Two steps forward, three steps back. That seems to be the trend of the 2019-20 season for the Chicago Blackhawks thus far, and that was the tale again this past week. After two huge wins against the Nashville Predators and the Buffalo Sabres, including a 7-2 statement game against Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne after he provided some quality bulletin board material, the Blackhawks dropped three in a row including a pair of 4-2 losses against the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as a 2-1 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.
The Blackhawks were finally starting to look like a potential playoff team in the month of November, although some experts weren’t buying it, and their inconsistencies seem to support that sentiment more and more by the game. It was another week filled with some absolute highs and disappointing lows. Let’s take a look at who is rising and who is falling in Chicago this week.
For the first time this season, the Blackhawks’ captain finds his stock trending in the right direction. After struggling mightily to start the season, Toews has been absolutely on fire in the faceoff dot and has been consistently finding himself in the points column as well.
Toews has been at or above 50% on faceoffs in eight straight games, including 78.6% against Nashville, 65% against Buffalo, 57.1% and 56.5% against Carolina and Tampa Bay respectively, and 62.5% against Dallas. Toews has also scored 10 points in his last 12 games with four of those coming this past week to give him 12 points on the season. It felt like it was only a matter of time before Toews found his stride, and he’s finally playing like the guy who scored 81 points last season.
Connor Murphy and Olli Maatta
Welcome back, Connor Murphy. While he isn’t lighting up the stat sheet, his presence is a very welcomed one for the Blackhawks’ defense. Murphy did score his first goal of the season against the Hurricanes, but it is the little things he’s doing that have stood out. In his four games since being activated off of the long-term injured reserve, Murphy has six hits and 10 blocked shots while sporting a 53.1 Corsi for % on the season. More importantly, Murphy has been paired with Olli Maatta and has helped the 25-year-old shore up his defensive game as well.
Maatta has two assists and a goal since Murphy’s return and has been an absolute wrecking ball with 13 hits and 11 blocked shots. Murphy has made every pairing he has been a part of better during the 2019-20 season, and he and Maatta have played exceptionally well together since his return.
After seeing his stock rise-up slightly last week, Dach kept the momentum going with four points, including a two-goal game against Buffalo. Dach became only the third player in Blackhawks’ history to score two goals in a game at the age of 18. The other two? Eddie Olczyk and Patrick Kane. That’s pretty good company to be in for the rookie.
It’s difficult to say a guy who is second on the team in points is trending downward, but DeBrincat is a goal-scorer who just isn’t scoring goals. He has three assists in the last five games, and eight in the last seven games, so he hasn’t been totally useless, but the young forward hasn’t scored a goal in eight games and that’s primarily what he is paid to do.
DeBrincat scored 41 goals during the 2018-19 season, earning himself a nice little contract, but he has only five goals this season and is currently on pace for 18 goals. That’s quite a drop. While DeBrincat is aware of the drought, he’s also focusing on doing what he can to contribute in other ways.
“It’s a little bit frustrating,’’ DeBrincat said. ‘‘But at the same time, there’s other things you can do to help your team win. Focus on those, keep working hard and you’re going to get a chance you’re not going to be able to miss.’’from, ‘Alex DeBrincat’s playmaking evolution takes another step in Blackhawks’ shootout loss’ Chicago Sun-Times – 11/23/2019
It’s the right mindset for a guy who has had no trouble finding the back of the net in his first two seasons and his 8.8% shooting percentage isn’t likely to last for long. As is usually the case, once he gets one to fall, the goals should start to come in bunches, and the young forward should find himself doing what he does best and trending back in the right direction.
Just a few weeks after finding themselves on the upswing, Chicago’s power-play unit has bottomed out. The Blackhawks are second in the league with 41 goals in November, but they’re doing it without any success on the power play. In their last seven games, Chicago has been 2-for-22 on the power play, dropping them to a 13.2% conversion rate which places them at 27th in the league.
Part of those struggles are due to head coach Jeremy Colliton changing the power play lines up and trying to spread the wealth around, but it clearly isn’t working as their stock is almost nonexistent at this point. Do they go back to an overloaded first line? If not, I’m afraid the man advantage may continue to be no advantage for the Blackhawks at all. There’s too much talent for the power-play unit to be playing this poorly.
Dressing 7 Defensemen
There’s not much to say about this one. The Blackhawks dressed seven defensemen against the Lightning, and it wasn’t pretty by any means. Colliton wanted to start Slater Koekkoek against his old team, while also sending a message to Dominik Kubalik, and it led to a sloppy, disjointed effort for Chicago. The team’s captain didn’t seem too pleased with the coach’s decision after the game.
“I mean, things were going pretty good with four lines and the lineup that we had,” Toews said, after a long pause to think through his words. “You’ll have to ask the coaches on that one.”from, ‘Blackhawks odd positional combination leads to disjointed loss to Lightning’ Chicago Sun-Times – 11/21/2019
He’s not wrong, and the coach’s answer wasn’t a very satisfying one. Here’s to hoping it was a one-time thing.
Chicago will have a chance to avenge their loss to the Stars on Tuesday at the United Center, followed by a home-and-home against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday and Saturday starting in Chicago.