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Connor Murphy is making one part of coach Jeremy Colliton’s job — creating and maintaining the Blackhawks’ defensive pairs — very easy.

No matter whom Colliton puts with Murphy, the broad-shouldered, wide-smiled defenseman magically transforms the pairing into a consistent, reliable shutdown duo.

Olli Maatta is the latest beneficiary.

After the Hawks’ 3-0 victory Tuesday against the Stars — a shutout thanks in part to Murphy and Maatta locking down Dallas’ explosive first line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski — Colliton gave the duo a great review.

“They took the [toughest] matchup, for the most part, and they were good,” Colliton said. “They were clean with the puck when they needed to be. You can’t just defend — you get the puck back, then we’ve got to get out.

“They’re two big bodies, and they’re playing against big bodies, and they did a really good job.”

In the last two games, Murphy-Maatta had shot, shot-on-goal and scoring-chance ratios all above 50 percent despite consistently playing against the Stars’ best forwards.

Thanks to the pairing’s effectiveness, the Hawks allowed only one goal in the home-and-home set against the Stars, who had won 12 of their last 14 games.

Murphy alone equaled that scoring total with his 180-foot empty-net goal, sealing the win Tuesday. It might not have required as much offensive instinct as his first goal of the season (last week against the Hurricanes), but it was certainly well deserved, giving Murphy a little dose of good luck and a box-score reward in exchange for suffering through two groin injuries already this season.

“I have to tip the rink guys for funneling the ice,” he joked afterward. “I think they’ve been digging out a trench for that one.”

When he has been healthy, Murphy has developed nothing less than a Midas touch when it comes to making the Hawks’ haphazard pairings turn golden.

Last season, he made his pairing with Carl Dahlstrom seem like a legitimate shutdown duo for a while — yet Dahlstrom is now nothing more than a healthy scratch for the Jets.

Earlier this season, he made Duncan Keith look like he was back in his prime, forming a dominant No. 1 pairing with the 36-year-old.

Now he has revived Maatta, whose early success alongside Brent Seabrook had long faded.

Murphy’s defensive statistics have become miles better than anyone else in the Hawks’ defensive core. He’s allowing only 51.6 shots per 60 minutes — everyone else is between 56 and 70. He’s allowing only 24.0 scoring chances per 60 minutes — everyone else is between 28 and 34. Same for shots on goal, expected goals and so forth.

With that constant supply of stifling defense, it’s no wonder Murphy provides such a stabilizing effect on the unit overall.

But Maatta merits some credit, too. The former Penguin boasts the second-lowest scoring-chance-against rate on the team and has been excellent since his return to Pittsburgh on Nov. 9 with a 50.7 Corsi rating in the nine games since after limping to a 42.2 rating before then.

Together, the Ohio native and Finland native are growing into a responsible defensive duo that Colliton can rely on. They clearly showed that Tuesday.

“Exiting [the defensive zone], we were skating a lot to try to move it back to the [neutral zone], and that helped us from having too long a shift in our own end,” Murphy said. “We were making more confident plays with the puck. When you skate and talk and use outlets, I think it makes your life a lot easier.”

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Blackhawks defenseman Calvin de Haan doesn’t usually drink much coffee.

But as he walked out of the Hawks’ meeting before their game Friday against the Devils, the scent wafting out of his paper cup indicated otherwise.

‘‘It just helps a little bit here and there,’’ de Haan said, laughing. ‘‘Some guys take other stuff, but it just gets me going. I like the taste, even though I don’t drink it that often.’’

De Haan needed all the extra energy he could get in the Hawks’ back-to-back road victories against the Bruins and Devils. Beyond notching his 100th career point with an assist Thursday in Boston — in front of his mom, Kathy, no less — de Haan handled an enormous workload with the Hawks’ defense down two regulars.

He played a season-high 25 minutes, 26 seconds against the Bruins, then followed that with 23:38 against the Devils. The two-game total of 49:04 is the most he has logged in a back-to-back in his career and marked the first time he had played more than 23:30 in consecutive games since March 2014 with the Islanders.

‘‘It doesn’t feel like 25 minutes sometimes,’’ he said. ‘‘But when you look at the stat sheet after the game and you feel a little tired, it does feel like that sometimes. The coaching staff’s given me an opportunity here. I’ve been getting good minutes all season, so it’s really hard to complain. They’ve been putting a lot of trust in me in key times in games, and I just try to be reliable.’’

With Duncan Keith (groin) on injured reserve and Olli Maatta out temporarily with an illness, coach Jeremy Colliton had to use both Slater Koekkoek and Dennis Gilbert in the lineup. He also had to elevate his usual second- and third-pair guys.

