Connor Murphy

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NHL on NBCSN: Blackhawks begin homestand vs. Red Wings

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

If the Blackhawks and Red Wings continue on their current paths, their playoff droughts will continue.

The Red Wings (10-29-3) merely hope to avoid making dubious history. The Blackhawks, though? With 42 points in as many games played, the 18-18-6 Blackhawks aim to keep slim hopes alive.

Blackhawks begin homestand vs. Red Wings coming off a solid trip

Chicago entered 2020 winning five of their last seven games. Even considering a 7-5 loss to the Canucks that involved a squandered lead, the Blackhawks felt good taking two wins from a three-game road trip. That stretch looks better when you consider the obstacles Chicago faced.

“There’s a lot of positives to take,” Defenseman Connor Murphy said, via the Blackhawks’ website. “I think just the way guys came together and played in three different time zones, a lot of travel and seemed to string periods together and show that we can be a team to put a big winning streak together. I think we really wanted to do that tonight, but we know in order to be that team that we think we can be, we have to string it together at some point and we have a good opportunity going home to do that.”

The Blackhawks face an opportunity to grind their way up the standings a bit with a four-game homestand. With that in mind, they can’t take dour Detroit lightly.

Blackhawks have plenty of room for improvement

Broadly speaking, Chicago maintains recent patterns. The Blackhawks can generate offense, but give up even more going the other way. They might need to outscore their problems to even greater degree with Robin Lehner banged up, as Lehner bailed Chicago out on plenty of nights.

As Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said, “the focus will continue to be on defending.”

Improving on defense is an understandable goal, but gains may only be marginal. The Blackhawks might actually want to focus on their power play. Despite boasting Patrick Kane (on another 100+ point pace) and Alex DeBrincat, the Blackhawks have only converted on 15.7 percent of their power-play opportunities, a bottom-10 rate.

Maybe the Blackhawks can wake up their man advantage against a struggling team like the Red Wings?

One way or another, Chicago needs to take games like these if they want to keep the door open for a playoff push.

Chris Cuthbert will handle play-by-play duties alongside Pierre McGuire at United Center in Chicago, Ill.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stars run out of steam, fall to Blackhawks

The Dallas Stars used a 12-game point streak to help regain their footing in the competitive Central Division. However, the Blackhawks ended the surge with a 3-0 victory against the Stars Tuesday.

Brandon Saad, Patrick Kane and Connor Murphy scored while Corey Crawford made 32 saves as the Blackhawks snapped their own three-game losing streak.

Stars run out of gas

The Stars have participated in five games since last Tuesday and ran out of energy in the third period against the Blackhawks as they completed a stretch of three game in four days.

Dallas only managed nine shots in the third period as it failed to set a franchise record with eight straight victories.

The Stars had a busy offseason adding Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry to the mix this summer. After a 1-7-1 start to the season, the Stars have posted a 14-2-1 record in their past 17 games and climbed up the standings.

Crawford vs. Lehner

The backup goalie position has become more important in recent years as teams try to lighten the load of the starting netminder. Crawford has made more than 30 starts in seven of the previous 10 seasons but with Robin Lehner in the fold, the Blackhawks are hoping to ride the hot goaltender throughout the course of the regular season. The Islanders had tremendous success last season utilizing this strategy with Lehner and Thomas Greiss. Chicago is hoping that strong goaltending on a consistent basis could help springboard a return to the postseason.

Dallas made a strong push in the second period, but Crawford made 14 saves before Kane scored a timely goal in the third period to double Chicago’s advantage. Crawford recorded his first shutout of the season.

Kane extends point streak

The American winger has been a force with Chicago since entering the NHL in 2007 and extended his individual point streak to 13 games with a third-period power-play goal against Dallas. Kane, 31, has recorded nine goals and 13 assists during the streak. The Blackhawks will need Kane to continue to produce at an elite level to keep pace in the Western Conference.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Blackhawks call up Boqvist as youth movement continues

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Just a couple of days after making it clear that forward Kirby Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft, would be sticking with the Chicago Blackhawks the team announced it is turning to another of its top young players.

The Blackhawks announced on Thursday that they have recalled defenseman Adam Boqvist from Rockford of the American Hockey League. Boqvist, 19, was the No. 8 overall pick by the team in 2018 and is playing in his first season of professional hockey and just scored his first AHL goal on Wednesday night. He spent his draft year playing for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League and put together a monster season offensively with 20 goals and 40 assists in 54 games.

This is an interesting move because it means the Blackhawks now have eight defensemen on their active roster (and that does not count Connor Murphy, who is currently on the long-term injured list). It does not seem logical to think they would call-up one of their top prospects and not play him (it does him no good to sit and not play) so Blackhawks fans should be getting a pretty good glimpse of their future with Boqvist and Dach in the lineup.

Defense is once again a problem spot in Chicago this season while the team is already dealing with the tricky situation that is Brent Seabrook‘s current role, having made him a healthy scratch in each of the past two games.

The Blackhawks have won just three of their first 11 games this season and are giving up close to three-and-a-half goals per game. Unless something drastic happens here shortly it seems that they could be on a path for a third consecutive non-playoff season.

Related: It looks like Dach is staying with Blackhawks

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blackhawks’ defense suddenly looks respectable

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Look, adding Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan doesn’t transform the Chicago Blackhawks’ defense into, say, the Nashville Predators’ group before they traded P.K. Subban for cap space, frankincense, and myrrh. These tweaks do make a return to the playoffs a whole lot more likely for Chicago, though.

