Mixed bag has Toews, Blackhawks feeling good: ’It’s already a different feeling’
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You can take whatever you want out of the Blackhawks’ first three games. They’ve scored 15 goals — most in the NHL through Monday. They’ve allowed 14 goals — also most in the NHL through Monday.
They’re 0-for-10 on the power play, tied for last in the NHL. In just the first three games, they’ve lost four leads but overcome seven deficits. Cam Ward is 32nd in save percentage (.843), but 19-year-old rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju has five assists, most among all NHL defensemen through Monday. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have combined for nine goals and 12 points in three games.
And most of all, the Hawks won two road games in overtime and earned five of six points while playing three games in four nights. You can’t blame them for accentuating the positive at this point.
“I think we’ve played some good hockey,” Toews said Tuesday after practice. “The areas we need to work on are pretty obvious. So it’s fun. I think it’s already a different feeling. I think we’re already creating a different culture in this room as opposed to last year. Guys [are] excited. It’s fun to be around the rink, and getting a few big wins in overtime to start the year is a good way to reinforce that feeling.”
But after the Hawks opened last season with a similar 2-0-1 record — and an 18-6 goal-differential — and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, Toews is not going to get carried away. When he was asked if he “could see this turnaround coming,” he quickly applied the brakes.
“Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s three games,” Toews said. “We beat a good team in St. Louis and Ottawa being at home, they’re a good team, as well.
“[But] I’m not looking at the entire 82-game schedule yet and thinking, ‘Oh, this year’s going to be different from last year’ automatically just because we got five points out of six. It’s going to take a lot of work. There’s no doubt having that confidence early is a good thing to keep working … in the right direction.”
It remains to be seen which trends will continue, but it’s too early to lament the bad stuff. Ward has been unimpressive so far. He has a 4.63 goals-against average and .843 save percentage. But Corey Crawford participated in practice Monday and still is on target to start Oct. 18 against the Coyotes. Until then, coach Joel Quenneville expects Ward to be better, but also his skaters to be better around him.
“As a group of five we can always be better and aware defensively,” Quenneville said. “Whether it’s the whole league right now the shooters have the advantage early in the season, that’s traditionally true. Some of the goals we’ve given up have been high-quality [chances]. We know we can’t give up open-side plays, that’s not the goalie’s fault at all. We can be better in that area. Let’s look to keep it out of our net across the board.”
After three games, the Hawks are working to shore up their weaknesses and enhance their strengths.
“I think our game has just been a little bit quicker pace and competitive level has gone up,” said defenseman Duncan Keith, who will play in his 999th career game Thursday night. “We’re doing a better job on the forecheck of creating chances, creating turnovers and keeping pucks in their zone and creating momentum off that. There’s been a lot of [positive] things. But obviously there are a lot of things we still need to work on. We’re going to keep working on it.”
NOTE: The Blackhawks recalled forward Alexandre Fortin from Rockford on Tuesday night. Forward Andreas Martinsen is out with a back injury. Fortin, 21, scored four goals and 21 points for the IceHogs last season. He scored one goal in two preseason games for the Hawks this season, but was sent down to Rockford on Sept. 26.