De Haan was the biggest beneficiary, but Connor Murphy played more than 22 minutes and Brent Seabrook more than 20 in both games, too.

‘‘Those guys are playing great,’’ goalie Corey Crawford said Friday. ‘‘Blocking shots and doing a lot of the little things you don’t really get to see on the highlight reel the next day, but things that definitely make a difference in getting the puck out quick.’’

The collective effort enabled the Hawks to allow only three even-strength goals in the two games, despite an obvious fatigue factor.

De Haan said preserving energy can’t be on one’s mind during the first leg of a back-to-back, but it’s the top priority as soon as that game ends.

‘‘Everyone has their own routine,’’ he said. ‘‘For the most part, everyone just tries to conserve energy and maybe lay around a bit more.’’

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Another night and another awful showing by the Blackhawks team defense, and this time, Robin Lehner let the team hear about it. Pat Boyle, Adam Burish and Scott King discuss the Blackhawks’ ugly loss to the Coyotes and whether there should be some more line mixing happening soon. Plus, head athletic trainer Mike Gapski took part in his 2500th game with the Blackhawks and he sat down with Pat Foley 1-on-1 to re-live his 33 years with the organization.

1:13 – The odd-man rushes are piling up against this defense

5:54 – Is the power play getting going kinda maybe a little bit?

7:43 – Should Jeremy Colliton mix up the lines once again?

9:20 – The Kirby Dach playing-time dilemma

13:45 – Celebrating Mike Gapski’s 2500 games with the Blackhawks

17:00 – Pat Foley’s 1-on-1 interview with Mike Gapski

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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Dominik Kubalik is a logical fit on the wing with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. He’s an accurate, shoot-first finisher who can bury the chances that Toews and Saad, two elite puck-movers, regularly create but so often can’t translate into goals themselves.

So the fact that Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton waited two months — stubbornly forcing a square peg, Alex Nylander, into a round hole even after Nylander’s early chemistry had long since evaporated — before trying Kubalik in that role was perplexing.

On Sunday against the Coyotes, Colliton finally did so — and the early results were promising.

“They just told me to be open, because both of them like to play with the puck, and especially in the corners,” Kubalik said Monday. “I’m just trying to be in the slot or in front of the net to give them the opportunity to shoot [or pass] it.

“I was just trying to fit in, and I think it was right.”

The switch resulted in the best night the Hawks’ official first line has experienced in weeks. The Toews-Saad-Kubalik line accounted for both of the Hawks’ five-on-five goals in an eventual 4-3 shootout loss — the first a goal by Toews off a feed by defenseman Calvin de Haan, the second a tip-in by Kubalik of a shot by defenseman Connor Murphy after Toews won a faceoff in the offensive zone. The first line also dominated possession throughout the night, finishing with a lopsided 11-5 advantage in scoring chances.

For Kubalik, who began his rookie season brilliantly alongside Saad and David Kampf but endured a rocky November, a game like that had been a long time coming.

“I’m trying to do my best, but I know that during this season [there have] already been a couple up-and-downs, when I didn’t play the right way,” he said. “Especially without the puck, I’ve got to still work on it. So [I’m] really happy I get the opportunity to play with those two guys.”

Colliton has been hard on Kubalik for his defensive work ethic and his consistency from shift to shift, and although he admitted after practice Monday that Kubalik was “really skating and making confident plays” against the Coyotes, he implied he still hasn’t seen the 24-year-old Czech winger reach the desired level of consistency.

Kubalik will likely never be a defensive specialist, but improved off-puck play could nonetheless give him more opportunities to showcase his skills with the puck.

“I’m trying to use my strength, and that’s my speed and my shot,” he said. “But you need to have the puck to use it, so I’m just trying to be the quickest possible to get the puck on my tape again.”

Even before Kubalik reaches his peak potential, he already seems like a good option for the first-line wing. Since the start of training camp, that final top-six spot has been a hole in this lineup; Kane, Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Saad are all clear top-six scorers, but there’s no obvious sixth guy on the roster. Colliton tried Nylander, Andrew Shaw and Kirby Dach, but none stuck.

Kubalik could buck that trend. His skills, combined with Toews’ and Saad’s, cover all the bases.

And even if Colliton isn’t fully convinced yet, his lineup decisions Sunday showed he’s open to the idea.

“Different guys are going to get the opportunity [to fill that spot] based on how they’re playing, and that’s just part of the process we’re going through,” Colliton said. “We have a lot of young players who have the potential to break through and do that for us. It’s just a race to try to make that happen.”

