With preseason in the books, Blackhawks itching to get 2018-19 regular season started


After a lengthy summer of thinking about what went wrong in 2017-18, the Blackhawks couldn't wait for training camp to start to finally move past a season that saw them finish in the basement of the Central Division.

With six preseason contests in the books, the Blackhawks are now itching to get back to playing meaningful hockey games and doing something about it.

First order of business: Starting off on the right foot.

Teams that are inside the playoff picture around American Thanksgiving go on to secure a postseason berth more than 75 percent of the time. Last year the Blackhawks were barely outside of it.

"Right now just get off to a good start," Patrick Kane said on Saturday morning. "I think the biggest thing was coming in and having a good camp and I feel like we've done that even though our record isn't that great in preseason. I feel like we've really had a productive camp, some good practices, some good trial runs in the scrimmages and things like that, so I think to kind of put an exclamation on that it'd be nice to have a good game tonight and feel good going into next week, feel good about practices and get a win under our belt here at home."

The Blackhawks did just that, cruising past the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 in their preseason finale to finish 2-4-0. It's a good way to head into Ottawa on Thursday.

"Huge," Brent Seabrook said on the motivation of turning the chapter from last season. "We've talked about it enough, I think we don't need to talk about it anymore. We just need to put the product out on the ice, we've got to be better, we've got to work harder and as a group we've got to be a better team."

Corey Crawford is doubtful to be ready by Opening Night, but that doesn't mean the Blackhawks can't start the season on a high note. Cam Ward is a proven starter in this league and is capable of handling the workload until Crawford is cleared to play. It's encouraging that the latter remains on track to practice as early as Monday.

All offseason we've talked about the many "ifs" going into this Blackhawks season. But it's a fresh slate for everyone and an opportunity to set new goals.

"Whether it’s going into camp at the start to the beginning of the year, there’s a transition," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We’ll have more team meetings and discussions on what our goals and aspirations are, individually and collectively. Let’s look to achieve them. That’s always going to be in the back of everyone’s minds as unacceptable. We don’t want to experience that again. It made for a long summer and a good learning experience."

Here are three other takeaways as training camp wraps up:

2. Saad-Schmaltz-Kane together again

After starting training camp together then getting separated for a bit, Brandon Saad was back with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz on the second line during Saturday's dress rehearsal and it appears it will start that way to open the season. It seemed like that was always the plan and Quenneville elected to use part of camp to experiment putting Schmaltz on the wing with Kane and Artem Anisimov and Saad on the third line.

"We tried him on another line to see if there’s more balance that way, had some different looks with it," Quenneville said. "But playing with Kaner and Schmaltzy, there’s a lot of speed, lot of possession, puts him in a way better spot to be productive."

Earlier in camp we wrote about the trio's potential and why it could be one of the most dangerous lines in the NHL. It showed why on Saturday after they connected for a pair of goals from Saad and Kane.

"I thought they had the puck a lot, had some nice plays off the rush, had a lot of dangerous looks, potential odd-man situations, good in-zone movement," Quenneville said. "Kaner had the puck a lot, Schmaltz had good speed, Saader had a nice one, could have had a couple of more. They were dangerous."

3. Cam Ward bounces back ahead of Opening Night

The last time Ward suited up at the United Center he allowed six goals on 17 shots and was pulled before the third period. On Saturday he faced 17 shots again but turned aside 16 of them for a save percentage of .941.

That's more like it for the likely Opening Night starter.

"Certainly better, yes," Ward said. "We talked before the game, ending on a good note on the preseason and make sure we get that winning feeling going into the first game of the regular season. I thought the guys played real well in front, a lot of blocked shots and not a whole lot of action, but you know it was a good test for me because anytime that you don't get any work, it's a test mentally to kind of stay in the game and be ready cause in this league, all it takes is one chance and it could be in the back of the net. So yeah, real pleased. Obviously we've got a few practice days to sharpen up and look forward to Ottawa."

4. Final cuts coming

The Blackhawks have some tough decisions to make regarding their 23-man roster. One more forward needs to be cut, along with a goaltender — Gustav Forsling, Connor Murphy and Corey Crawford are all expected to start the season on injured reserve.

The biggest question mark is surrounding the forwards group. Dylan Sikura, who was perceived to be a lock going into camp, was a healthy scratch on Saturday after getting dropped from the second to the fourth line in Thursday's preseason contest. He's on the bubble.

Luke Johnson figures to be in even though he didn't play in Saturday's preseason finale because of flu-like symptoms. David Kampf has played well, as has John Hayden and Andreas Martinsen, all three of whom were in the lineup.

"Probably making a change or two," Quenneville said on whether Saturday was a preview of the Opening Night lineup. "Or one. I’m going to say maybe two."

Update: The Blackhawks announced after the game that goaltender Collin Delia and forward Dylan Sikura were assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, the two final cuts of camp. Details here.

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