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3 up, 3 down after Blackhawks’ 6-5 loss to Jets

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Check in with what’s going right and what’s going wrong after Chicago’s loss to Winnipeg.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

After taking a beating on home ice Tuesday at the hands of the Golden Knights, the Blackhawks dropped another one, 6-5, against the Jets on Thursday in Winnipeg.

After going down 1:43 into the game to a Patrik Laine snipe, the Blackhawks found themselves crawling back the entire game, never once taking the lead.

Nikolaj Ehlers earned his third career hat trick, and Laine scored his 100th and 101st goals of his young career, his 12th and 13th in his last six games. Artem Anisimov brought the Blackhawks within one with just under three minutes left in the third period, but they couldn’t complete the comeback.

Let’s look at what’s looking up and what’s heading down.

Trending Up

Third Line

This line of Dominik Kahun, David Kampf and John Hayden has become extremely noticeable as of late. They’ve played together for multiple games throughout November, and they’ve been difference makers on both ends of the ice.

With players who aren’t afraid to go to the corners and make the greasy play, the Blackhawks need to see more of the third line’s type of play. The trio also brings a breath a fresh air of physicality to the team.

They’ve combined for 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) and are often found on the backend of an offensive rush or pretty play. All three have yet to play their 100th NHL game, providing youth on an aging roster.

With speed and skill to match hockey smarts, this line get the little things done quietly and effectively. On Thursday against the Jets, they contributed on three of the five Blackhawks goals, two of them coming directly from that line in Hayden and Kahun.

Next time you tune into a Blackhawks game, watch for the third line.

Corey Crawford

Despite giving up six goals Tuesday, Crawford has been instrumental to this team trying to stay alive with some playoff hope through the first two months this season.

His numbers doesn’t reflect the performance, though: he’s 5-10-1 with a .901 save percentage. He’s saved 138 of 159 shots during his last five starts, but has come up big behind a defense that is notorious for having multiple miscues in the with the puck on days that end with “y.”

Numbers don’t describe the importance of Crawford, however. Not only does he come up big when needed, he is playing like he never even missed 10 months due to a concussion. His vision even through screens has been incredible, and his reflexes have been sharp.

Crawford seems to be the one consistent night in and night out, and if he can stay healthy and strong between the pipes, the Blackhawks have a chance. If the defense shores up in front of him it’ll be even better.

Connor Murphy

Though he’s not back yet, Murphy is making strong strides toward his season debut soon. And the Blackhawks desperately need him.

Team defense is an issue we’ve written about ad nauseam and it is still something that is in search of a solution. It is not the only issue the Blackhawks are dealing with this season, but it is a large one.

Murphy scored two goals and 12 assists, and averaged 16:22 of ice time 76 games last season. He played mainly with veteran Duncan Keith on the team’s top pairing.

Murphy is still a few practices away from getting in a game — he hasn’t been cleared for full contact just yet — but this is a great sign for the Blackhawks defense. He brings a physical presence with a great hockey IQ that can go to the dirty areas and also join the rush when needed. The Blackhawks will be glad to have him back.

Trending Down

Capitalizing

The Blackhawks are the kings are getting chances and doing nothing with them.

This season, they’ve have spent 7:15 minutes with the puck in the offensive zone, which ranks first in the NHL. From there, it drops off quick. They only send a pass into the slot 15.9 percent of the time, which is 30th in the league, and have only scored 2.72 goals within that time, ranking 26th in the NHL.

The good thing about these numbers is that the possession is there, meaning the Blackhawks are getting the puck in their zone and keeping it there. The bad thing about these numbers is that the Blackhawks aren’t jumping on the chances right there in front of them, something they’re going to need to do in order to get the offense going.

The Blackhawks power play — if you can even call it a power play — sits dead last in the NHL with a 12.3 conversion rate with nine goals. Whether it’s a chemistry issue with the special teams units or whether it’s the lack of shooting instead of passing, players on the man advantage aren’t finding the back of the net, and that has to change soon.

“Little things”

The saying goes a little bit like this: if you do the little things right, the big things will figure themselves out. Looking at this 2018-19 Blackhawks team, it couldn’t be more true.

Winning face offs, protecting the puck in the defensive zone, making clean passes and everything else that can fall under this category are things the Blackhawks need to focus on as the season continues. It’s a long seven-month season, and it only gets longer (mentally) the more the small things start to go unnoticed.

While it could be tedious to spend time on things that might not always factor into the outcome of a game on a grand scale, they add up, and the Blackhawks are starting to feel the effects of that going into December. If they can work on making the little things work, the wins begin to add up.

Keep the puck onside, avoid icing, make neat zone entries and meaningful passes. Get in the paint and work for the goals, skate with purpose and make the right play at the right time, not the pretty play at the wrong time.

It’s all doable.

Artem Anisimov

What happened to the power play scoring, consistent and strong center of old? Anisimov has dropped off recently, and has been almost nonexistent in terms of contributions.

With only four points in his last 12 games (1 goal, 3 assists) and a -5 before Thursday’s clash with the Jets, Anisimov was moved down to the fourth line during Wednesday’s practice. His ice time has diminished since the Blackhawks game against the Wild, going from 17:34 to 13:16 against Vegas on Tuesday.

During Thursday’s game in Winnipeg, Anisimov was promoted to the second line with Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, with newly-acquired center Dylan Strome taking his place on the bottom six. He had 12:45 minutes with an assist on Kruger’s 1st period goal, and a top shelf goal on a backdoor feed from Kane after the center swap.

Not saying each player needs to contribute a point a night, but you’d like to see some kind of positive signs, whether that’s being aggressive, having a solid stick both on the forecheck and backcheck, or simply making a good decision with the puck. Anisimov needs to find some kind of spark here, and maybe his late third period goal can be that spark.

What’s next?

The Blackhawks are back in action Saturday in a Central Division matchup against the Predators in Nashville. Chicago will play the second half of its home-and-home back-to-back Sunday against the Flames.