The 2020-21 season currently hangs in the balance for the Chicago Blackhawks. They’re playing better than anyone could have expected, having won nine of their last 12 games. They’re even currently in a playoff spot, albeit the team has played more games than a number of their opponents in the Discover Central division. March will be the true test, when the Blackhawks match up against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning five times and the red-hot Florida Panthers four times.
We all await the fate of the team as we move forward. In the meantime, we have a treat for this week’s Blackhawks Banter show. We’ll be joined by our Detroit Red Wings’ colleagues Devin Little, Ian McNaughton and Patrick Brown on our weekly podcast. It’s no coincidence this was planned for right after the Blackhawks face the Red Wings in back-to-back matchups this weekend.
In preparation for our show, let’s pose a few questions for our Blackhawks’ panel of Greg Boysen, Shaun Filippelli, Brooke LoFurno and Gail Kauchak. We’ll end with predictions for this weekend’s Original Six rivalry matchup.
It’s always a plus for any team to have a strong power play. While the Blackhawks started the season red hot on the man advantage, they slumped a bit lately, going 4-for-17 in their previous six games, for 24%. While this isn’t horrible, it’s not the 36% they had in the first 15 games.
It’s only natural for these things to have their ebbs and flows throughout the season. That being said, what would you say the Blackhawks are doing right (or wrong) with their power play?
Power Play Thoughts
Simply stated, those most relied upon to perform are doing so on the power play. What’s also working to the Blackhawks’ advantage is they have the ability to spread out their production across both units. Players like Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat are setting the tone, and others such Dominik Kubalik, Mattias Janmark and Pius Suter are stepping in to take over.
With the prowess of all these types of players on full display this season, it’s no wonder the Blackhawks are able to capitalize as frequently as they are when they have an extra man advantage working in their favour.
When the Blackhawks are doing the power play correctly, they’re skating the puck into the zone, taking quick shots, and making decisive passes. When they’re doing the power play incorrectly, they’re trying to get too fancy with their passes.
I’ve been worried about the power play coming back to Earth for a couple of weeks now, and it looks like that is exactly what we are seeing. Expecting the Blackhawks to score two power-play goals every night was just unrealistic. I fear the team was relying on those goals to get by and not getting enough done at five-on-five. They definitely have to improve in that area of their game if they want to remain in the running for a playoff berth.
The Blackhawks have lost two players in Andrew Shaw and Dylan Strome from their top power play unit, both due to concussion protocol. Carl Soderberg and Ryan Carpenter have been tasked with replacing them, but there’s been some adjustments to the overall cohesiveness of this new group. That being said, Soderberg has surprisingly scored two power play goals in the last three games, showing they’re still dangerous.
It also appears head coach Jeremy Colliton is finally trusting the second unit with more playing time. Every time this group hits the ice they’re creating chances and getting shots off. Being able to utilize both units should give the Blackhawks more firepower on the man advantage, and more consistent success throughout the rest of the season.
Here we are over one third of the way through this 2020-21 season. It’s exciting to see the Blackhawks being competitive and making strides in their development. So much so, it’s easy to look at some of the offseason events or even recent tough breaks and wish they would have played out differently. Shucks, a few differences here and there and the Blackhawks could have been even more in the playoff hunt than they are now.
What’s one thing you would change that you feel would put the Blackhawks over the hump?
Fun With Hypotheticals
I have to revert back to a trade that I didn’t like from the moment I heard it. While losing Brandon Saad seemed inevitable, the fact that Chicago’s return was essentially the 25-year-old Nikita Zadorov never really added up to me. We knew this was going to be a year driven by youth, so why not let their abundance of defensemen waiting for a shot take the wheel?
As we’ve seen things play out, it only strengthens my stance, as Zadorov just doesn’t look like a natural fit out there with this club. I wish the Blackhawks at least capitalized on an opportunity to add to their prospect pool in that deal, even if it didn’t mean getting player that were NHL-ready.
The one thing I would change is Kurashev’s minutes. I don’t think he should spend too much time on the third or fourth lines, which has been a Colliton choice lately. I think that would help the 5-on-5 scoring tremendously.
Even though I supported the decision at the time, I would not have sent Kirby Dach to the World Juniors. Hindsight is always 20/20, but watching Dach out there as the team’s No. 1 center (with Jonathan Toews out) would have been so much fun. His development was what I was looking forward to the most coming into this season, and I think having him out there would be a huge addition, and helpful in him becoming a star in the league.
Man oh man, if Kirby Dach hadn’t broken his wrist in the World Juniors. Can you imagine how good this already dynamic young team would be with Dach in the fold?! Dach centering Kane and DeBrincat, and then Suter, Strome, Lucas Wallmark, Soderberg, David Kampf and even Kurashev at the Blackhawks’ disposal down the middle.
