You just never know what to expect with this 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks’ team. One thing is for sure; they always keep it interesting. They laid an egg in a game they were supposed to win, and by a huge margin. Then they lost two integral players to season-ending injuries. Yet they rallied for a couple big wins this past weekend as the decade draws to an end. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
Blackhawks Matchups of the Week
Vs. New Jersey Devils, Mon. 12/23, Loss 7-1
Vs. New York Islanders, Fri. 12/27, Win 5-2
@ Columbus Blue Jackets, Sun. 12/29, Win 3-2 (SO)
Seabrook & de Haan Sidelined
The biggest news to come out of this past week was the announcement by the Blackhawks that Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan will be out for the remainder of the 2019-20 season. Both defensemen underwent successful right shoulder surgery on Friday. De Haan had surgery on the same shoulder last offseason, making it an extremely frustrating injury for all involved. Especially since he was having a stellar season before he was sidelined.
This is the first of three times Seabrook will go under the knife. He will have surgery for his right hip in January and his left hip in February. Seabrook was a healthy scratch for the third time this season on Dec. 18 against the Colorado Avalanche, and head coach Jeremy Colliton indicated the younger defensemen (namely Adam Boqvist and Dennis Gilbert) deserved a chance to play. Once it became clear Seabrook would not be playing on a regular basis, he decided to cut his losses and take care of his nagging injuries sooner rather than later.
Colliton has been told to expect the two blueliners back and ready to go for the 2020-21 season. Which means both hefty cap hits will be back on the books. Although the Blackhawks have lots of cap space available for the rest of this season, it wouldn’t be prudent for them to make a big investment when they will be strapped again for the following season. And it doesn’t make much sense to get a rental player, as the Blackhawks’ playoff hopes are a longshot. They certainly don’t want to give up on valuable prospects that could benefit them in the future.
I would expect general manager Stan Bowman to make some minor moves with the available cap money, but it will more likely be something that will address future versus immediate needs. Kudos to Bowman if he can make a deal which makes them better right now and in the future.
Other Injury Updates
The major news about Seabrook and de Haan is unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg for the Blackhawks right now. There are numerous other injuries they are dealing with.
- It was announced on Friday that forward Brandon Saad is expected to be out for three more weeks due to an ankle injury he sustained against the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 19. This would hopefully put Saad back in the lineup around Jan. 16. The Blackhawks are on the road that week, so it will be interesting to see if he makes the trip. He could potentially return for the home game against the Jets (the same team in which he sustained his injury) on Jan. 19.
- Drake Caggiula has been out of the lineup since Nov. 13 with concussion issues. It’s been a long road for the winger, who feels he’s almost over the hump. He practiced with the team Saturday, and says he now only experiences symptoms every three or four days for an hour or less. He did not travel with the team on their current three-game road trip.
- Forward Andrew Shaw has also been out with concussion issues since Nov. 30. His situation is concerning as Colliton indicated he’s made no real progression and there is no timetable for his return. Shaw has endured numerous concussions in the past.
- There have been others as well. Defenseman Connor Murphy missed a total of 12 games with a nagging groin issue. Defenseman Duncan Keith recently was out nine games also due to a groin injury. Center Dylan Strome was sidelined four games with concussion symptoms, and blueliner Olli Maatta also missed four games with a mysterious illness. Boqvist missed two games with a shoulder issue, but returned against the Blue Jackets Sunday night.
Although the Blackhawks will be the first to say it’s no excuse, injuries certainly haven’t done this struggling team any favors. Hopefully they can get Saad, Caggiula and Shaw back into the lineup sooner rather than later, and their biggest injury woes will be behind them.
Two Big Wins Darn It!
So. About that loss to the lowly Devils. It was the last game before Christmas break, and the Blackhawks are notorious for not showing up for that game every year. Can we just throw that one away? Let’s just throw that one away.
Despite injuries and a deflating loss, the team showed their resiliency and battled back with two big triumphs against the Islanders and the Blue Jackets. Here’s how the wins came to be.
Lehner Defeats His Former Team
The Blackhawks met the Islanders on Friday, who are currently second place in the Metropolitan division. The Hawks tend to play up to their competition, and they did just that. After giving up the first goal, they got right to work. Gilbert, a rookie defenseman who is quickly becoming known for his physical and gritty style of play, decided to take on a slightly different role and score his first NHL goal.
Gilbert also made a goal-saving block on the penalty kill that earned him kudos from his goaltender. Goals were also scored by Dominik Kubalik, Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews, and Matthew Highmore for a 5-2 rout.
Netminder Robin Lehner had the satisfaction of defeating his former team, who decided to take another route and not re-sign him even after he was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season. It doesn’t get much better than that.
But wait, it does!
Lehner Gets the Monkey off his Back
On Sunday night the Blackhawks faced the Blue Jackets, and pretty much didn’t show up for the first two periods. Down 2-0, they managed to come from behind in the third. Strome got the Blackhawks on the board with a deflection off a Murphy shot. Then Erik Gustafsson came through with the tying goal on the power play.
Alas, no goals were scored in overtime and the game went to a shootout. Enter Lehner once again.
With a .924 save percentage and a 2.86 goals against average going into the night, Lehner earned his fourth start in five games. But he is notorious for struggling in the shootout. He did let in one goal in this one, but thwarted two others. With the help of shootout goals from both Toews and Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks were victorious.
Chalk up a shootout win for Lehner!
The End of an Era
Friday night marked the last home game of the decade at the United Center. The Blackhawks topped it off right, with a victory over the Islanders. It was a feel-good night all the way around.
This is also a great time to look back. Let’s face it; it was a pretty good decade for the Blackhawks. They won Stanley Cup championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015, and lost in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals in 2014. No wonder the Blackhawks’ organization has dubbed it the “Decade of Dominance.” Well at least six years of dominance, huh?
Now we can focus a new era as 2020 commences in a few days. Things might not seem all that pretty right now, but the future looks bright.
Rookies Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist are just starting what look to be long and successful careers. Young players such as DeBrincat and Strome are already considered part of the new core. Kubalik shows promise. Toews and Kane still have a lot to offer. Lehner is a huge addition in goal.
There are many positives, and lots to look forward to.
In the immediate future, the Blackhawks face the Calgary Flames this Tuesday and the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, before hosting the Detroit Red Wings Sunday night. Their current record of 17-17-6 (40 points) still has them in last place in the Central Division. But they’ve also won five of their last seven games. As the infamous Lehner said in his post-game interview, “We just have to keep building on this.”
In the more long-term future, a new era could be beginning right before our very eyes. We can only hope for another decade of dominance!