By Chris Block
The Blackhawks reached the halfway point of the exhibition season on Friday night, dropping a 4-1 decision to the visiting New York Rangers before an announced sellout United Center crowd of 20,613.
Dennis Rasmussen, a Swedish free agent signing from over the off season, was the lone Blackhawks’ scorer. Corey Crawford saw a full sixty minutes for the first time this exhibition and stopped 25 of 29 Rangers’ shots. Each side saw three power plays, with the Rangers drawing the lone conversion, a J.T. Miller redirect that beat Crawford with 6:02 to go in regulation. That strike put the Blueshirts on top 3-1. A flukey goal 100 seconds later that went to Marek Hrivik after he stick-checked Marian Hossa near the Hawks’ net put the game out of the home team’s reach.
The night got off to bad start quickly when Brent Seabrook twice failed to clear the zone and Oscar Lindberg gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead just 50 seconds into the game.
Seabrook was paired with Cam Barker and often in this game the duo played and looked as though they were communicating as if it were 2006 all over again.
At the 2:47 mark, Nick Tarnasky checked Cody Bass along the boards, so Bass challenged him to dance. Bass decidedly got the worst of it.
New York took a 2-0 lead with 9:04 to go in the first when Rick Nash controlled at the Hawks’ blue line-right, drove in and sent a beautiful backhand saucer pass through both Duncan Keith and Stephen Johns’ sticks to teammate Anthony Duclair. The 19-year old Quebec native chipped Nash’s feed by Crawford to earn his first goal in his NHL preseason debut.
The second period was a much better one for the Hawks.
Rasmussen’s tally came at 9:37 of the period. And Chicago was outshooting the Rangers 9 to 1 in the period by that point.
The scoring play actually began when Rasmussen hustled to strip Marek Hrivek of the puck in Chicago’s side of neutral territory. Phillip Danault pounced on the loose puck there and transitioned into the Rangers’ zone. Danault carried in and skated up the left boards, he absorbed a Dan Girardi hit and continued on. Driving along the goal line to Henrik Lundqvist’s right, Danault put the puck on goal where Rasmussen jammed it home for his first NHL preaseason goal.
At this point, Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault elected to switch his netminders, inserting Cedrick Desjardins. New York outshot the Hawks 7-5 the remainder of the period. The visitor’s best chance came with 5:25 to go after Niklas Hjalmarsson tried to force a pass through the middle of the ice to Patrick Kane from his own zone. The Rangers picked it off and sent Rick Nash in on a breakaway from the blue line. However, Nash shot his chance directly into Crawford’s left glove hand.
Joel Quenneville shortened his bench for the third. He kept his top two lines intact and modified his third, elevating Danault to skate with Rasmussen and Morin. The three created some chances but not any damage.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie was sent to the box with 7:31 to go in the third for hog-tying Hrivik in the offensive zone away from the play. 1:29 later, the Rangers would make Cedric regret that indiscretion, when J.T. Miller tipped John Moore’s shot from the left point to grab a 3-1 lead.
Then New York sealed the win when Hrvik’s diving, desperation stick check on Marian Hossa just to Crawford’s right sent the puck flying, and finding some air between the Blackhawks goaltender and the back of the net with 3:22 to go.
The Hawks outshot New York 31-29 in the game. Overall registered attempts at the net also favored the home team, 56-48.
–After the game the Blackhawks cut Cam Barker from the training camp roster.
Barker was a non-roster free agent invite. We’ll wait and see what happens with him.
Rockford is slammed with defenseman as it is right now. And that’ll get worse should Klas Dahlbeck not make the Blackawks’ Opening Night roster. Zach Miskovic will provide some veteran experience on the IceHogs’ blue line and he could wind up being the team captain. Should Kyle Cumiskey stick with the organization, he’ll be in Rockford as well.
–The Blackhawks also sent Phillip Danault, Matt Carey and defenseman Stephen Johns to Rockford.
Carey had played in all three exhibition games up to this point. The only other player to do that so far is Jeremy Morin – which tells you how hard they’re looking at Morin right now.
Danault had two nice games but he was always going back to Rockford and with three preseason games left, and Teuvo Teravainen yet to get into a game due to the “upper body” ailment he suffered as result of a big open ice collision with Cam Barker in South Bend last weekend, Danault probably wasn’t going to get another look anyway. This is a big season for Danault’s development and its all about growing into a bigger role down the middle in Rockford because he’s in line to take Marcus Kruger’s spot in 2015-16.
Johns’ early cutting is a little surprising as one would’ve figured he’d got into at least two preseason games. I think had two of their initial three games been on the road that would have been the case.
But the frontrunner of the defense prospects for a defensive spot after the inevitable trading of one (or two) of the veteran defenseman goes down in the next week or so is Klas Dahlbeck. Johns isn’t far off of being NHL ready, though. He just needs a healthy diet of minutes in all situations and you’d expect he’ll get it in Rockford.
–The only players still left in camp who’ve yet to play in a game are Teravainen (upper), Joakim Nordstrom (upper), Kris Versteeg (flu) and Ryan Hartman (lower).
Teravainen and Versteeg will play in the Hawks’ next preseason game, which is Sunday night in Saskatoon against the Edmonton Oilers. Nordstrom is expected as well. Hartman’s injury was expected to keep him out until around the last exhibition game. That may prevent him from getting into a game, but he’s headed for Rockford one way or the other once he’s cleared to play where he’ll skate on Danault’s right wing.
Eight players who’ve appeared in at least one preseason game thus far have already been cut. Those are Drew LeBlanc, Mark McNeill, Cam Barker, Phillip Danault, Matt Carey, Stephen Johns, Viktor Svedberg and Alex Broadhurst.
–Pierre-Cedric Labrie tried to keep his name in the running for the roster spot up for grabs in the Enforcer role. (Although Stan Bowman prefers to not call it that.) At 6:54 of the second, Labrie went out of his way to hit Rangers’ forward Chris Bourque (Ray’s son, and is either 5-8 or 5-9. Labrie is 6-3.) along the boards in the Hawks’ zone. Bourque had been out on a long shift as it was. Rangers’ bruiser Dylan McIlrath was ten feet away and challenged Labrie. McIlrath’s reach was something Labrie couldn’t overcome and the fight was almost stopped at McIlrath’s first punch, but the linesman allowed it to continue after Labrie regained his balance. Because McIlrath instigated the fight, he got a misconduct and the Hawks received a 2-minute power play. They failed to convert on it, but moments after it ended, Rasmussen scored his goal.
–Blackhawks’ lineup vs NYR on Friday
10-Patrick Sharp / 19-Jonathan Toews / 81-Marian Hossa
20-Brandon Saad / 91-Brad Richards / 88-Patrick Kane
25-Matt Carey / 70-Dennis Rasmussen / 11-Jeremy Morin
22-Pierre-Cedric Labrie / 24-Phillip Danault / 36-Cody Bass
17-Cam Barker / 7-Brent Seabrook
2-Duncan Keith / 34-Stephen Johns
44-Klas Dahlbeck / 4-Niklas Hjalmarsson
33-Scott Darling (backup)