Who would have thought that all it would take was a coaching change to see a new level of optimism ooze out of the Chicago Blackhawks? Certainly, not a foreign concept to our Blackhawks Banter team of Gail Kauchak, Brooke LoFurno, Greg Boysen, and Shaun Filippelli, with that very topic having been discussed at length since the start of this season.
Now riding a three-game winning streak, following what seems to have been the most important hockey-related move the franchise has made in recent months, it’s provided us with a plethora of content to dissect and debate on our upcoming episode of the show.
Here’s a peek behind the curtain of what each member of our crew has been contemplating this past week.
Gail: Defensive Decisions
Interim head coach Derek King hasn’t changed much yet in the way of systems, but he has made some small tweaks that seem to be helping the Blackhawks win. The team has won their last three games, so there’s not much to complain about in that department.
Specifically looking at defense, King seems to be leaning more on his stars to get the job done. He’s been giving more minutes to Seth Jones and Connor Murphy, while limiting the play of Erik Gustafsson, and to a lesser extent, Riley Stillman.
In the last three games Jones has averaged just under 27 minutes a game, and he’s contributed two assists along with his first goal of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Murphy has averaged just under 26 minutes a game. Meanwhile, Erik Gustafsson’s time has been limited to an average of 9:28 minutes, and Riley Stillman to 15 minutes.
Sure, Jones and Murphy are the Blackhawks’ top two defensemen, so of course they will play more. But since he’s taken over, King has tasked these two players with stepping up even more. They’ve responded in kind. These recent wins have been one-goal victories, so their contributions may have been part of what put the team over the hump.
It might not be sustainable over the long haul, but King wasn’t afraid to go for the gusto. Instead of searching for that balance like former head coach Jeremy Colliton was doing, he went for it. In the short term, it was the right thing to do.
In the long term, defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk has suited up for a few games with the Rockford IceHogs since recovering from his ankle injury. He should be re-joining the Blackhawks soon. And Caleb Jones (wrist injury) isn’t too far behind him. Hopefully these reinforcements will continue to help the Blackhawks’ defense moving forward.
Brooke: Gaudette Needs Playing Time
Adam Gaudette is one of the many forwards that has been in and out of the lineup. He has one goal, one assist, and two points in eight games. The Blackhawks have a lot of holes on this roster and one of their needs is scoring.
They average 2.13 goals per game. The team is riding a three-game winning streak so head coach King may be apprehensive to change the lineup too much. It’s a lineup that Gaudette has barely been a part of under his tenure, but he should be.
He has skill, and although he isn’t a superstar, he may be able to help the offense better than players like Reese Johnson, who has zero points in eight games.
Greg: Patience Is Key With Lukas Reichel
Many Blackhawks fans saw that Lukas Reichel had his first professional hat trick last week and immediately wanted to see him get called up to the NHL. Yes, the Blackhawks are still one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to 5-on-5 scoring, but that shouldn’t be a reason to rush the 2020 first-round pick’s development.
Reichel is off to an excellent start. He leads the Rockford IceHogs with six goals and is second to Brett Connolly (yes, that Brett Connolly) in overall points with nine. He has looked outstanding on some nights but has struggled on others. Exactly what you’d expect out of a rookie in his first season in North America. While the Blackhawks could use all the dynamic players that can get these days, they need to take their time in bringing Reichel along.
One of the biggest complaints of the Stan Bowman era is the lack of development. We have seen players rushed to the NHL and fail and others who were given up on way too early before being traded to another team. When it comes to Reichel, the organization shouldn’t be worried about this season. Let him learn at the AHL level and go through his growing pains. An entire season in Rockford is far from the worst idea for the big picture beyond the 2021-22 season.
Shaun: Strome Still Struggling
It had become clear that Colliton was content with finding any excuse possible to avoid giving Dylan Strome more playing time. So, with a new bench boss in town, it seemed like Strome was due to be granted a revitalized opportunity to get into more of the action. Yet, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
In fact, Strome has averaged less ice time through King’s first three games (11:17) than he did while Colliton was still there (13:37). Although we can debate Colliton’s decision-making when it came to structuring his lineups, Strome is obviously not going to be handed a free ticket to more playing time under King.
Rather than assuming King is relying on the same type of strategies that Colliton was, let’s consider that Strome simply isn’t doing enough with the chances he’s given. Therefore, it makes it difficult to reward him with more of them.
It can be easy to blame a lack of minutes, all mostly coming in the form of a bottom-six role. However, at some point, the focus needs to shift to Strome’s inability to be impactful enough. While his 56.4 faceoff percentage is a plus, only two points through his first eight games just aren’t going to cut it. He’s there to produce.
Strome’s sole goal of the season was the game-winner in Chicago’s most recent contest. He has to use that momentum to his advantage and build on it, regardless of where or when he’s slotted in next. After all, opportunities are earned at this level. It’s up to Strome to recognize that and on him to simply do more.
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Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.