Blackhawks Bytes: Fleury & Toews’ Night, Strome, McCabe

We’re long overdue for another edition of Blackhawks Bytes, a series featuring quotes and comments from players, coaches, management, journalists and fans alike concerning everything Chicago Blackhawks. The purpose of this ongoing column is to capture a slice of the existing outlook, attitudes and culture surrounding the team throughout the 2021-22 season. Please join me as we have some fun with the everyday, albeit fascinating aspect of human nature; the power of words.

Related: Blackhawks Bytes: Coach King, Carpenter, Fleury & More

The boys certainly had a memorable night when they faced the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 9. The Blackhawks shut out the Habs by a score of 2-0, good for their third win out of five games so far in the month of December. But there were some individual accomplishments to celebrate as well. Most notably, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury earned his 500th career win, while captain Jonathan Toews FINALLY scored his first goal of the season! Meanwhile forward Dylan Strome’s saga continues, as he was a healthy scratch on the night. And defenseman Jake McCabe returned to the lineup after missing the last three games with a family matter. But it turns out it was for a very good reason.

Celebrating Fleury

It’s only fitting that Fleury celebrate this incredible milestone with a shutout, and in his native Montreal to boot! He stopped 30 shots on the night for his 69th career shutout, and his second as a Blackhawk. But the incredible thing is that even the opposing fans were rooting for him.

Fleury joked about it after the game, and expressed his gratitude as well. “They probably like me too much here. I don’t know why, but in this building, I always had a tough time winning games. It meant a lot. Meant a lot to have so many people in Quebec be involved with me being from here and achieving this goal.”

With this feat Fleury becomes only the third goaltender in NHL history with 500 or more wins, and he did it in the fewest games.

Flower, as he is affectionately called, now boasts a .913 save percentage and a 2.79 goals against average in 18 games this season. He had a shaky start, as did the entire team. But he’s now settled in and won seven of his last 10 starts. I never thought we would see Fleury in a Blackhawks sweater. But I sure am glad the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t see what they had, and Fleury made the decision to commit to Chicago. He’s proving to the world that he’s still got it.  

Toews Tallies

In other good news, the Blackhawks’ snakebitten captain finally notched that elusive first goal of the season Thursday night. It took 26 games, but we all know Toews missed all last season with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and is still struggling to get his body back up to speed. It was his first regular-season goal since Mar. 5, 2020. He also scored five goals in the 2020 Edmonton bubble, the last of which was Aug. 18.

Despite his offensive woes, it’s clear that everyone on the team has tons of respect for Toews, and they were all extremely happy for him when he scored. Here was his response to the goal,  

Yeah, that felt good. It’s definitely a weird have the whole team probably wanting to jump on you just to celebrate with you. It’s not a good sign.

Toews is probably the hardest on himself than anyone. Coach Derek King has indicated he’s happy with Toews’ overall play, and he’s confident the goals will come. Hopefully this first one will open the floodgates. Let’s also not forget Toews’ value at the faceoff dot (58.9% on the season). And then there’s that leadership quality he’s famous for.

He gives the belt back, and defers the attention off himself. Now that’s just pure class, and an indicator of what a true leader is all about.

The Strome Saga

All right guys and gals, follow along with me here. Under the Jeremy Colliton regime, Strome was scratched the first four games of the season. Then he suited up for two games, sat for two games, played two games and sat another one. Phew, I’m dizzy. When the former third-round pick did play, he was often relegated to the fourth line with grinding defensive players, where his more offensive skillset didn’t exactly fit in.

Related: Blackhawks & Dylan Strome Need to Part Ways

Coinciding with King coming in as coach, it appeared Strome would get a second chance to be a regular part of the lineup. He dressed for eight games in a row, and was deployed in his more preferred center position on the third line. He even got moved up to the second line for a few games, albeit on the wing.

Dylan Strome Chicago Blackhawks
Dylan Strome has struggled to find his fit with the Chicago Blackhawks this season. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Unfortunately, the 24-year-old only managed one goal and one assist in that stretch. Sure enough, he sat for another pair of games. But wait! In another effort to set Strome up for success, the coaching staff deployed him for four contests on the second line again; this time with his buddy Alex DeBrincat and centered by Kirby Dach. At the time King said, “There’s no point to us putting him back in the lineup in a fourth-line checking role. That’s not him. He’s a skilled guy.”

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Great! According to Scott Powers of The Athletic, “Since re-entering the lineup this past time, he (Strome) had a 5v5 goal & assist, a 57.35 Corsi%, 55.95 expected-goals % & 66.67 actual goals %.” It’s hard to be unhappy with those numbers. But apparently King and company are still looking for more out of this poor guy, because he was scratched again in Montreal. Per King,

He’s been playing better. You can’t base everything on points, right? It’s the trust factor when we’re late in the game and I need to go to three lines. Is he going to be that guy on one of those three lines, that I can trust in a D-zone faceoff, or if you get trapped in your end? And right now, we’re just not trusting each other to that extent. He’s got a lot more to give. I think he realizes that. Has he been playing better? For sure, he has, But it’s those little details of the game he need to keep working on.

I don’t know. When you need a goal at the end of the game to win, who do you trust to help generate that offense?

Hopefully this obsession with defense for an offensively-minded player is just some tough love to help Strome get better. Because for a team that’s having trouble finding the back of the net lately, it seems like the Blackhawks could still use Strome.

McCabe’s Good News

It’s always nice to end with something light and fun. The Blackhawks’ sturdy defenseman McCabe recently missed three games due to “a family matter”. Usually that’s connotated with something negative. No one knew what McCabe’s situation was until he returned to the lineup against the Canadiens.

Jake McCabe, Chicago Blackhawks
Jake McCabe missed some games recently for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He had a solid outing on his first night back, registering three hits and one blocked shot in 21:17 minutes of ice time. The 28-year-old was interviewed at the intermission, where he finally let the cat out of the bag. Turns out his wife gave birth to a baby boy, a new sibling for their young daughter. This is great news! Congratulations to McCabe and his family!

There are lots of positive vibes coming from Chicago these days. Let’s hope they can keep up the good work throughout the holiday season and beyond. As always, thank you for tuning in to another episode of Blackhawks Bytes!

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