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The Blackhawks will be without veteran defenseman Duncan Keith against the Avalanche on Saturday in Denver.

Keith did not travel with the team after injuring his groin in Friday’s 5-2 loss to Colorado in Chicago. He’ll miss his first game since April 6, 2017, ending a 189-game streak. The severity of the injury is still unknown, but with two integral pieces of the Blackhawks’ lineup missing in Keith and Dylan Strome, the Blackhawks’ depth will be tested.

After Friday’s defeat, the Blackhawks recalled defenseman Ian McCoshen and reassigned Matthew Highmore to the AHL. Winger Anton Wedin, who was called up earlier this week, is expected to make his regular season debut and defenseman Slater Koekkoek will likely draw back into the lineup.

Chicago dropped the first game of the home-and-home, but Patrick Kane extended his point streak to 14 games with a goal. It’s the fourth time that Kane has reached the 14 game mark in his illustrious career.

Kane is ninth in the NHL with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists). However, he’s the only Chicago skater with more than 20 points as Alex DeBrincat sits at 19 and Strome, who is still in concussion protocol, has 17.

Avalanche blog, Mile High Hockey

Robin Lehner is slated to start for Chicago after Corey Crawford made 18 saves on 23 shots in Friday’s loss. Lehner leads the league in save-percentage at .938 and is third in goals saved above average at 13.5. He’s lost his last two starts, but only gave up four goals on 73 shots.

Nathan MacKinnon, who collected four points Friday, paces the Avalanche with 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists). Rookie defenseman and Calder Trophy favorite Cale Makar is next in line with 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists). He showcased his wicked shot with a top shelf power-play goal and his dynamic speed Friday.

MacKinnon is expected to get Mikko Rantanen back on his right wing after the Finnish sniper missed 16 games with a lower-body injury.

Philipp Grubauer, the Avalanche’s No. 1 goaltender, should start in net. He’s 8-5-2 with a .912 save-percentage on the season.
Tale of the Tape

Blackhawks — Statistic — Avalanche

47.8% (24th) — Corsi For — 48.9% (22nd)

49.1% (21st) — Faceoffs — 47.4% (28th)

2.80 (t-20th) — Goals per game — 3.60 (3rd)

2.68 (10th) — Goals against per game — 2.80 (12th)

13.5% (27th) — Power play — 19.2% (13th)

80.8% (19th) — Penalty kill — 78.1% (21st)
Lineups

Blackhawks

Saad — Toews — Shaw

DeBrincat — Carpenter— Kane

Smith — Dach— Nylander

Kubalik — Kampf— Wedin

Maatta — Murphy

de Haan — Seabrook

Gustafsson — Koekkoek

Lehner

Crawford

Avalanche

Donskoi — MacKinnon — Rantanen

Nichushkin — Kadri — Compher

Nieto — Bellemare — O’Connor

Kamenev — Jost— Tynan

Graves — Makar

Girard — Zadorov

Rosen — Cole

Grubauer

Francouz
How to watch

When: 8 p.m.

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Live stream: NBC Sports app

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DENVER — After a lopsided home loss Wednesday to the Avalanche, defenseman Duncan Keith called for the Blackhawks to start playing ‘‘pissed off’’ hockey.

In the two games since, with a vintage Keith at the forefront, the Hawks have followed his lead.

The Hawks roared back with four third-period goals Saturday to stun the Avalanche 5-3, a drastic reversal from the three blowout losses they had suffered against them since Nov. 29.

‘‘That’s what it’s going to take to turn it around,’’ Keith said. ‘‘It’s not going to be anything else other than the guys in the room. And I thought we had a good game from start to finish.’’

The Hawks controlled the second period and produced a whopping 16 scoring chances in those 20 minutes, but they trailed 3-1. Despite the Hawks’ strong work ethic in the wake of their equally determined road performance Thursday in Winnipeg, being swept in the season series seemed inevitable.

But that wasn’t the feeling in the locker room.

‘‘We came here in the intermission and just knew we were going to come back,’’ said goalie Robin Lehner, who finished with 28 saves. ‘‘We came out patient, we didn’t take any unnecessary risks, we stuck with it, we got a goal to gain momentum and here we go.’’

It was a goal by Patrick Kane with 8:38 left that provided that momentum; a goal by rookie Kirby Dach — his first in 17 games — 28 seconds later that tied the score; a snipe by Dominik Kubalik off a brilliant setup by Kane that gave the Hawks a late lead; and another 180-foot empty-netter by Connor Murphy that sealed the result.

