Blackhawks Weekly: Saad, Kane, Murphy Step Up

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It’s been a difficult week for the Chicago Blackhawks, to say the least. They suffered through two humiliating one-sided losses to start out the week, albeit against very good opponents. Then they endured a devastating loss at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champions after being ahead 3-0 in the game. The tides finally turned and they pulled off a 5-3 win at home to cap off the week.

Related – Blackhawks Weekly: Beyond Regulation

It’s great to end on a high note, but the Blackhawks are slipping in the standings and have a rough road ahead of them to climb back into playoff contention. In the meantime, they’re dealing with several injuries on defense and at forward. It’s not going to be easy. Let’s discuss the evolution of the Blackhawks’ tumultuous week.  

Blackhawks Matchups of the Week

@ Vegas Golden Knights, Tues. 12/10, Loss 5-1

@ Arizona Coyotes, Thurs. 12/12, Loss 5-2

@ St. Louis Blues, Sat. 12/14, Loss 4-3

Vs. Minnesota Wild, Sun. 12/15, Win 5-3

The Disappointment Factor

Let’s face it; hopes weren’t very high the Blackhawks would win any of their three road games this past week. Even with a full lineup their defense has been a weak link all season. Down arguably their best two blueliners in Duncan Keith (groin) and then Calvin de Haan to a shoulder injury Tuesday night, things were looking bleak.

Chicago Blackhawks Calvin de Haan Zack Smith
Chicago Blackhawks’ defenseman Calvin de Haan (above left) is out of the lineup indefinitely due to a shoulder injury. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Not to mention the Golden Knights sit in second place in the Pacific Division while the Coyotes are in first place. The Blues are first place in the Central Division. All three are very good clubs. Sure enough, the Golden Knights dominated the Blackhawks 5-1, and the Coyotes drubbed them 5-2. Both teams got the early lead and never looked back.

Headed into St. Louis, most were just hoping a Blackhawks’ loss would be a little less lop-sided than the previous two contests. Which is why it was phenomenal when the Blackhawks not only scored first, but took a 3-0 lead into the third period. Against the defending Stanley Cup champions!

Ah, but there’s the rub. Against the defending champions. Unlike the Blackhawks, the Blues are a confident squad that didn’t panic and stuck to their game. They believed they could come from behind, and they did. Besides, despite being ahead in goals, the Blackhawks weren’t the better team through the first two periods. They were outshot 13-2 in the first period and 14-9 in the second frame. Especially in the first period, they spent hardly any time in their own end.

Related – Faulk Caps 4-Goal Rally; Blues Beat Blackhawks 4-3

Which is why it’s really no surprise the Blackhawks lost the game. It was the fact they gave up what looked like a sure win that made it all the more disappointing. Even the victory against the Wild was a bit of a nail-biter. The Blackhawks gave up a 2-0 lead and then a 3-2 lead before finally putting things away. The point is it’s hard not to expect the worst from the Blackhawks right now.   

Saad Steps Up

Let’s move on to the positives, shall we? Brandon Saad has been one of the Blackhawks’ most consistent forwards this season, and it showed on the stat sheet last week. In the loss to the Golden Knights, the power forward registered a team-high four shots on goal and three takeaways. Against the Blues Saad stole the show, for the Blackhawks anyway. He scored the first two goals of the game, one 19 seconds into the second period and then another 30 seconds into the third period, to give the team hope for a win. Here’s a clip of the second goal. He makes it look easy.

Against the Wild on Sunday, Saad was at the net for the go-ahead and eventual game winning goal. He now has 11 goals on the season, second only to Patrick Kane (18).

An honorable mention should be given to Saad’s linemate, Jonathan Toews. In these past four games Toews has a goal and five assists to his name, four of which were primary helpers. As you can see from the above video, Toews’ hard work is what made Saad’s goal possible. He’s also won 31-of-37 faceoffs in the last two tilts, for a whopping 84% in the faceoff circle.

Kane’s Hat Trick

After a very slow start to the week…ok let’s start over. Kane had a very bad start to the week. He finished a minus-1 and and a minus-3 against the Golden Knights and the Coyotes, respectively, and only managed a combined three shots on goal. To the eye test as well, he looked like he wasn’t really trying that hard.

But in typical Kane fashion he always turns it around, and then all is forgiven. He scored a goal against the Blues, and then followed it up with a hat trick (the sixth in his career) against the Wild. He’s also awfully good at yucking it up to the United Center crowd.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of another streak for Kaner.

Mighty Murphy

When defenseman Keith went down, de Haan stepped up and filled in with heavy minutes and a Herculean effort. So when de Haan went down, it was up to someone new to be the next man up. Enter Connor Murphy. Not to say Murphy wasn’t doing a fine job to begin with, but these last two contests he’s been especially helpful to the team.

Connor Murphy Chicago Blackhawks
Connor Murphy has done his part and more for the Chicago Blackhawks of late. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the loss to the Blues, Murphy finished a plus-1 and contributed three hits and six blocked shots in a team high 22:30 minutes of ice time. Against the Wild his ice time went up again, to another team high 24:58 minutes. He was credited with two primary assists to go along with two more hits and three more blocked shots.

Murphy is picking up the slack, doing everything that’s being asked of him and then some.

Other Blackhawks’ News and Notes

  • Defenseman Dennis Gilbert picked up his first NHL point with an assist on Toews’ goal against the Coyotes Thursday night.
  • 24-year-old Dominik Kubalik has been promoted to the top line for the last five games. He’s been thriving there, contributing two goals, one assist and 10 shots on goal in that span. Look for this top line of Kubalik, Toews and Saad to stay together for the foreseeable future.
  • Adam Boqvist was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs in light of recent injuries on the blue line. He played in his 10th game of the season Sunday against the Wild, therefore burning the first year of his three-year entry-level contract. It looks likely he will remain with the Blackhawks even after Keith returns from injury.
Adam Boqvist Chicago Blackhawks
Defenseman Adam Boqvist has been called into duty by the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)
  • He’s a depth player, so he’s not expected to score a bunch of goals. But David Kampf’s tally in the second period against the Wild enabled the Blackhawks to regain the lead. It gave him a career-high five goals on the season. This is Kampf’s third year in the NHL.

The Blackhawks head into this week with a 13-15-6 record which is good for 32 points. They’re still trailed by only the LA Kings in the Western Conference, with three more divisional matchups ahead.

Related – Blackhawks’ Roundtable: Boqvist, Dach & Crappy Hockey

They face the Colorado Avalanche at home this Wednesday, and then again in Denver on Saturday. The Avs sit second in the Central Division, and the Blackhawks have failed to beat this speedy team twice already this season. In between these contests the crew travels to Winnipeg to face the Jets. Their last matchup with this team was Oct. 12 and ended in a 3-2 overtime loss. The Jets are currently in third place in the Central Division. More stiff competition ahead.

There’s no sugarcoating it; it’s time to dig deep.