The Chicago Blackhawks headed into the past week with their playoff hopes primarily in their own hands. With three wins over the Nashville Predators, they could leapfrog their pesky opponent in the standings, and pull ahead of the Dallas Stars as well. Alas, the Preds turned out to be more than they could handle, once again. In eight season matchups, the Blackhawks only managed to beat the Predators one time. Their overtime 5-4 comeback victory last Wednesday night sure was fun, but it was short-lived. Here are some points to ponder from the Blackhawks’ final three-game series against the Predators.
Blackhawks Game Results
@ Nashville Predators, Mon. Apr. 19, Loss 5-2
Vs. Nashville Predators, Wed., Apr. 21, Win 5-4 (OT)
Vs. Nashville Predators, Fri., Apr. 23, Loss, 3-1
Blackhawks Overall Record: 22-21-5, 49 points (6th place in the Central Division)
Revolving Door on Defense
The Blackhawks have been struggling with some injuries recently on the blue line. Calvin de Haan drew back into the lineup Monday after missing two games with a hip pointer issue. Unfortunately, he left Wednesday’s matchup after only 3:50 minutes of ice time, and he wasn’t available on Friday.
Wyatt Kalynuk logged only 1:42 minutes of play on Monday before leaving the game after a hit along the boards by Predators’ Tanner Jeannot. This forced the Blackhawks to play most of the game with only five defenseman. Fortunately, Kalynuk returned for both Wednesday and Friday’s contests.
Also, Adam Boqvist returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing four contests due to concussion protocol.
Playing Seven Defensemen
Based on all this, head coach Jeremy Colliton decided to dress seven defensemen on both Wednesday and Friday. This turned out to be a good decision on Wednesday, since de Haan exited the game. With Boqvist back in the mix, the Blackhawks had six serviceable defensemen for the matchup.
But on Friday this seemed questionable, considering the Blackhawks notoriously have a hard time scoring against the Predators. Nonetheless, Nicolas Beaudin was the seventh defenseman that night. He hadn’t played since March 28, also against the Predators. The 21-year-old did quite well for himself, recording a primary assist, three takeaways, two blocked shots and one hit in 12:48 of ice time.
Chances to Play
Considering the logjam of talented defenseman, it’s good to see Beaudin get some more playing time, and I would assume we’ll see Ian Mitchell down the stretch here as well. It’s also nice to see Boqvist back in a relatively short amount of time.
Finally, I’d like to mention the newest addition to the back end. Defenseman Riley Stillman came over from the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline. He suited up for the first time with the Blackhawks on April 12, and has since skated in the last six contests. He’s been a surprisingly solid addition, playing responsibly on defense and providing a physical edge to his game (watch out Nikita Zadorov). Stillman has also been a positive add-on to the penalty kill, which has gone 17-for-17 in the last seven games.
All in all, lots to keep track of on defense.
What might be good news for the defensemen is bad news for the forwards. Going with an extra man on the back end means the team can only dress 11 forwards. This obviously causes a lack of cohesiveness among the forward lines.
In this scenario, the top players benefit from extra minutes and are supposed to pull the team through. While Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat did see more ice time, neither one of them scored in these two games. Sure, there was the burst in the third period Wednesday night when Kalynuk, Vinnie Hinostroza and Dominik Kubalik all found the back of the net. But that was more of a crazy fluke than the norm. Did Colliton really expect that to happen again on Friday with just 11 forwards? Sigh.
The person who least benefitted from being down a man on offense was Dylan Strome, who was the healthy scratch for both games. That seems like an odd choice to me, unless he’s fighting an injury that we are unaware of. Now I know the idea is to develop the youth, and this is why we see Kirby Dach, Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev at center instead of Strome. But along those lines, why not scratch one of the fourth line veterans in Brett Connolly or Ryan Carpenter? Or at least scratch Strome for one game and someone else for the other?
It doesn’t seem like he’s being utilized correctly either. Strome is most effective at center and with other playmakers. Yet he’s been relegated to the wing and playing on the third line. It begs the question of whether Strome is part of the long-term plans for the future with this team. Colliton gave this explanation for the scratch,
Colliton on scratching Strome last night: "He was a victim of circumstance where we felt we needed 7 defenseman… I've got no problem with Stromer. He's playing hard and trying to do what we're asking him to do."— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) April 22, 2021
The Blackhawks had an excellent first period on Friday, but then petered out in the second and third frames. Could Strome’s presence has given them the extra offensive push they might have needed? We shall never know.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how this situation plays out over the rest of the season.
Sticking With Subban
After goaltender Kevin Lankinen gave up his fifth goal Monday night, Colliton made the decision to pull him from the game. This is significant because he very rarely does this, preferring to let his netminder finish what he started. Many thought he was doing this to keep Lankinen fresh for the game of Wednesday, but that turned out not to be the case.
Malcolm Subban came in and stopped all eight shots he faced Monday night, and then was given the nod on Wednesday. He had a strong (and busy) night, stopping 36-of-40 shots. Colliton must have liked what he saw, because he chose to go with Subban on Friday as well.
Unfortunately, he gave up a couple of soft goals on Friday, albeit along with making some pretty impressive high-end saves. Subban has done well with his chances this season. In 14 games played, he has a .910 save percentage and a 2.88 goals against average. This is almost identical to Lankinen’s stats (.911 SV%, 2.89 GAA). But Lankinen has managed this with a much bigger workload (33 games). He’s obviously the Blackhawks’ most trusted netminder.
Could Lankinen have made a difference if he had started Friday night? In arguably the Blackhawks most important game of the season? Again, we will never know.
Hagel & Hinostroza: Bash Brothers
Let’s wrap this up with something positive, shall we? How about that Vinnie Hinostroza and Brandon Hagel! These two guys have breathed new life into this team with their energy, speed, and never-say-die attitude.
In his nine games with the Blackhawks, Hinostroza has two goals and six assists after recording zero of each in the same amount of games with the Panthers. He’s also credited with five takeaways and 17 hits.
Meanwhile, Hagel has contributed three goals and three assists in the last 10 games. In 44 contests this season, he has seven goals, 12 assists, 25 takeaways, 20 blocked shots and 48 hits!
And watch out when Hagel and Hinostroza get together. On Wednesday night there was the play where Hinostroza pressured Predators’ defenseman Roman Josi along the boards, allowing Hagel to grab the puck and feed it to Suter for the goal.
But the best was when they combined for the overtime game-winning goal.
After the game, Hinostroza spoke about their his and Hagel’s dual mindset.
We kind of talked a little bit off the ice and said we have to bring the energy and play hard and be some of the guys first on the forecheck, playing kind of chippy, hitting guys. When we get out there, we just look at each other and it’s kind of like a Bash Bros. thing, just go out there and work as hard as we can and if we score, we score.
I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to some more Bash Brothers in these last eight games. Speaking of which, the Blackhawks playoff hopes might be dashed, but they will still be looking to end the season on a high note.
They have some time to lick their wounds from the Predators’ series, as they don’t play again until Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then they have two tilts against the Panthers, followed by a three-game series versus the Carolina Hurricanes. Finally, they finish off their season with two matchups against the Stars.
Every game will be important. Not to earn a playoff berth, but to further evaluate their potential as a team and a more productive 2021-22 season. Here’s to some positive strides. Oh, and perhaps a few more wins!
Avid Chicago Blackhawks fan and follower! Would much rather be reading and writing about hockey than cooking and cleaning. Otherwise known as The Hockey Housewife.