Keith, meanwhile, was the rock through it all, handling his 26 minutes, 24 seconds like a 10-years-younger man and controlling play on every shift.

None of those things is particularly surprising, given the flashes of potential the Hawks have demonstrated this season.

But the fact they came all together is something new and encouraging. The Hawks’ light, which appearing to be on its final flame a few days ago, now has some new life.

‘‘We do have a lot of character in our group, and we have shown that we’re not going to quit,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘But the next step for us is to bring it all the time, not just when our backs are completely against the wall. That’s how we’re going to finally break through.’’

Sikura benched quickly

Forward Dylan Sikura re-entered the Hawks’ lineup for the first time in six games, spent the first period on the top line with Kubalik and captain Jonathan Toews, then was thrust back into Colliton’s doghouse.

Kane was inserted into Sikura’s spot — which had been Brandon Saad’s spot in recent weeks until his ankle injury Thursday — at the start of the second period, and Sikura took only three more shifts the rest of the game.

Injury updates

The Hawks put Saad on injured reserve. Colliton said the two-week timeline given immediately after the injury occurred Thursday against the Jets is ‘‘still relatively the same,’’ but he’s not counting on him returning exactly then because ‘‘it’s just so far away.’’

Defenseman Calvin de Haan is thought to be seeking multiple medical opinions on his options for fixing his right shoulder. But a surgery similar to the one he had in May with the Hurricanes seems likely, and that would require a four- to six-month recovery.

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Chicago has been home to many legendary athletes. Where does Patrick Kane rank?

Over the last decade, the Chicago Blackhawks have been one of the most dominant teams in the NHL. As 2019 is nearing the end, many people are talking about who the best athlete in Chicago is.

For the better part of the 2010s, the Chicago Blackhawks have been the best team in Chicago. Long gone are the days of Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. The 2010s were all about the Blackhawks and Patrick Kane.

Kane is currently 31 years old and hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down. His team, of course, has slowed down a bit with aging veterans riding out their last few seasons. Kane just hasn’t.
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Patrick Kane will head into 2020 less than 20 points from his 1,000th NHL career point, sitting at 982 right now. Chances are he will hit that before the All-Star break.

The one stat not many people have focused on is this. Kane leads the NHL in points since the start of the 2010s. That is something to be proud of.

Kane is also tied with a few other players for most Stanley Cups this decade. He has had two 100 point seasons, won the Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP), and even added a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name in 2013. Chicago really does run on Kane.

Wonder who has the most points in the NHL for the decade?

Patrick Kane has the lead with 791 (so far). pic.twitter.com/u75uBWy8pa

— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) December 19, 2019

Those who have debated who the best player of the decade is and haven’t said, “Patrick Kane”, are wrong. It’s the easiest choice Chicago fans will make.

Now, there are arguments for other players during one season. Having a great one or two seasons is amazing but having a great decade is hard to accomplish.

The Chicago Blackhawks are currently last in the Central Division, and haven’t been great during the last three years, but Kane has remained an elite player. He is a franchise-changing player, and arguably, the best American-born hockey player ever.

The Blackhawks have had many legends throughout the years — too many to count in this one article — but Kane ranks up there with the best. Like the rest of them, he could play in any era and be successful. The fact that he has stayed successful and relevant for many years now shows how much of an impact he had on the city of Chicago.

In the 80s, the city of Chicago was all about the Bears. The 90s were about the Bulls. The 2000s were all about the Bears again. The 2010s were all about the Blackhawks. Kane and teammate Jonathan Toews helped bring relevance to hockey in the Windy City again.

If scoring the game-winning goal to bring the first Stanley Cup back to Chicago in 49-years isn’t enough, winning three Cups in six years should do the trick. The most impressive feat, stat wise, is leading the NHL in points during the last 10 seasons.

Next time you answer the question, the answer is Kane. Any other answer is wrong, because it’s not even close. Other players have been great, but there hasn’t been a player that’s been here for all 10 years and been so dominant. There’s just no other choice.

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When Blackhawks defenseman Dennis Gilbert skated after Jason Demers, hitting him into the boards, challenging him to fight and beating the doors off him in the second period with Chicago leading 3-2, he was sticking up for a teammate and trying to give the Hawks some life, but it cost them a puck in their own net.

So was it the right move?

“It is if we kill it,” Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said of the Hawks being forced to kill Gilbert’s instigator penalty. “And I think it sends a good message to the rest of the players that we’re in this together and we’re going to take care of each other.

