. (C) He double-shifted Kane and sat Daniel Carcillo late in the period. The move paid off as Kane set up Bryan Bickell's game-winning goal. Things can change in the next week, but Quenneville could bench Carcillo when Patrick Sharp returns. The line of Joakim Nordstrom-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith was solid again Wednesday and could be something Quenneville doesn’t want to break up. If Quenneville prefers Carcillo in the lineup, Nordstrom would be the obvious player out.

5. The Blackhawks were fortunate a handful of giveaways didn’t cost them Wednesday. I counted two giveaways by Oduya, one by Keith, one by Richards, one by Michal Rozsival and one by Hossa that provided the Avalanche with scoring opportunities. Avalanche goaltender Calvin Pickard came up with some incredible saves, but the save of the night was Corey Crawford’s on Alex Tanguay's breakaway in the first period. Just as the Blackhawks have done too many times on the power play this season, Brent Seabrook couldn’t handle a pass near the blue line in the offensive zone and created a breakaway. Crawford denied what would have been the fifth short-handed goal the Blackhawks have allowed this season.

6. The Blackhawks’ power play takes a lot of heat when it’s not producing, and it deserves some credit lately. The Blackhawks have scored eight power-play goals over the past six games. During that span, they have gone from having a 17.2 power-play percentage and ranking 20th in the league to a 20.6 percentage and ranking ninth. The power-play points over the past six games have been distributed among Kane (one goal, four assists), Seabrook (one goal, three assists), Hossa (one goal, three assists), Versteeg (two goals, one assist), Jonathan Toews (one goal, one assist), Clendening (one goal, one assist), Keith (two assists), Shaw (one goal) and Bickell (one assist).

Blackhawks' 20-game season review

November, 23, 2014
11/23/14
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Corey CrawfordJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCorey Crawford has played some of the best hockey of his career through the first 20 games.


The Chicago Blackhawks are almost a quarter of the way through the season after playing 20 games. Here are 15 things we have learned about them so far:

1. The Blackhawks don’t have an amazing record at 12-7-1, but it’s not bad considering their early scoring troubles and they are still right there among the Central Division leaders. They’re in third place in the Central behind the Nashville Predators (13-5-2, 28 points) and St. Louis Blues (13-6-1, 27 points). The Blackhawks are trending upward. They’re on their first three-game winning streak of the season and have won five of their last six games. One area they have already corrected from last season is their overtime/shootout record. They were 3-8 last year and are 4-1 this season.

2. The Blackhawks can still fill the net. They went through an unlucky stretch early in the season, when they were leading the league in shots but didn’t have the results to show for it. That’s changed in the last few weeks. Their shooting percentage is getting back to normal. They have scored 32 goals over the last eight games. They still lead the league in shots (36.7 per game) and their scoring average is up to 2.95, which is tied for seventh. Their shooting percentage is still a few percentage points below their average the last few years, so expect the goals average to increase some more over time. The Blackhawks were third in shots-per game (33.1) and second in goals-per-game (3.18) last season.

3. Corey Crawford is playing at an elite level. He has a 1.90 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in 14 games. He ranks fifth in the league in save percentage. His start to the season is comparable to what he did in the shortened 2012-13 season, when he was consistent throughout the season and finished ranked sixth in the league in save percentage. It’s the only time he’s finished in the top 10 in save percentage. He has held opponents to two goals or less in 10 of his 14 games this season. He’s especially improved against the power play. He had a .864 power-play save percentage last season and it’s currently at .905.

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Defensemen ready to fill Leddy's skates

October, 5, 2014
10/05/14
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CHICAGO -- Kyle Cumiskey, David Rundblad and Trevor van Riemsdyk all understood what it meant for them when the Chicago Blackhawks traded defenseman Nick Leddy over the weekend.

Leddy had locked down a defenseman spot in the Blackhawks lineup for much of the last four seasons, and that spot was opened again when he was dealt to the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Cumiskey, Rundblad and van Riemsdyk now have a chance to fill that void as all three defensemen were still on the team’s active roster as of Sunday afternoon. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday he could begin the season with eight defensemen.

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Hawks storylines (No. 15): Numbers game

September, 11, 2014
9/11/14
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ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Sept. 19 with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

Here are some numbers to keep in mind as the season unfolds for the Blackhawks (all statistics were found on stats.hockeyanalysis.com or behindthenet.ca):

Kane's production with teammates


Nearly every center who found his way onto the Blackhawks roster last season got a chance to skate with Patrick Kane. Some had more success than others. Andrew Shaw clicked with Kane, and Kane had seven goals, seven assists and a 59.7 Corsi percentage during 197:05 of 5-on-5 ice time with Shaw. On the other hand, Kane struggled with Michal Handzus with one goal, seven assists and a 50.9 Corsi percentage while on the ice 310:16 with the veteran center. Kane's line to start this season is expected to include Brandon Saad and Brad Richards. Kane had seven goals, nine assists and a 56.3 Corsi percentage with Saad.