Who knows, maybe this will still happen later on in the season if Dach can get healthy. And it certainly looks like a possibility for 2021-22. I can’t wait!
The Blackhawks host the Detroit Red Wings this Saturday and Sunday for back-to-back games. It will be the fifth and sixth matchups between these two teams so far this season, with the Blackhawks winning the first four contests (the Red Wings took one game to overtime).
Based on what you’ve seen so far, what are your predictions for this upcoming set of games; be it the overall outcome, stand out players, etc.? Let’s start with our Red Wings’ crew.
Blackhawks/Red Wings Predictions for Weekend Games
Four games in, and the Red Wings have collected just a single point from their matchups against the Blackhawks. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I believe the Wings will still beat the Hawks this season. These two games represent their next opportunity to do just that. With the Red Wings really starting to own their low-event style of play, I’m expecting two more close tilts between these Original Six foes.
I’m looking at good goaltending from Thomas Greiss and Jonathan Bernier to give them a chance, and some secondary scoring from the likes of Robby Fabbri and Bobby Ryan to put them over. Of course, none of that will matter if Kevin Lankinen continues his stellar play against Detroit.
Saturday the Hawks will win 4-2, and then defeat the Red Wings 3-0 on Sunday. Detroit has struggled mightily in the second half of back-to-backs this season, and that will happen this weekend as well.
A standout player for the Red Wings will be Mathias Brome, who finally scored his first career NHL goal last Saturday. His speed and acceleration should get him another goal this weekend.
Bonus Prediction: I’ll go bold and say Blackhawks’ defenseman Zadorov gets his first goal of the season against the Red Wings this weekend.
It would be nice to think the Red Wings would at least split the series against Chicago, but nothing that has transpired to this point gives me much hope. The power play is beyond awful, scoring continues to rank near the bottom, and the Blackhawks have seemingly figured out how to reload, versus rebuild. A few different things to look for this weekend:
- Stay out of the box. The Blackhawks have one of the best power plays in the game.
- Points! We need points! As of Thursday afternoon, captain Dylan Larkin leads the team with 11 points. ELEVEN. POINTS. To put that into perspective, Chicago has five players with 11-or-more points.
- Neutralize Kane. Yes, the Blackhawks are not a one-trick pony, but Kane’s point output this season, including his crazy high assist total, commands attention. Couple that with him closing in on 400 career goals, and he’s a man on a mission.
- Keep winning faceoffs. The Red Wings have had a lot of success against the Blackhawks recently. Even in a 2-0 defeat last game, they won 68 percent of draws, and held the advantage in three of the previous four meetings. Keep that up, and good things will follow.
Finally, let’s hear from our Blackhawks panel regarding predictions for the two Blackhawks/Red Wings tilts this weekend.
As much as I’d love to see the Blackhawks own the Red Wings all season long, I think this may be the set where they fall short in one of those attempts. Rather than finishing off being 6-0-0 on their season series, Chicago will add a loss to their record after the weekend.
These will be spirited contests, though. Specifically, I’d say it’s a fairly safe bet to predict Kane notches his 400th career goal with the Red Wings being on the wrong side of that stat. I’d say to keep an eye on Suter through these two games as well, as we might see more flashes of dominance where he has the opportunity to showcase them.
My prediction is that the Blackhawks will sweep the Red Wings again, and my player to watch is defenseman Connor Murphy. With Murphy back in the lineup, I think they will have a better defensive performance than they did in the last series.
I think the Blackhawks will win on Saturday, but the Red Wings will finally get the best of them on Sunday. That will be the Blackhawks’ third game in four days, with travel in between. It will be tough for the Blackhawks to complete the weekend sweep.
So, since I predicted a loss they will probably win 9-0. I look for DeBrincat to keep it up against his hometown team. He has four points (one goal, three assists) in four games so far against the Red Wings, so I expect him to keep finding the scoresheet.
If….and this is a big “if” because I think Detroit is due against Chicago. But if the Blackhawks handily beat the Red Wings on Saturday, I believe we might finally see Collin Delia in net. Otherwise, look for Lankinen and Subban to get the nods in the crease for these back-to-back games.
Either way, I’m predicting the two teams will split this series. Although I wouldn’t be the least bit disappointed if I’m wrong and the red, white and black sweep once again. Oh, and I’m looking forward to those Blackhawks retro jersey’s on Sunday!
Don’t forget to tune in to The Hockey Writers YouTube Channel or our Facebook Page, where we feature our weekly Blackhawks Banter podcast. Our latest episode is below. And please join us for our next show, which drops on Tuesdays, when we host our Red Wings colleagues to further dissect the above issues and much more!
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Let’s put it this way; she’s probably reading and writing about hockey instead of cooking and cleaning. Shh, don’t tell her husband!
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.