OTTAWA, Ontario — In five days, the Blackhawks will scatter to the winds for their bye week, many heading to Mexico and other warmer climates, others resting at home and spending time with their families. In the meantime, it’s a mad dash to stockpile points and climb into playoff position before the five days off.
“Going into [Tuesday] night, we were saying we want to win four games before the break,” Jonathan Toews said. “Know that we can just keep emptying the tank the last few games here before the bye week.”
Well, the Hawks emptied the tank and filled the net Tuesday night in an 8-2 dismantling of the hapless Ottawa Senators. Patrick Kane had the first five-point (and first four-assist) game of his career, Nick Schmaltz scored two of the Hawks’ four power-play goals, and Toews continued his midseason resurgence with two goals. Heck, even embattled Richard Panik got on the board, opening the scoring with his first 5-on-5 goal since the second game of the season.
The Hawks are now 4-1-1 in their last six games, all without Corey Crawford and Artem Anisimov. After dominating the struggling Oilers and Senators the last two games, Wednesday’s home date with the Minnesota Wild will be telling.
But as Joel Quenneville likes to say, things are “trending in the right direction.” To wit:
Schmaltz scored his fourth and fifth goals in his last four games. Toews scored his fourth and fifth goals (to go along with four assists) in the last five games. Patrick Sharp scored his third goal in four games. Jordan Oesterle had two primary assists to make it three goals and four assists in the last six games. Vinnie Hinostroza had an assist to make it two goals and six assists in the last six games. Kane had the most productive game of his illustrious career, with four second-period assists and a power-play goal in the third. Even goalie Anton Forsberg picked up an assist while picking up his second straight win after a nearly two-month drought.
“When everyone’s playing their game, everyone’s contributing, I think we’re a dangerous team,” Schmaltz said. “Four lines contributed tonight. Its scary when we’re playing that well for other teams. They don’t know who to match up against.”
Most encouraging was the power play, which entered the game third-worst in the league, but scored on four of six chances.
“We saw the power play, for probably the first time all year, dominate a game for us,” Quenneville said. “And that’s a real positive sign because that’s the one area we’ve been looking to capture all year long. … It was one of those nights where you’re happy with the rotation of all four lines. It was probably as good a win as we’ve had all year.”
Franson to Rockford
Cody Franson went unclaimed on waivers — a bit of a surprise given his team-leading possession numbers and the perpetual need for right-handed defensemen —and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs. The Hawks recalled Erik Gustafsson to take his spot.
Franson turned down contract offers from other NHL teams in order to join the Hawks on a player-tryout agreement. That’s because he knew the Hawks were thin on the right side of the blue line. But then Jan Rutta became one of the breakout stars of training camp, even bumping right-handed Connor Murphy to his off side for the first time in his career. Then Jordan Oesterle, despite being a left-handed shot, proved worthy of being Duncan Keith’s partner on the top pairing.
And just like that, Franson’s Hawks career might have ended after just 23 appearances. The 30-year-old veteran had one goal and six assists.
“He’ll get a lot of ice time and we want to keep him playing,” Joel Quenneville said. “He’s a good asset for our organization and we like what he brought to our team.”
The fact that he cleared waivers makes him even more valuable as a possible trade chip, because he now can be shuttled between the AHL and NHL, if need be.
He’ll be back
The Hawks don’t expect John Hayden’s stay in Rockford to be very long. The idea behind sending him down is to get him a lot more playing time in all situations, and to boost his confidence with the puck for his eventual NHL return — much like Schmaltz last season. Both of them initially made the jump from college straight to the NHL without a stop in the minors.
“He’s got good awareness to what he can bring and how he can add an element to your team,” Quenneville said of Hayden. “A little offense [added] to it would be even better.”
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