“But I would have liked us to react better the rest of the game after that and that’s what we should do to protect each other. I thought that the penalty kill, we were looking for goals at times and when we had the chance to get the puck 200 feet down the ice, we didn’t always do that. And I’m not against scoring goals, but let’s be smart about it. It cost us.”

Gilbert was responding to Demers’ hit on Alex DeBrincat in front of the Coyotes’ bench near center ice that caused DeBrincat to fall hard into the wall.

“Well, I think it was [a] pretty blatant [penalty] that was missed,” Hawks defenseman Calvin de Haan said. “Alex’s head went right off the boards. I don’t know how they didn’t call that one. But good on Dennis to step up and sometimes it takes a big set of cajones to do that.

“He tried to get a spark for us and I think trying to stick up for your teammates is still part of the game, especially on a hit like that. Kudos to him and I think it was a key time in the game for us and he tried to turn the tables for us.”

Gilbert received the instigator for going after Demers, which resulted in a Coyotes’ power-play goal from Carl Soderberg. It was Gilbert’s second fight in two games.

“I think it fires us up,” DeBrincat said. “I think he’s protecting me. I think he obviously thought it was a dirty hit and takes control of the play.

“I think it makes a good play for me. I like that he does that. Obviously, at the same time we get a penalty out of it which is not always the best.

“I think our bench can roll with that and try to kill that off. Unfortunately, we didn’t. Any other penalty we can probably kill off from that one.”

Sticking up for a teammate in that fashion goes a long way. The Hawks have been missing a player that makes the opposition answer for their sins the way Gilbert does. You’d like to avoid taking an instigator, but the Blackhawks had an issue with a dangerous hit not being penalized.

It’s up to the penalty kill to make that a good penalty. Unfortunately for Gilbert and company, they didn’t get the job done.

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The Chicago Blackhawks would be smart if they went on to trade Erik Gustafsson at or before the trade deadline.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson is a “roller coaster” type player. He has highlights and low lights during every game it seems. But does that make him an asset that the Chicago Blackhawks can trade before the trade deadline?

Surprisingly, the Blackhawks held onto Gustafsson this season after he put up 60 points in 79 games played last year when they could’ve traded him during the offseason. They would have gotten a couple of decent players and picks in return because his value was so high.
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The Chicago Blackhawks have played in 34 games this season so far. Not surprisingly, Gustafsson is having yet another roller-coaster type season. He has 13 points in 33 games played so far this year, but sadly, he is hurting his trade value on pretty much a nightly basis.

Gustafsson is actually a very solid puck-moving defenseman for the Blackhawks. But other than that he doesn’t really provide much else for the team. Plus, top prospect Adam Boqvist would fit right in if they did end up trading Gustafsson.

He fits well in the Blackhawks system that they have been using over the past few weeks, but I think he’d thrive even more if he was on a team that was in contention for a Stanley Cup.

I can see the Vegas Golden Knights trading for Gustafsson, he’ll fit right in on the power play unit for Vegas. Also, I can see him fitting well with the Montreal Canadiens, who have actually been rumored to acquire Gustafsson. It’ll take a couple of drafts picks for teams to acquire him but i’m pretty sure every team will be willing to give up whatever it takes.

The Blackhawks would be better off moving Gustafsson right now instead of waiting because his value may never be higher than it is right now.

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Blackhawks defenseman Calvin de Haan will likely miss four-to-five months with a right shoulder injury, sources tell Scott Powers of The Athletic.

Chicago head coach Jeremy Colliton, however, did not given an official timeline on de Haan’s status during the team’s practice Saturday in St. Louis.

De Haan re-injured his right shoulder in Chicago’s 5-1 loss to the Golden Knights on Tuesday in Las Vegas. He fell on the shoulder after being hit into the glass in the neutral zone by Mark Stone, who was penalized for interference on the play with 2:14 remaining in the first period. De Haan skated off the ice on his own and immediately went to the team’s dressing room.

The Blackhawks placed him on injured reserve Thursday after he underwent further evaluation in Chicago. It’s the same shoulder de Haan had surgery on in the offseason that sidelined him for four-to-six months. He has one goal and five assists in 29 games this season.

Chicago acquired de Haan and forward Aleksi Saarela from the Hurricanes on June 24 in exchange for defenseman Gustav Forsling and goaltender Anton Forsberg. The Blackhawks then traded Saarela to the Panthers on Oct. 23 for defenseman Ian McCoshen. Saarela has no points in three NHL games with Florida, while Forsling, Forsberg and McCoshen have yet to play in the NHL with their respective new team.

De Haan has two years remaining on his four-year contract worth $4,550,00 million per season.