The Blackhawks sent 20-year-old defenseman Gustav Forsling to the AHL Rockford Ice Hogs on Friday, breaking the eight-man log-jam on the back end and giving Forsling a better opportunity to hone his game.
“We want him playing,” coach Joel Quenneville said, “and playing more minutes and get confidence and then get more minutes in power-play and penalty-killing situations and more consistency to his game.”
Forsling had one goal and three assists and was a plus-4 in 32 games. But his play withered after a strong start. He had 10:17 of ice time against the Sabres on Thursday night.
“I thought he started off all right,” Quenneville said, “but I think that this probably a good process for him getting more exposure in the game and keeps seven guys here. We can bring him up at any time.”
Quenneville, who won a Stanley Cup in 2015 virtually with four defensemen in the playoffs, found eight on the roster in the regular season to be problematic. With Forsling out, veteran Brian Campbell — a healthy scratch for the second time in a week against the Sabres after having played in 423 consecutive games — returned to the lineup Friday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“It’s tough with eight [defensemen],” Quenneville said. “You have guys wondering if they’re going to play; and in games, is your performance good enough to stay in the lineup. It can be tough. Sometimes that one extra is a little challenging for the players in that mix. [But] I thought all eight were deserving to be here.”
Spencer Abbott one-and-done
Spencer Abbott had a whirlwind taste of Blackhawks hockey. On Tuesday the 28-year-old forward was called up from Rockford. On Thursday he was skating on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. On Friday he was sent back to Rockford after getting one shot on goal in 8:34 of ice time against the Sabres.
“He deserved the chance. He was playing well [at Rockford],” Quenneville said. “He’s got skill. We wanted to see how he’d fit in a little bit, so it was a good opportunity to at least try it and give him a chance. We still think at some point he could get another look. I thought he was fine in the opportunity.”
Hinostroza moves up
Vinnie Hinostroza, who replaced Abbott on the top line with Toews and Hossa in the third period against the Sabres, was scheduled to stay on that line against the Hurricanes. Hinostroza entered the game with four goals and five assists and a minus-2 differential in 32 games.
Quenneville likes the potential of a Hinostroza as a complement to two world-class players.
“It’s a great opportunity to play with two real good players and hopefully he takes advantage of it,” Quenneville said. “Vinnie has the ingredients to be that kind of guy, with his speed and quickness and complementing those guys — be it off the rush or hitting those holes, and they’re responsible defensively.
“Vinnie can learn playing the right way with them. We have a couple of guys under consideration as well, but the opportunity’s been in and out all year, based on our needs or health or our options in games. He did a pretty good job in a short amount of time [against the Sabres] and didn’t get much of a chance the other couple of times he was there.”
The USA team winning the gold medal at the World Junior Championships — beating Canada 5-4 in a shootout Thursday night — brought back fond memories for Ryan Hartman. He played on the last U.S. team to win the gold at the WJC in 2013.
“It was awesome to see. The feeling is kind of indescribable,” said Hartman, who had two goals and an assist in seven WJC games in 2013. “It’s kind of that surreal feeling where it doesn’t really sink in for a few days, but congratulations to them. It was an awesome tournament to watch and a fun final.”
Quenneville, like many hockey fans, lamented the tournament being determined by a shootout. USA forward Troy Terry scored three goals in the shootout — almost 10 years to the day since Jonathan Toews scored three goals in Canada’s memorable semifinal victory over the USA in the 2007 World Junior semifinals.
“It’s a tough way to lose a tournament like that,” Quenneville said. “The kid [Terry] got the hot stick, kind of think of Tazer in that same spot. You recall that memory and [T.J.] Oshie [in the Olympics] a little bit. That kid, he was the hero. But certainly you think of finding a better way to end a game like that — maybe playing like overtime … whether it’s 5-on-5 or 4-on-4 [that] might be a better way to end it.”