[More: Blackhawks trade for De Haan, send Kahun to Pens for Maatta.]

Because, honestly, the Blackhawks’ defense was astoundingly terrible in 2018-19. To the point that it’s impressive Chicago even created the illusion of being semi-competitive.

In allowing 291 goals, Chicago finished second-worst in the NHL, only ahead of the putrid, sieve-like Senators. Their 72.7 penalty kill percentage was comfortably the worst in the league, which was quite uncomfortable. Things don’t get any better when you delve into deeper stats, either. Chicago’s high-danger chances percentage at even strength was league-worst at miserable 42.77 percent (686 for; 918 against), according to Natural Stat Trick.

Not ideal.

Again, all things considered, it’s surprising Chicago finished 10th in the West, technically two spots out of the postseason. That’s a bit of a mirage since the Blackhawks had 84 points versus 90 for Colorado as the final wild card, but the Blackhawks flirted with playoff contention quite a bit for a team with such an ugly defense.

What if the Blackhawks can merely improve to “meh” in 2019-20 from the “my house is on fire” rating they earned last season?

While offseason shoulder surgery might force Calvin De Haan to miss some time and/or start slow, the bottom line is that he could be an enormous upgrade over Gustav Forsling, who was also part of the Carolina trade.

(And that’s assuming that De Haan won’t play even better. He was hurt for at least some of 2018-19, likely diluting his stats.)

Both Maatta and De Haan were expensive luxuries their teams parted ways with. For Chicago, each could provide the sort of steady defense the Blackhawks rarely enjoyed in 2018-19.

It’s true that Maatta’s skating has been criticized, yet his all-around struggles might have more to do with mediocre defense partners than personal failings.

We can debate how much of a bump Chicago gets from adding these two, but these are two steps up, whether they be baby steps or giant leaps for hockey kind.

And it generally changes the discussion from having next to nothing to maybe having too many options on defense, as Charlie Roumeliotis discussed for NBC Chicago.

The Blackhawks now have some interesting options as left-handed defensemen, as Maatta and De Haan bolster a group that includes veteran Duncan Keith and younger option Erik Gustafsson, who quietly had a breakout season. The Blackhawks have plenty of right-handed options to sort through, too: Brent Seabrook and his troubled contract, joins younger options Connor Murphy, Henri Jokiharju, and Adam Boqvist. Slater Koekkoek and Carl Dahlstrom are also on the fringe of this conversation.

Roumeliotis goes into greater detail on that crowded situation, but again: too much sure beats not enough, and if there’s any chance that this influx also inspires Chicago to work harder to remove some problems (*cough* Seabrook *cough cough*), then even better. As is, this group seems upgraded in nice ways. Don’t expect excitement from De Haan or Maatta, aside from their ability to improve the Blackhawks’ chances of winning games.

Again, the “how much better?” argument is fairly interesting. The Predators lost Subban and the Jets didn’t get much more from trading away Jacob Trouba, so suddenly the Central Division is a little less foreboding — at least for now. We won’t really know if the path to a wild-card spot is clearer, but perhaps it could be.

That’s not to say that GM Stan Bowman should just snooze through July 1, mind you, as there’s still some work to do. For all the blueline improvements, Chicago’s roster is far from perfect, especially when you make that forward group even more top-heavy by removing a nice find like Dominik Kahun:

Bowman’s had a decent knack for finding supporting cast players for Chicago over the years, so it’s conceivable that the Blackhawks can make things work this summer. Perhaps third overall pick Kirby Dach could make an immediate jump to the Blackhawks, providing a big body and some talent while carrying a thrifty entry-level deal?

Adding some forward support is important, and frankly, Corey Crawford‘s health challenges should probably push Chicago to find a better backup option than Cam Ward. And, yes, if there’s any way someone would absorb Seabrook’s brutal deal, that would be nice for Chicago.

Expecting a team to clear all of that up before July is likely asking too much. The bottom line is that the Blackhawks have done a nice job of improving their team so far, as they’ve addressed their biggest weakness in substantial ways. Adding De Haan and Maatta doesn’t confirm a seat in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that trip is far more probable for Chicago now than it was back when their season ended in April.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face Avalanche on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche head into Sunday in a solid position, as they hold a one-point lead and game in hand on the closest teams behind them vying for the West’s second wild-card spot. That rosy outlook can change in a big way if the Avs can’t beat the Blackhawks, though.

Looking at The Push for the Playoffs, things don’t look very good — at all — for Chicago, but this proud team likely isn’t waving the white flag on the 2018-19 season just yet. Beating the Avalanche (particularly in regulation) would certainly improve their odds of making an unlikely run, too.

With the stakes in mind – not to mention the star power in Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews – this should be a fun one at the United Center.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Sunday, March 24, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Avs-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

AVALANCHE

Derick Brassard — Nathan MacKinnon — J.T. Compher

Colin WilsonCarl SoderbergAndrew Agozzino

Alexander KerfootTyson JostMatt Calvert

Gabriel BourqueSven Andrighetto

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeTyson Barrie

Nikita ZadorovPatrik Nemeth

Ryan Graves

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[More: check out this preview for Sunday’s game.]

BLACKHAWKS

Dylan Sikura — Jonathan Toews — Patrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeBrendan Perlini

Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovDominik Kahun

Chris KunitzDavid KampfMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Carl DahlstromErik Gustafsson

Gustav ForslingConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.