Puck possession


The Blackhawks have been a dominant puck-possession team over the past five seasons. They have ranked in the league's top-6 in Corsi percentage in 5-on-5 situations throughout that span. They were second with a 55.5 percentage last season, their highest percentage since being at 56.5 percent during the 2009-10 season.

Morin's potential

Jeremy Morin played in just 24 games last season, so his sample size isn't that large. But in that short span, he was statistically impressive. Morin led the Blackhawks with an average of 12.22 shots per 60 minutes, 1.421 goals per 60 minutes and 3.13 points per 60 minutes. If Morin gets some consistent ice time and a larger role this season, which is something Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville have mentioned, he may just be headed toward a breakout offensive season.

Defensive responsibility


One of the main reasons defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are often able to utilize their offensive abilities is because defensemen Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson are given more of the defensive load. Oduya and Hjalmarsson started less in the offensive zone than any of the Blackhawks' defensemen last year. Oduya started 48.6 percent in the offensive zone and Hjalmarsson was at 48.3 percent. To compare, Keith started 56.4 percent in the offensive zone and Seabrook was at 56.3, and defensemen Nick Leddy, Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank all started more than 60 percent of the time in the offensive zone.

Goals against


The Blackhawks held opponents to just 1.77 goals per 60 minutes in 5-on-5 situations during the 2013 season, best in the league. But aside from that season the Blackhawks have been an average defense team in recent years. They ranked 26th in the NHL with a 2.52 goals-against average in 2010-11 season, 26th with a 2.49 goals-against average in the 2011-12 season and were 15th with a 2.23 goals-against average last season.

Toews & Sharp

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp made each other better players last season. They had a 59.7 Corsi percentage in their 777.32 of ice time together. When apart, Toews dropped to a 57.5 Corsi percentage and Sharp dropped to 52.9. There's a good chance Sharp, Toews and Marian Hossa could be together on the top line again this season.

Fourth-line usage

Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith, the trio which was often the Blackhawks' fourth line last season, all ranked among the bottom seven players in the league in offensive zone start percentage. Bollig started in the offensive zone 11.4 percent, Kruger 13.4 percent and Smith 16.9. It will be interesting to see whether Quenneville uses his fourth line in such a defensive manner again. Kruger was on the fourth line the season before and saw more offensive zone starts. He was at 30.4 percent during the 2013 season.

Hawks player reviews: Niklas Hjalmarsson

June, 19, 2014
6/19/14
9:00
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Niklas HjalmarssonBill Smith/Getty ImagesNiklas Hjalmarsson helped anchor the Blackhawks defense last season.

Niklas Hjalmarsson, defenseman

2013-14 cap hit: $3,500,000| Age: 27 | Season stats: 4 goals, 22 assists, plus-11

Season recap: Hjalmarsson has developed into the Blackhawks’ most dependable defensive player. The pairing of Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya was given the toughest assignments and allowed Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to be used in more offensive situations. Hjalmarsson also set career-highs with 22 assists and 26 points.

Season highlight: Hjalmarsson had two assists, four blocked shots and was a plus-2 in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild in Game 2 of the second round.

Season lowlight: Hjalmarsson was on the ice for three 5-on-5 goals by the St. Louis Blues and had a 36.5 Corsi percentage in the Blackhawks’ 4-3 three-overtime loss in Game 1 of the first round.

Final grade: A.

Inside the numbers: Hjalmarsson led the Blackhawks’ defensemen with a 29.8 quality of competition time on ice percentage, according to extraskater.com.

Notes: Hjalmarsson led the Blackhawks with 157 blocks in the regular season and 57 blocks in the playoffs. He finished second among all players in the playoffs.

Quotes: “He’s a tough character,” Oduya said of Hjalmarsson in the playoffs. “He’s a Swedish Viking. He’s one of a kind obviously. It’s good for morale. We know he’s always out there doing his job.”

What’s next: Hjalmarsson is in the Blackhawks’ plans for many years to come. His new five-year contract goes into effect next season, and his cap hit will jump to $4.1 million. He’s expected to be paired with Oduya again next season.

Hawks confident despite facing elimination

May, 28, 2014
5/28/14
1:10
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson has seen how adversity has affected his team in the past.

