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The Chicago Blackhawks finally, and quite surprisingly, flipped the script. They weren’t expected to beat their Central division rival the Colorado Avalanche this past Saturday night. As a matter of fact, after three lopsided losses to the same team in recent weeks where the Blackhawks were outscored 16-6, most just hoped it wasn’t too bad of a blowout loss. But not everybody felt that way.
Lehner did— Robin Lehner (@RobinLehner) December 22, 2019
Sure enough, Blackhawks’ goaltender Robin Lehner and the rest of the team believed in themselves and put in the work to come away triumphant. Not only that, but they came from behind after trailing in the second period for the first time this season. It was a huge vindication win; something the team desperately needed. Add this to a victory against the Winnipeg Jets (another division rival) Thursday night, and the Blackhawks are on a two-game winning streak with momentum on their side. Let’s take a closer look at this past week’s developments.
Blackhawks Matchups of the Week
Vs. Colorado Avalanche, Wed. 12/18, Loss 4-1
@ Winnipeg Jets, Thurs. 12/19, Win 4-1
@ Colorado Avalanche, Sat. 12/21, Win 5-3
Blackhawks’ Identity Finally Established
For most of the season, the Blackhawks have struggled with their team identity. Amidst the one constant of inconsistency, they’ve mostly flailed. To paraphrase captain Jonathan Toews from earlier in the season, “We have a good group in here but we’re still trying to find our way.”
But it appears the team is putting the pieces together and have found a united path moving forward. It entails the veterans embracing and mentoring the development of the of the youngsters so they can all work as a cohesive unit. Take Duncan Keith for example. He spoke recently about his mentoring role.
I’ve tried to embrace that role of mentoring younger guys like (Adam) Boqvist and (Kirby) Dacher, and I enjoy it, you know? I’ve got a young son, and those guys are closer to my son’s age than me now. It’s fun. I think it’s what the team needs out of me, and those guys have been playing good and I think the team’s benefitting from that, too.
Dach agreed that Keith and others have played a huge role in his development.
I get along with (Keith) and (Brent) Seabrook pretty well. Those are my two biggest mentors. We just hang out a lot around the rink, and go for dinners. We just seem to get along. They’re both from Western Canada and moved away at a young age, so they kind of know what I’m going to face. They’ve been awesome for my growth and development, and helping me get where I am.
Keith credited Toews for also doing his part. “But he’s trying to help these young guys come along as well, and that’s part of our job.”
“And that’s part of our job.” It’s clear the veterans take it very seriously they need to lead the way. It’s not the veterans and the kids anymore. It’s the veterans with the kids. It’s the veterans’ job to help the kids along, and the kids’ job to listen and learn. This is what will bring success.
Toews brought things full circle after the team’s decisive win against the Avs Saturday night.
Go down the list, guys that haven’t been here long -Robin Lehner, (Ryan) Carpenter, (Zack) Smith, (Connor) Murphy – they’re all stepping up. They’re saying the right things. They’ve got the right attitude. They’re leaders on this team that are reminding guys like myself and (Patrick) Kaner and Seabs and Duncs about what we’ve got to do to win, and not to get away from that.
This united front has been working pretty well these last handful of games. Let’s see if the Blackhawks can build on it moving forward.
Kane Keeps Coming
Each week I attempt to find three players to highlight for my featured image graphic. Almost every week its appropriate to have Patrick Kane front and center, roaring after a goal. This holds true yet again this week. Following up on four goals from last week (including a hat trick), Kane recorded two goals and four primary assists in the last two games.
Against the Jets, Kane had a hand in all four Blackhawks’ goals. He fed Alex Nylander, Dominik Kubalik, and then Erik Gustafsson with beautiful passes (and a steal) before scoring a goal of his own to put the nail in the coffin on a 4-1 win. On Saturday against the Avalanche, Kane assisted on Toews’ tying goal early in the second period to give the Blackhawks life. He then went on to score his 20th tally of the season to start the comeback that led to the eventual win.
Kane usually registers the highest ice time among forwards on the team, as he did these past three tilts. Head coach Jeremy Colliton likes to lean on Kane and double shift him often. Kane now leads the Blackhawks in goals (20), assists (26), and points (46). He has 12 more goals and 19 more points than anyone else on the team.
Keith missed nine games due to a groin injury, and the Blackhawks went 3-5-1 in that time. He returned against the Avalanche Wednesday night, and has suited up for the past three contests. It’s a small sample size, but the team has a 2-1-0 record since. They’ve had a much more solid all-around effort with Keith back in the lineup. It’s clear he was sorely missed.
The blueliner immediately returned to his role on the top defensive pairing, eating up the heavy minutes right out of the gate. Against the Avalanche on Wednesday, his 23:16 minutes of ice time was second only to Gustafsson. He led the team in ice time against the Jets and then the Avs again, logging a hefty 26:24 minutes on Saturday night.
In the past three games combined, the defenseman has recorded 10 shots on goal, four hits, and six blocked shots. Said Colliton,
He’s excellent. When you’re without him, you realize – not that we didn’t know before, but it certainly underlines it – what a big part of our team he is. Especially the last two games. He’s been outstanding, and makes a huge difference.
After the loss to the Avalanche on Wednesday, Keith called for the team to “get a little pissed off.” They’ve since responded with two big wins.
Blackhawks’ Roster and Injury Updates
The same night Keith returned, Seabrook was a healthy scratch for the third time this season. Colliton indicated the younger defensemen (Boqvist and Dennis Gilbert) had earned the opportunity to stay in the lineup. The next day the Blackhawks announced Seabrook did not make the trip to Winnipeg, as he was dealing with some nagging issues. He hasn’t played since.
Whether the nagging issues announcement is a way for Seabrook to save face a bit is just speculation. But the team is currently thriving without him. His ongoing fate with the Blackhawks is certainly unclear.
The Blackhawks were dealt a huge blow when Brandon Saad was sidelined with an ankle injury during the second period of the Jets’ game Thursday night. It was announced after the game Saad would be out at least a couple of weeks. He was placed on injured reserve Saturday, retroactive to Dec. 19. Saad has been one of the Blackhawks most consistent players all season, and it will be difficult to replace him.
Speaking of which, Dylan Sikura was recalled form the Rockford IceHogs on Dec. 8, played in two games, and then sat out for five. He finally got his chance again Saturday against the Avalanche, where he was slotted into Saad’s open spot on the top line. But that didn’t last long. Sikura only logged 6:57 minutes of ice time and was replaced by Kane instead as the game went on.
Finally, forward John Quenneville was recalled Sunday morning. Next man up! Quenneville boasts eight goals and five assists in 19 games for the IceHogs this season. We shall see if he gets a chance to contribute this coming week.
The Blackhawks take their 15-16-6 record (36 points) into three Eastern conference matchups this coming week, all from the Metropolitan division. They host the last place New Jersey Devils Monday night before the Christmas break. Then the second place New York Islanders come to town Friday night. The Blackhawks head to Columbus to face the second-to-last place Blue Jackets on Sunday.
One never wants to take any team for granted, but the Devils sit well below the Blackhawks in the standings, and the Blue Jackets boast just two more points and have played one less game. This upcoming week should be an opportunity to gain some headway in the standings.
And hey, at least they don’t have to play the Avs again!
(All above quotes from ‘The Kid, The Old Man and the ‘C’: How Kirby Dach, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews led Blackhawks to critical win’, The AthleticChi – 12/22/19)