Will the real Chicago Blackhawks please stand up? The Blackhawks have had a Jekyll and Hyde season, including the last five games. They kicked off the week with a lifeless 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues, their third straight and sixth in seven games. They bounced back to defeat the red-hot Boston Bruins, winners of eight straight at the time, with a huge 4-3 overtime win despite blowing a 3-0 lead. They followed that up with a 2-1 shootout win against the New Jersey Devils in the second game of a back-to-back.
In true 2019-20 Blackhawks fashion, the good was short-lived. After collecting a 3-1 lead against the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago gave up two power-play goals in the second period and lost 4-3 in a shootout. While they were able to salvage a point in that game, they weren’t so lucky against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night, when they were treated to a 5-1 drubbing.
It’s hard to gauge the team’s identity given their inconsistency. They have shown flashes of what they’re truly capable, but they’ve struggled to be more than ordinary on a regular basis. Some players are doing their best to pull the Blackhawks out of the muck and others are contributing to the problem. Let’s take a look at some positive and negative trends in Chicago.
After trending down a few weeks ago, Alex DeBrincat ended his 12-game scoring drought with goals in three straight games, including two coming on the power play. Part of his recent success can be attributed to his best buddy, Dylan Strome, who made his triumphant return from injury against the Bruins and picked up where he left off, assisting on two of DeBrincat’s three goals.
The 22-year-old forward wasn’t able to muster much against the Golden Knights, but goals tend to come in bunches, so his three-game spurt is a very encouraging sign.
Calvin de Haan
This one is a bit bittersweet after the Vegas game. De Haan has been playing some incredible defense for the Blackhawks while helping fill the void left by Duncan Keith’s absence to a groin injury. Keith hadn’t missed a game since April 6, 2017, a span of 189 games, and losing the defensive captain on an already struggling unit left a big hole. Enter de Haan.
Acquired for his ability to be a defensive stalwart, the rugged defenseman has logged some serious minutes while limiting his opponents’ opportunities as well as his own mistakes. Since Keith’s injury, de Haan has averaged around 22:45 in ice time, including games of 25:26 against Boston, 23:38 against New Jersey, and 26:33 against Arizona. In the last five games, he has 13 hits, nine blocks, two assists, and a plus-two rating.
Unfortunately, he had to leave the Golden Knights game in the first period due to a shoulder injury, the same shoulder he had surgery on during the offseason.
Here’s hoping for a swift return.
Kubalik has been a mystery all season. At times, he looks like a hidden gem – an accurate, shoot-first forward with strong finishing ability. At other times, he has completely disappeared from the box score.
Head coach Jeremy Colliton, looking to find the right position for Kubalik since breaking up the Kubalik, David Kampf, Brandon Saad line, finally made a move that Blackhawks fans have been clamoring for, moving him up to the top line next to Jonathan Toews and Saad. It paid dividends immediately. The Czech forward scored goals in back-to-back games against the Coyotes and Golden Knights. That line has a ton of potential which should bode well for Kubalik’s future.
Honorable Mention: Corey Crawford
Congratulations to Corey Crawford for adding another milestone in becoming the 59th goalie in NHL history to record 250 wins. The 34-year-old is one of 13 active NHL goalies to reach the milestone and becomes just the third Blackhawks goalie to do so, joining Tony Esposito and Glen Hall.
It has been a rough season for Erik Gustafsson. After scoring 60 points in his breakout 2018-19 campaign, the high hopes heading into this season have all but vanished. Consistently out of position and ineffective on the power play, the 27-year-old defenseman has been a liability for the Blackhawks on both sides of the puck.
While you have to give him a bit of credit for shouldering the brunt of the load after de Haan’s injury, tallying 25:44 of ice time in Vegas, he hasn’t been a great quarterback for the power play, a role he excelled in last season, nor has he been an effective defender. Ideally, he will bring something of value to the table, but at the moment he’s just taking up a seat.
Playing With a Lead
It certainly feels like the Blackhawks are a two-outcome team. They either get blown out or they get ahead early and blow the lead. They’ve played some exciting games against some really hot teams, but it hasn’t been enough to convince anyone that they’re a good team themselves. The last five games were palindromic, as they suffered a 4-0 blowout loss, a blown lead that became a 4-3 overtime win, an outlier in which they were the ones to tie it up and win 2-1 in a shootout, another blown lead leading to a 4-3 shootout loss, and another 5-1 blowout loss.
The lopsided losses have become a fairly regular occurrence, which is expected given that the Blackhawks lead the league in shots against per game with 36.1. The more troubling issue, is the fact that they can’t maintain a lead. Whether they’re taking their foot off the gas when they’re up or they have lost their edge, they won’t win many games if they can’t consistently protect a lead.
Chicago has road rematches with the Coyotes and Blues Thursday and Saturday night, followed by a Sunday night home matchup against the Minnesota Wild. They play another back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday nights against the Colorado Avalanche at home, a potential redemption game after a sloppy showing during a recent home-and-home series, and then a road tilt against the Winnipeg Jets.