After the Chicago Blackhawks’ 4-0 win against the St. Louis Blues in their exhibition game on Jul. 29, they put up another solid performance to start the qualifying round. They took Game 1 from the Edmonton Oilers in a goal-frenzied 6-4 win. What stood out in Game 1 is how the Blackhawks broke some of their old habits, but also may have started new ones. Here are some takeaways:
To start, here is the list of the Blackhawks goal scorers from Game 1:
- Dylan Strome : 1st period (5:51) – unassisted
- Jonathan Toews: (2) 1st period (7:56 & 12:57)- assisted by Dominik Kubalik, Patrick Kane, and Brandon Saad.
- Brandon Saad – 1st period (9:17) – assisted by Olli Maatta and Kubalik
- Dominik Kubalik (2) – 2nd period (6:32 & 17:35) – assists from Duncan Keith, Toews, and Kirby Dach
We also have to applaud Kubalik for his 5-point night. What a player he has been for the team.
There were three areas where I was worried the Blackhawks would come up short but shockingly were their best assets in Game 1.
Speed hasn’t always been the Blackhawks’ strong suit and they were often out-skated during the regular season and it cost them. We all know how fast the Oilers are with speedsters like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisatl, and Andreas Athanasiou. I was worried that the Blackhawks wouldn’t be able to keep up with them. But the pace was matched nicely.
2. Power Play
One of the most frustrating aspects of the Blackhawks’ game is their power play. With all the goal scorers that they have, it never made sense that they couldn’t convert on a power play that was ranked 28th in the league this season. Edmonton’s penalty kill ranked 2nd. It seemed an obvious Blackhawks weak spot. However, they converted on three of their six power plays.
The Blackhawks’ defense was ranked 19th while the Oilers’ were ranked 16th, so neither team was expected to play strong defensively. Chicago is notorious for giving up a ton of shots, and they rarely outshot their opponents this season, let alone by 13. That’s exactly what happened in Game 1. The Blackhawks had 42 shots on goal and held the Oilers to 29. Thankfully, goaltender Corey Crawford didn’t need to stand on his head for this win.
Also impressive, the Blackhawks defense was able to tame McDavid and Draisatl, two of the best goal-scorers in the league. Although McDavid had a power-play goal in the first period, he was otherwise quiet. Draisatl had a power-play goal in the second period but was otherwise quiet as well.
Keys to Game 2
Although the Blackhawks came out victorious, there are three areas that are going to need tune-ups if they want to keep the good times rolling:
1. Penalty Kill
The Blackhawks’ penalty kill was one of the best in the league this season. It was sure to be tested against the league’s best power play. Game 1 wasn’t their finest moment as the Oilers converted on three of their four power-plays. They have to find a way to fix that.
Related: 7 Fun Facts About Dustin Byfuglien
It starts with avoiding bad penalties. One of the power-play goals that the Blackhawks let up came off a too many men penalty early in the first period. That can’t happen again.
Chicago was also notorious for not starting on time this season. Thankfully, they found momentum early on and that carried on for the rest of the game. However, the game should not have ended with a two-goal deficit. They allowed the Oilers to come back in the third period and score two goals. Going forward, they’re going to need to make sure that they can hold onto their lead and not give up their momentum.
The Oilers had a better faceoff percentage (FO%) in Game 1. Chicago’s FO% was 47.4 compared to Edmonton’s 52.6. The Blackhawks can beat the Oilers at the dot because they have a void in their third-line center role (from ‘Oilers GM Ken Holland working the phones for left-winger and third-line centre ahead of trade deadline’, Edmonton Sun, 02/06/2020). Besides having strong centers like Toews and Strome, the Blackhawks also have Kirby Dach and David Kampf.
Dach and Kampf holding their ground on the third and fourth lines will also be key to the team’s success.
Overall, the Blackhawks looked very good. The Oilers did not, although they regained their footing a little too late. Taking Game 1 was huge for Chicago, but this series is far from over.
We saw in the third period how good Edmonton can be when they’re composed and organized. I don’t expect they will look as bad in Game 2. But, as long as Chicago can maintain their solid defensive play and match it with their offensive firepower, then I think they will be just fine.