The Chicago Blackhawks are riding high at the moment. After starting the season with a 1-9-2 record, the team is now riding a three-game winning streak. They’ve had a lot to smile about recently, and they now have a few days off before they face the Seattle Kraken on Nov. 17. The time off gives us time to evaluate the highs and lows of the Blackhawks’ losing and winnings streaks. There are some positives, like Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat continuing to be dynamic, and some negatives that come from lack of production. One of the players that sticks out in that category is Dominik Kubalik. His three-year tenure with the team has been so successful that his recent slump is concerning, and not for the reasons you may think.
Kubalik’s Game Style
Before getting into the nitty-gritty, let’s review Kubalik’s game as a whole. Ever since he made his debut with the Blackhawks back in 2019, he has made himself a home being top-five on the team in scoring. He had 30 goals his rookie season and 17 goals last year. This season, he has three goals, four assists, and seven points in 15 games.
He is not a player that has been depended on for his defensive capabilities. The team needs his offense, and he has gone nine straight games without a goal this season. His nine-game goal drought is the longest he has had in his career thus far. The longest he ever went without scoring a goal was five games last season, so this is new territory for him.
Kubalik’s Different Roles and Linemates
Last season was strange for Kubalik, as it was for the rest of the league. Because of the shortened 56-game season, everyone was being affected by the change in some way. In his case, his strange season came from coaching.
It’s important to note that a major part of his freshman-year success came from his chemistry with linemate Jonathan Toews. Those two together on the first line elevated Kubalik’s game to the next level, which translated to his 30-goal season. When Toews had to miss all of last season due to his health, former head coach Jeremy Colliton had a hard time trying to come up with depth throughout the four lines that could make up for Toews’ absence.
So, last season, Kubalik had been placed on the team’s third line, and his role was diminished greatly. His ice-time went down and he had been paired with a plethora of players from Brandon Hagel to Philipp Kurashev, and he looked fine. His 17 goals was third on the team. Although, that can be called a successful sophomore season, you could see that wasn’t the correct spot for him to be in. He was continuously rotated between bigger and smaller roles on the team throughout the lineup, and a player like him should always be assigned a big role.
This season, Colliton kept Kubalik and Toews together on the second line with Kurashev. That was until players like Kane went into COVID-19 protocol. Then, he moved to the first line with different linemates that included Tyler Johnson and Kirby Dach. When Kane returned from COVID-19 protocol, Colliton tried putting Kubalik on the first line with Kane and Dach, which didn’t do much for Kubalik. When the Blackhawks fired Colliton on Nov. 6, new head coach Derek King decided to put him back with Toews on the second line, which is where he should be. Problem is, in three games back with Toews, Kubalik is still struggling. All of the shuffling and different roles may be getting to him.
Lack of Confidence Shows
Although Kubalik has been struggling, it’s not for lack of effort. Against the Nashville Predators on Nov. 7, he led the team with six shots. I think his play is attributed to confidence, and the way he looks is a bit concerning.
Kubalik has always been a shoot-first type of player. He has a great shot, so his one-timers have become his trademark. This season, he doesn’t look comfortable at all. The Blackhawks’ previous game against the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 12 was a great example, as he had a breakaway that he didn’t score on. That is unusual for him, but there were many moments during the game where he had prime shooting lanes and he chose to pass the puck instead of shoot.
His other home on the team comes from the power play; fifty percent of his career goals have come from the power play. He is on the Blackhawks’ second unit, and he has looked lost and apprehensive with the puck. He doesn’t look like that assertive forward that we saw the past two seasons. He looks as if he is playing scared, and you never want to see any player look like that.
Optimism Moving Forward
Overall, I think Kubalik may be overthinking things. He is a natural goal scorer, so I’m sure this drought is weighing on him. What he has been going through is not unusual. Even the best players in the league go through scoring droughts. It’s the nature of the game with ebbs and flows. What concerns me is that his lack of confidence is evident in his skating right now. He just doesn’t look right, and it goes beyond puck luck in that sense. The good news is that his points per game at 0.5 is fourth on the Blackhawks. With three goals this season, that ranks fourth on the team. Those are both encouraging statistics, as well as the aspect that coach King has taken him under his wing.
This is what you love to see! The new atmosphere with the new coach can do wonders for the players going forward.
This is a big season for Kubalik. It’s a contract year for him, as his two-year contract expires at the end of the season. Moreover, the Blackhawks need him going forward. Their team goals per game is 2.13. Although they strung together three straight wins, that’s not going to be sustainable moving forward. However, his talent is hard to keep off the score sheet for long. With this mini four-day break, a possible permanent line with Toews and Jujhar Khaira, and a new outlook on the team may be just what Kubalik needs to get back to form.
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Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.