We are so close to the start of the 2021-22 NHL season, and the excitement can be felt all across The Hockey Writers. That includes the Blackhawks Banter crew, who had some preseason hockey games to watch and break down this past week. While there is no need to overreact to the results of exhibition hockey, these games do give us a glimpse at what we can be excited or concerned about heading into the regular season.
Our Blackhawks writing crew of Greg Boysen, Brooke LoFurno, Shaun Filippelli, and Gail Kauchak will get together to discuss all these topics and more on the latest episode of Blackhawks Banter. Today, we are giving you a little sneak peek of the discussion that will drop on Tuesday morning.
Red Wings Spoil Jonathan Toews’ Return to the Ice
The Blackhawks opened the preseason Wednesday night with a 4-3 shootout loss on home ice to the Detroit Red Wings. Jonathan Toews returned to the lineup and picked up an assist in a very impressive first game back. The lineup was missing many of the players we will see on opening night, giving us a chance to look at some of the players battling it out for those final roster spots. Overall, what was the biggest positive you took away from this game?
The biggest positive I took away from this game was center depth. I think that Lukas Reichel and Henrik Borgstrom were impressive, which was a very pleasant surprise. I believe that is something to look forward to, knowing that the team’s future at center is bright.
I was highly impressed with Philipp Kurashev in this game. He had the opportunity to play on the top line with Toews and Dominik Kubalik, and he took full advantage. His 21:45 minutes of ice time was second only to Toews (22:48), and the two looked like they had some excellent chemistry together. We all know Toews and Kubalik gel well, but who lines up on the right side of this line is still up in the air. Kurashev made a good case for himself. He recorded the primary assist on Kubalik’s goal, which started with a nice give-and-go between him and Toews.
Kurashev had a solid rookie season last year with eight goals and 16 points in 54 games. But there’s more depth on the roster this season. The 21-year-old is waivers exempt, while Adam Gaudette, Borgstrom, and Alex Nylander are not. Because of this, many have Kurashev penciled in to start the season in Rockford. Kurashev is out to prove he should be with the big club.
I liked what I saw out of Riechel in his first taste of NHL action. He was aggressive and didn’t seem nervous at all. He was engaged from his very first shift. He only had one shot on goal and a couple of giveaways, but he dished out a handful of hits. The biggest takeaway wasn’t his stats, but just how he fit right in and didn’t look like the moment was too big for him. That is encouraging, moving forward.
To me, seeing the captain return was the most significant positive. Regardless of who ended up winning the game or which players produced the most, the fact that Toews was out there where he belongs is an excellent sign of what that could mean for this team’s ability to progress this season.
Obviously, it’s not the same version of Toews that won three Stanley Cups within six years. But it doesn’t need to be. The fact is, he’s still as effective as ever in some of the most critical areas of the game, including winning key draws and motivating Chicago’s lineup to closeout games. Areas this team struggled in last season. Having him there benefits the Blackhawks, so seeing him back in action is a great sign of what’s to come.
Same Old Story vs Blues
The St. Louis Blues came to town on Friday night and doubled up the Blackhawks 6-3. Jeremey Colliton dressed a lineup that featured more of the players we will see on a nightly basis during the regular season. On the flipside from our first question, what disappointed you the most, or is your biggest concern after this game?
The biggest concern is the system. Although there are new players, they are playing the same way as last year, which brings more worries from the coaching standpoint. The power play is still stalled, there have been a lot of mental mistakes, and some players look entirely out of place, even in the preseason.
The Blues pretty much dominated this game, but I’m not going to get too worked up over this. As Coach Colliton pointed out, this was the Blues’ fourth exhibition contest. It was only the Blackhawks’ second game, and the majority of the lineup was playing for the first time. They were a little rusty out of the gate. But if I had to get nitpicky, I guess I’d say we should keep an eye on both Patrick Kane and Seth Jones moving forward.
Yes, we know Kane cut on his hand, which is why he left the game briefly in the first period. But he looked slow and off all night. I hope his “nagging injury” isn’t more than he’s making it out to be. Jones was on the ice for four goals against and definitely didn’t look like the No. 1 defenseman we all hope he will be for the Blackhawks. Hopefully, he’s just working out the kinks.
I will preface this by saying that it is only preseason, but we already see the same things that have plagued this team since Colliton took over. They had a slow start against the Red Wings, where they were down 1-0 and outshot 8-1 before they picked things up. Once they took a 3-1 lead, they took their foot off the gas pedal and let Detroit right back into the game.
They were outshot against the Blues early and often and trailed 40-27 when the final horn sounded. Shot suppression has been an enormous problem for the last three seasons. The frustrating part is that Colliton is okay with giving up a ton of shots each night. This is just not a recipe for long-term success, but this is what we have as long as this coaching staff is in place.
Recognizing that it’s only preseason, so wins and losses really shouldn’t matter in the bigger scheme of things, there are still factors that could foreshadow things to come. The fact that Chicago was outshot 40-27 is concerning, especially given their apparent efforts to improve the defensive end of their game this offseason.
While there’s still time for Jones to find familiarity with his new surroundings, he was on the ice for over 25:00 in this one and ended a minus-3. Not good enough, given what it cost the Blackhawks to acquire him and what he’s about to start costing the franchise’s financials.
How About Those New Guys?
Now that we have a couple of games under our belts, who is the prospect or first-year Blackhawk that has impressed you the most in training camp so far?
Greg: Caleb Jones
You will have to tune in when the new episode drops on Tuesday to hear why these players impressed us the most. As always, you can listen to Blackhawks Banter whenever you consume your favorite podcasts. In the meantime, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel and like us on Facebook. And for your viewing pleasure, here is our most recent Blackhawks Banter episode.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.