Blackhawks Weekly: Kane & Company Finding Their Groove

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The Chicago Blackhawks certainly know how to end the week on a high note! This past Sunday marked the third Sunday in a row they came away with a win. They’ve gone 4-2-2 in their last eight games, and picked up five of a possible eight points this past week. There’s still room for improvement, but the Blackhawks appear to be finding their groove. Here are your recent highlights.

Blackhawks’ Matchups of the Week

@ San Jose Sharks, Tues. Nov. 5, Loss 4-2

Vs. Vancouver Canucks, Thurs. Nov. 7, Win 5-2

@ Pittsburgh Penguins, Sat. Nov. 9, Loss 3-2 (SO)

Vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Sun. Nov. 10, Win 5-4

Related – Blackhawks Weekly: Dach, Boqvist & a Win

Kane’s Point Streak

Per usual, Patrick Kane is leading the way for the Blackhawks. In the last four games, he’s amassed four goals and four assists, not to mention the team’s lone shootout goal against the Penguins on Saturday. He’s now on a six-game point streak, tallying five goals and six helpers in that span. He currently leads the team with eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points on the season.

Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane is currently on a six-game point streak for the Chicago Blackhawks. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

And Kane’s bringing along some buddies for the ride. In the past four games Alex DeBrincat has recorded one a goal and three assists, and Dylan Strome has accrued five helpers. These just happen to be Kane’s linemates.

Goal of the Week

The Blackhawks scored 14 goals this past week, including two five-goal outbursts against the Canucks and Maple Leafs. So which was the best? Seriously, how can you beat this one?!

DeBrincat keeps his focus even while he’s falling down and rips one top-shelf. And by the way, that smile is becoming pretty famous here in Chicago!

Discussing the Blackhawks’ Lines

One of the things that’s frustrated fans to start this season has been head coach Jeremy Colliton’s constant changing of the forward lines. Which is extremely ironic as that was also a bone of contention with former head coach Joel Quenneville. Nonetheless, Colliton was criticized for not giving the players enough time to develop chemistry with one another.  

The good news is he seems to have found combinations he likes on the top-six. For the last five games, Colliton has deployed Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Alex Nyander on the first line, and DeBrincat, Strome, and Kane on the second line. We’ve already discussed the success of the second line. But the first line has held its own as well. In the last four games Toews had tallied a goal and two assists, while Saad has added three goals and an assist.

The bottom-six, on the other hand, is still a work in progress. Of the aforementioned four games, only once did Colliton ice the same line of Drake Caggiula, Kirby Dach, and Andrew Shaw. And even then they were deployed on the third line for one game and the fourth line for the next. Another common theme is keeping David Kampf and Dominik Kubalik together.

Chicago Blackhawks David Kampf
Center David Kampf is trying to find his fit as one of the Chicago Blackhawks’ bottom-six forwards. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

In the meantime, Kubalik, Dach, and Zack Smith have all suffered being healthy scratches, and Ryan Carpenter missed Sunday’s game due to a death in the family.

What’s encouraging here is everyone involved has made positive contributions at one point or another. The Blackhawks have the luxury of some depth with their forwards. Now it’s just a matter of finding the right combinations to optimize the lineup. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

Related – Blackhawks Stock Watch: Lehner, Special Teams Up, Colliton, Kubalik Down

A Balancing Act

Last season the Blackhawks struggled with giving up too much defensively. This season, Coach Colliton attempted to implement a conservative, defense-first structure to counter this. But the team struggled. Everyone was so busy trying to protect the puck they couldn’t move it forward. Players were standing still, thinking too much, not reacting to the game.

Head Coach Jeremy Colliton
Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton attempted to implement a system that would involve more defensive responsibility for his team. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Blackhawks suffered some ugly losses as they tried to work within this low-risk, yet low-reward type of play. Two such losses that come to mind were to the Nashville Predators on Oct. 29, and the Sharks this past week. In both games the Blackhawks only managed a measly 20 and 21 shots on net, respectively. They looked just awful.

After Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Maple Leafs, Colliton admitted they had to come to a compromise in order to jump-start the offense again.

We made a conscious effort to be a bit looser when the puck turned over, so we could create more out of the ‘D’ zone in transition, and it’s helped. There’s been a lot more plays available for us. [It’s] probably closer to how it looked last year, as far as our ability to make plays out of the ‘D’ zone and through the neutral zone, and probably fits our top guys. And you can see, they’re coming to life.

(from ‘Jeremy Colliton unleashes offense, finds Blackhawks’ recipe for success’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 11/10/19)

So it looks like the Blackhawks future could involve plenty of back-and-forth. Meaning lots of goals, but at the expense of numerous chances against. The Blackhawks outscored the Maple Leafs and won the game, but they gave up 57! shots on goal!! At least the matchups against the Canucks and the Penguins were a little more evenly balanced. In the former the Canucks had 38 shots on goal to the Blackhawks’ 37, and in the latter the shots were even at 31 apiece.

Colliton stressed there would still be an emphasis on defensive responsibility, but at least now the players won’t be so stifled by it.

The Murphy Effect

One thing that could really help the Blackhawks defensively would be the return of blueliner Connor Murphy. Of course it’s unfair to put too much onus on one player, but Murphy’s presence adds huge stability to the back end. His return from injury last season coincided with the Blackhawks turning things around. And the team has had more success this season when he’s been in the lineup than when he’s been out.

Murphy has struggled with a groin issue since the preseason and has been in and out of the lineup. He was placed on long-term injured reserve on Oct. 23 after leaving the game in the second period against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Patrice Bergeron, Connor Murphy
Connor Murphy’s recent injury has hurt the Chicago Blackhawks. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

This past Friday Murphy skated on his own while the team practiced on the other ice sheet. Colliton stated he also skated a few other times while the team was on their recent road trip. The Blackhawks are optimistic he will return against the Predators on Nov. 16, when he’s eligible to come off LTIR.

Other Notable Blackhawks’ News & Notes

  • The Blackhawks scored two power play goals against the Canucks last Thursday, marking their first multi-goal game of the season on the man advantage.
  • The Canucks game was also Colliton’s 82nd game coaching the Blackhawks. He’s now been the bench boss the equivalent of one full season. His record during that time is a rather unimpressive 35-35-12. Can he build on that moving forward?
  • While Dach was a healthy scratch Saturday night against the Penguins, he bounced back with his second NHL goal on Sunday. It was a little bit prettier than his first goal.
  • While he’s much more effective scoring points, Captain Toews showed some leadership in a different way Sunday night. He dropped the gloves early in the Maple Leafs’ game after Saad was the recipient of a high hit. This arguably sparked the team.
  • Robin Lehner suited up for two games this past week, as did Corey Crawford. Lehner stopped 81-of-88 shots for a .917 save percentage. Crawford stopped 65-of-69 shots for a save percentage of .941. I’d say this goaltending tandem thing appears to be working out quite well.

Related – THW’s Goalie News: Lehner’s Big Night, Apple Cheeks, & More

There are three games on the docket this coming week, with something to watch in all of them. The Blackhawks hit the road to meet the Golden Knights on Wednesday, who are also in the Western Conference. The Knights have 21 points to the Blackhawks’ 16, but they’ve also played in two less games. A win would help the Blackhawks move up in the standings.

On Saturday the team travels to Nashville to face the Predators. Yes, the same Predators that demoralized them with a 3-0 shutout a few weeks back. Some redemption could be in order.

Finally, the Blackhawks host the Buffalo Sabres Sunday night. This will be the first time former Blackhawk defenseman Henri Jokiharju returns to the United Center since perhaps the most controversial trade of the offseason.

Let’s hope the Blackhawks can keep the momentum going.