It’s 12 games into the season, and the Chicago Blackhawks have reached rock bottom. With a record of 1-9-2, it’s one of the worst starts in franchise history, and the organization has finally said “enough“. The Blackhawks fired head coach Jeremy Colliton, along with assistant coaches Tomas Mitell and Sheldon Brookbank. Derek King will replace Colliton for the time being. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks’ future behind the bench isn’t the only question that lingers. The on-ice product still leaves a lot to be desired. On our weekly show, ‘Blackahwks Banter’, our Blackhawks’ writing crew consisting of myself, Gail Kauchak, Greg Boysen and Shaun Filippelli will do our best to unscramble the week’s events. Here is a preview of what will be discussed.
Greg: No Pressure on Derek King
When the Blackhawks fired Jeremy Colliton on Saturday, many were surprised that Rockford IceHogs’ head coach Derek King was named his replacement on an interim basis. Many of us felt Marc Crawford would be a natural pick, but the team went in a different direction. This is a good spot for King to get his first taste behind an NHL bench. The Blackhawks have been so bad this season that the slightest improvement on the ice will make him popular with the fans and the players.
I am a big fan of King, having covered him since he took over for Colliton in Rockford. He was a veteran of 14 NHL seasons, where he scored 261 goals and 612 points. He is a very laid-back head coach, which an easy-going personality. He likes to make jokes and keep the mood light when talking with the media. King has always said that when things are going right, he doesn’t have to do much behind the bench, that the guys know where to be and when to be there.
I don’t think King is the long-term answer here, but the Blackhawks must hire their new general manager first, and let him bring in his own coach. No matter how long King is behind the bench in Chicago, he just needs to take a straightforward approach. This team has been over-coached into a spot where they are completely lost on the ice. He just needs to get this team back to a simple approach and play basic hockey again. Stop thinking and just play the game.
Shaun: Chicago Can Now Simplify Their Strategy
Colliton had made it clear that part of the reason as to why he continued to sit Dylan Strome was because he wasn’t being as physical of a player as Colliton had deemed necessary for this Blackhawks lineup. With Strome having only played in three of the Blackhawks’ first nine games, en route to their worst start in franchise history, clearly there was more to blame than a less than stellar hit count. While I was prepared to discuss the fact that Colliton has to let go of the stubbornness that was getting in the way of playing Strome, that’s no longer a relevant perspective since Colliton has now been replaced. However, the underlying message still remains. Regardless of who is taking over the coaching job in the interim or in the near future, those who make up this Blackhawks roster have to be given an opportunity to perform in the way that they were brought in to.
This team needs to strategize to extract the best out of what’s there rather than hoping to infuse a different set of attributes into athletes who have proven capable in other ways. In Chicago’s only win to date, Strome won 71.4 percent of his draws. Who cares that he wasn’t throwing his body around as much as Colliton felt was necessary? Strome is there to win faceoffs and produce, not to throw big hits. This is a perfect illustration that putting players in the best position to succeed in their own regard will ultimately help the collective effort as well. Just assign the best possible player for any respective role and stop forcing something different than what they’ve proven best at.
Gail: Entwistle Earns It
There’s not much to root for right now with the Blackhawks. It will be interesting to see if/how this changes in the coming weeks with the new coaching staff. But in these recent times of trouble, I’d like to give a shout out to one of the newest members of the team, MacKenzie Entwistle.
Even with his waivers exempt status, Entwistle surprised many when he made the team out of training camp. He’s since suited up for all but one of the Blackhawks’ first 12 games. While Adam Gaudette (seven games played) and Dylan Strome (five games played) have struggled to get into the lineup, Entwistle appeared to have the trust of now ex-head coach Colliton. Having played the last two season with the IceHogs, Entwistle has familiarity with new head coach King as well.
The 22-year-old has been a staple on the fourth line, mostly playing at center while averaging 11:11 minutes of ice time. Of all the bottom-six depth players, Entwistle boasts the most points with two goals and one assist. As a matter of fact he’s currently faring better than Philipp Kurashev, who plays among the top-six and has three assists.
Entwistle provided the lone goal against the New York Islanders late in the game in their 4-1 loss on Oct. 19. He also delivered the only goal in the Blackhawks’ 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, a short-handed goal in the third period. A secondary assist on Patrick Kane’s goal in the recent Carolina Hurricanes’ contest rounds out Entwistle’s resume for the 2021-22 season to date. Here’s his tally against the Jets.
You can’t beat Entwistle’s nickname either. One might say “Twisty” benefited from a couple garbage goals at the end of games that were already out of reach. But you could also argue he’s one of the players that’s still working hard and therefore being rewarded when the team is down. At 6-foot-3 and 184 pounds, he fits the bill of being hard to play against. He’s contributed four blocked shots, three takeaways, and 28 hits (tied with defenseman Jake McCabe for third on the team.) Keep up the good work, Twisty!
Brooke: Power Play Goes Cold
If there is one thing that has been going right for the Blackhawks, it’s their specials teams. Their penalty kill ranks fourth in league with a 87.50% success rate, and their power play was ranked top-10 as well, until now. They fell to 13th in the league with a 22.22% success rate. They have scored at least one power-play goal in most of their games this season, but now they have gone a bit cold. They went two straight games without a power-play goal against the Hurricanes and the Jets. They went 0-for-5 on the power play against the Hurricanes, and 0-for-2 against the Jets. Both games resulted in losses.
The Blackhawks are still struggling to score five-on-five. Their 13 goals for is third-worst in the league. Because goals are so hard to come by, they can’t afford to slouch on the power play. That is one aspect that gives them a chance to win hockey games. If the power play starts to fall apart going forward, then winning seems out of the equation. They could very well rebound against the Nashville Predators on Nov. 7, but it’s concerning and not something you want to see when nothing else seems to be going right.
We have a lot more to discuss about the hockey and organizational side of the Blackhawks. Be sure to tune into the show and share your thoughts with us!
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Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.