With those previous experiences in mind, Hjalmarsson said he isn't worried about how the Blackhawks will react to facing elimination against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJoel Quenneville
Tasos Katopodis/Getty ImagesJoel Quenneville says the pressure is on the Kings for Game 5, not his Blackhawks.
"I think we're the kind of team that in the past and just during the regular season, when we're down, we're playing our best hockey," Hjalmarsson said after the team's morning skate on Wednesday. "That's what I expect from the team tonight and from myself. I think we're going to have our best game of the series here. Everybody's confident here in our team that we can turn this around.

"We did it last year against Detroit, so I think that's huge for our confidence that we know we can turn this thing around."

The Blackhawks are drawing much of that confidence from having overcome a 3-1 series deficit last season. The Blackhawks were down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals and rallied to win three straight games and take the series. The Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup.

"That's a big reason why we have the confidence," Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad said. "Not only that, but you see a lot of teams this year -- [the Kings] did it twice -- have won three games in a row."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said his message to his team is about focusing on the smaller picture.

"Going into the game, that's what we're focused on, trying to win the game shift to shift," Quenneville said. "Win the first period, go from there. You look back over this series, we lost three games with three one-period stretches where we uncharacteristically gave up quantity and preventable goals. We have to make sure that's the area we shore up. Let's focus on winning our battles in those one-shift areas."

Quenneville also believes the pressure is on the Kings to close out the Blackhawks.

"I feel it's on L.A," Quenneville said. "Look back against Detroit. We came in here excited about being at home, taking advantage of the home crowd. I don't want to say loose, but let's be excited about the opportunity. Let's go. We got to win one game here."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter doesn't believe the pressure is an issue for either team.

"I think both teams are probably used to pressure," Sutter said. "That's how you get to the 100-game mark or close to 100-game mark. It's what your players want and obviously what they thrive on. I don't think it's more on one team or the other."

Hawks' defense part of reason for deficit

May, 27, 2014
5/27/14
7:18
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CHICAGO -- Blackhawks defensemen Michal Rozsival and Nick Leddy were caught watching as the Los Angeles KingsTanner Pearson jumped on a loose puck and fed Tyler Toffoli in the slot for a crucial goal in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

Toffoli skated past Blackhawks defensemen Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson for a loose puck in Chicago's zone and scored to break a 2-2 tie in Game 3.

Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith had the puck taken away from him by Kings forward Anze Kopitar, and defenseman Brent Seabrook was slow to get to the net to stop Marian Gaborik from scoring the second goal in Game 4.

While Chicago's penalty kill has been accountable for five goals in the past three games, that hasn’t been the Blackhawks’ only issue in their three consecutive losses, which have put them behind 3-1 in series. They also have had a few breakdowns they’re not accustomed to seeing from their defensemen.

“We’ve let in some uncharacteristic type of goals in this series that we probably haven’t seen all year or in the playoffs, for sure, that we think are preventable,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday. “We shore that up, and we’ll keep ourselves in the game and find a way.”

The Blackhawks allowed eight even-strength goals over the past three games. They had given up 21 even-strength goals over the first 13 playoff games. In the series, Oduya has been on the ice for six even-strength goals, Seabrook for four, Hjalmarsson for three, Rozsival for three, Leddy for two and Keith for one.

Not all of those goals were the defensemen's fault, but Seabrook said there’s definitely room for improvement on the back end.

“Absolutely, I think, like I said, I’ve got to be better,” Seabrook said Tuesday. “It doesn’t just start with the penalty kill. It’s in every facet of the game. I think we’ve all got to be out there doing things that are going to make us win a game, and I think some things happened last game that are uncharacteristic, but I’d say you’ve got to give L.A. credit. They’re forcing us into different situations, but we’ve got to be better and we will be better.”

Oduya and Hjalmarsson have had the best Corsi numbers (shot differential) among the defensemen despite starting in the defensive zone more than the others, according to extraskater.com. Oduya has a 57.0 Corsi percentage (the Blackhawks have 61 shots for and 46 against with him on the ice in 5-on-5 situations in the series). He’s followed by Hjalmarsson (55.3 percent), Rozsival (50.5), Seabrook (50.0), Leddy (48.5) and Keith (47.8). Leddy and Rozsival start the most in the offensive zone.

Quenneville thought what it came down to was his defensemen needing to play better around their own net.

“I think where pucks going through us or not recognizing the coverage that’s around the net,” Quenneville said. “They got some guys that they make some blind plays. Around the net, they got quick sticks, and they got some good shooters as well. I think we got to make sure we’re going to be defending around our net better than they are at their net. It could be the difference.”

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Kane
PTS GOALS AST +/-
64 27 37 10
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Kane 27
AssistsP. Kane 37
+/-J. Toews 21
GAAC. Crawford 2.30