After an 0-2-1 start to the season, the Chicago Blackhawks bounced back in a major way last week with a big game against the undefeated Edmonton Oilers to lock down their first win of the season with a 3-1 victory, followed by a 3-2 overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on a Jonathan Toews tip-in, his first goal of the season. However, the momentum didn’t last long as the Blackhawks struggled mightily with their special teams Sunday night in a tough loss to the Washington Capitals.
While the Oilers game was a good all-around team game, the overtime win against Columbus was a very sloppy win that can largely be attributed to last week’s No. 2 star of the week Robin Lehner, who had 37 saves on 39 shots, a large portion of which were high-quality scoring opportunities. Lehner was just one small bright spot during the winning week for Chicago; here are my three stars for the week of Oct. 14-20
3rd Star — Ryan Carpenter
While Carpenter’s numbers don’t exactly jump off the stat sheet, the veteran fourth-line center has excelled in the areas he was brought in to impact. He has been an absolute machine in the face-off circle, going 10/11 against Washington and 6/8 against Columbus, with his low point being a 2/7 performance against Edmonton, all adding up to an impressive 69% success rate at the dot. In addition to winning his face-offs, Carpenter also contributed two assists, two hits, and a block last week. You won’t see his name regularly featured in the game highlights, but he will continue to do what it takes to help his team win, and his hard-nosed efforts and face-off acumen have earned him my No. 3 star of the week.
2nd Star — Drake Caggiula
Whether he’s slotted into a top-six role or a bottom-six role, Caggiula has shown an innate ability to adapt to the talent around him and produce. After being acquired via trade and acting as a much-needed spark plug on the first line with Toews and Patrick Kane during the 2018-19 season, the young forward has been moved up and down the lineup quite a bit this season. That hasn’t seemed to change the way Caggiula can impact a game. Since coming to Chicago, he has found comfort in knowing his role and being allowed to focus on what he does best.
Caggiula scored two goals, one with the first line and one on the fourth line, doled out six hits, and recorded two blocks last week. While many would like to see him reunited with Kane and Toews to rekindle their first-line magic, Caggiula has shown that he’s ready to step up and make a difference no matter where he is slotted into the lineup.
His best play of the week was this top-shelf beauty against the Blue Jackets. He was a big-time contributor to the team’s success last week and that has earned him my No. 2 star of the week.
1st Star — Alex Nylander
After a strong preseason in which he turned some heads, there were some pretty big expectations for the former first-rounder. It has been a wild ride thus far, to say the least.
He scored the Blackhawks’ first goal of the season in Prague, has bounced around lines, and even served as a healthy scratch for head coach Jeremy Colliton in favor of Brendan Perlini, all just six games into the season. To Nylander’s credit, Colliton has been pleased with the way the young winger has responded.
“Sometimes you got to get a guy’s attention,” Colliton said. “But he’s responded great. Got no issues with his work ethic. He came out of the lineup for one game and I think he did everything right after that. Just how he approached practice, how he approached the media, being asked about it and how he approached his chance when he came back to make a difference for us.”
Make a difference he has. He had a goal in just 8:20 of ice time while playing on the fourth line against the Oilers and fired off two assists against the Capitals in just over 13 minutes on the ice.
Even more encouraging is Nylander’s ability to be productive in the offensive zone and score points despite his 69.2 defensive zone start percentage. Despite the minimal ice time, he has continued to make an impact, including plays like this no-look assist feeding Caggiula against the Capitals.
While Nylander’s offensive potential is usually the focus, his effort on the defensive side hasn’t gone unnoticed. Nylander had three takeaways in the Capitals game and has made a noticeable effort away from the puck since being a healthy scratch.
He has a long way to go to reach his full potential, but through the highs and lows, Nylander’s progress and attitude have been fairly encouraging. He’s tied for second on the team in points and continues to say all the right things, even during the low points. He scored the game-winner against the Oilers and helped keep the Blackhawks in the game with some nifty playmaking against a very strong Capitals team. For a strong two-way week, Nylander has earned my No. 1 star of the week.
Adam got his start in sports journalism and sports broadcasting at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where he was fortunate enough to cover several national championship teams. He was also the Color Commentator and pre/post-game interviewer for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ ECHL affiliate, the Chicago Express, in their one year of existence.
Adam fell in love with hockey at a young age and grew up a Chicago Blackhawks fan despite them not being on television at the time.