Blackhawks searching for offense in clash with Flames
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks are off to an inconsistent start while the Calgary Flames are among the NHL's worst clubs in 2016-17.
Struggles by stars on both teams could explain a lot.
Jonathan Toews will try to help the Blackhawks continue their recent offensive surge at home Monday night when they play host to Johnny Gaudreau and the Flames.
Toews, Chicago's captain, has just two assists in six games after averaging 28 goals and 35 assists during his previous nine NHL seasons. Part of the reason for his slow start may be as simple as letting a relationship with new linemates Tyler Motte and Richard Panik develop.
Motte and Panik each scored in regulation and Toews found the back of the net in the shootout as Chicago (3-3-0) rallied to beat Toronto 5-4 on Saturday night. The Blackhawks scored 16 of their 23 goals in their last three games at the United Center.
Motte, a rookie and a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft after a solid career at Michigan, has goals in each of his last two games. In a huge surprise, Panik leads the league with six goals despite taking only nine shots.
If Toews is panicking over his slow start, he's not showing it.
"You only get better and better when you really start understanding and really knowing everything (about your linemates)," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "It just becomes feel. Sometimes you have to just go out there and let things happen, and use your instincts. That really kicks in with guys that you play with for a long time."
Toews, though, has only one goal and four assists in his last nine matchups with the Flames (1-4-1), who are waiting for Gaudreau to start putting together numbers like he did last season.
Through six games, Gaudreau has a goal and two assists but is also a team-worst minus-7. Last season, Gaudreau was sixth in the league in scoring with 78 points on 30 goals and 48 assists, and he was rewarded Oct. 10 with a six-year extension worth a reported $40.5 million.
Gaudreau has one assist in three career games at the United Center.
Another key offseason acquisition is key to the Flames' lackluster start under new coach Glenn Gulutzan. Goaltender Brian Elliott, who helped St. Louis eliminate the Blackhawks in seven games during the opening round of last season's Western Conference playoffs, has yet to win in any of his three starts this season while posting a 4.72 goals-against average and .839 save percentage.
Elliott didn't face his former team on Saturday night in the Flames' 6-4 loss to the Blues. He also could sit when Calgary caps its road trip Tuesday night in St. Louis.
"He's a confident guy. He's a well-structured guy. We know he'll be fine," Flames captain Mark Giordano told the Calgary Sun. "When he gets back in there, I'm sure the players will be looking to shut it down and really tighten up defensively, because we haven't really given him a game where he's had much of a chance."
Calgary's 27 goals allowed are most in the league. Chicago is only slightly better than the Flames with 22 goals given up.
Corey Crawford, who didn't play in the win over the Maple Leafs, is 4-2-3 with a 2.67 GAA and .895 save percentage versus the Flames. Scott Darling was 2-0-1 versus Calgary last season, stopping 91 of 95 shots.