After dropping their first four contests of the 2020-21 season, the Chicago Blackhawks redeemed themselves with two wins at the United Center this weekend over the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are rebuilding just like the Blackhawks, but they started the season with a respectable 2-2-0 record. No team can be taken for granted, and a win is a win! The Blackhawks are finding their groove, and these two victories should help build their confidence. Let’s get to our highlights from this two-game series.
Blackhawks’ Game Results
Vs. Red Wings, Fri. 1/22, Win 4-1
Vs. Red Wings, Sun. 1/24, Win 6-2
Plenty of Firsts
There were a plethora of firsts for the Blackhawks coming out of these two tilts. Primarily, they won their first contest of the 2020-21 campaign Friday night. When Patrick Kane scored a power play goal in the opening frame, it was also the first time of this young season the Blackhawks scored the initial goal in a contest. Believe it or not, they also went on to score second, and third, maintaining a dominant lead throughout the evening. This carried over to the second game, where the Blackhawks went up 2-0 before surrendering a goal.
Defenseman Calvin de Haan scored the Blackhawks’ second goal of the game on Friday, making it his first tally of the season. Rookie blueliner Ian Mitchell was credited with the secondary assist on the goal, which was also his first NHL point.
Andrew Shaw notched his first goal of the season with a power play goal in the third period Friday night. Coincidentally, Shaw sported the “A” for alternate captain on his sweater these past two contests. Defenseman Connor Murphy had that honor along with Kane and Duncan Keith for the first four contests, prompting the speculation they might alternate between home and road contests.
Newly acquired Mattias Janmark also tallied his first of the season with the empty net goal to seal the win Friday night. He didn’t stop there, adding another goal and an assist in Sunday’s contest.
We’ll get to even more firsts below. With so many new faces on this Blackhawks’ roster, it’s great to see the contributions from so many players this early in the season.
Suter With the Hat Trick
Head coach Jeremy Colliton put a lot of faith in the European-signed Pius Suter by placing him on the top line a few games into the season. He’s been centering Kane and Alex DeBrincat. The Swiss forward was expected to eventually be a part of the top-six, but perhaps not this soon.
Suter hasn’t looked out of place at all, and things finally paid off on the scoresheet Sunday afternoon. Just a few minutes into the game he tallied his first goal of the season on a rebound from de Haan’s shot from the slot. Then he notched his second goal on the power play as a member of the under-utilized second unit (more on this below). He added his third goal to complete the hat trick on a mini breakaway in the third period.
No other Blackhawk has scored his first three career goals in the same game since Bill Kendall did in 1933. Here’s to more goals and more hatties in the near future!
Soderberg Draws In
35-year-old Carl Soderberg signed with the Blackhawks in late December. At the time the pick-up didn’t make much sense. But in hindsight, it was probably in response to the Blackhawks knowing they would be without the services of Jonathan Toews. Toews, as we all know, is dealing with a medical issue, and there is no timeline for his return.
The Swedish center encountered Visa issues getting to the states due to the holidays. Then he was required to quarantine for seven days. After a few practices to get into game shape, Soderberg finally drew into the lineup Sunday. He replaced Lucas Wallmark on the third line. When asked what the veteran could contribute to the lineup Colliton responded,
He’s a big body, centerman whose habits are really good away from the puck. He goes to dirty areas and wins puck battles and he has skill… A little bit more of a veteran presence down the middle will help some of our younger guys.
Soderberg ended the afternoon with 13:38 minutes of ice time, 3:36 of them being on the penalty kill. He recorded two hits, one blocked shots and won 4-of-9 faceoffs for 44%. All in all, a good first outing. It made sense for him to take Wallmark’s place, as Wallmark has struggled a bit of late and could use a breather. But it will be interesting to see how Colliton utilizes his newly-found depth at center moving forward.
Lankinen Looks Good!
Kevin Lankinen got his second consecutive start in net on Sunday, and he certainly took advantage of the opportunity. He stopped all 24 shots he faced through the third period. Unfortunately, Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin scored on the 25th shot to ruin his shutout bid. No matter, Lankinen finished the night with a .968 save percentage, stopping a total 30-of-31 shots for the win. He was clearly ecstatic after the game.
"What can I say? Friday night in Chicago, home opener at the United Center, get your first NHL win. I mean, only the fans were missing, that sucks. But other than that, feels awesome."— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) January 23, 2021
Hear from Kevin Lankinen after his first NHL win. #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/AQtJnKpp0J
Lankinen’s efforts earned him a third consecutive start on Sunday. He stopped 25-of-27 shots for a .926 SV% for another solid outing.
But can the Finnish netminder keep this up? Blackhawks’ goaltending coach Jimmy Waite had some encouraging things to say about Lankinen at the beginning of the season,
Lanks is a bit more of a technical guy…he plays within his crease. He’s very compact…But I would say Lankinen is more basic style, but very effective. He’s a guy that you feel is going to be playing well every night because his game is pretty simple. He doesn’t overdo stuff.(from ‘Kevin Lankinen steals the show as Blackhawks pick up first win of the season, The AthleticCHI – 1/22/21)
Lankinen has strung together three very strong performances, lending towards Waite’s comment that he can remain consistent. He’s also the only goalie that doesn’t have to clear waivers to be put on the taxi squad or sent down to the Rockford IceHogs. But the team does have to carry three goaltenders at all times this season. This could be to Lankinen’s advantage to keep playing with the Blackhawks.
Will Lankinen steal the starting spot in the crease? We shall see.
Power Play on Fire
So far this season, one refreshing change is the Blackhawks’ power play. Last season they had an abysmal 15.2% success rate on the man-advantage, good for 28th in the league. In these first six games, they’ve scored at least one power play goal in each contest. They’re currently 8-for-19 on the man advantage, which a 42.1% success rate and currently third in the league. That’s an excellent improvement on something that was a big weakness last season. Here’s an example of a power play done right, where all five players touch the puck.
The first PP unit has been responsible for most of the tallies, but Dominik Kubalik put on a shooting clinic with two PP goals against the Florida Panthers last week. Suter added to the second units’ success with his PP tally Sunday. Coincidentally, Philipp Kurashev slotted in on the power play in Wallmark’s absence.
Colliton has leaned heavily on his first unit in the past, but Kubalik and company showed they can also be a threat when given the opportunity. The good news is there are even further options on the power play moving forward.
Other Blackhawks’ Notes From Red Wings’ Series
Here are a few other tidbits from the Blackhawks’ two-game series against the Red Wings.
- The Blackhawks’ penalty kill only allowed two goals out of 10 opponent opportunities in their two games against the Red Wings. And one of those goals was on a 5-on-3. This is much improved from the previous four contests, when the penalty kill unit gave up five goals on 15 opportunities.
- Defenseman Connor Murphy is on a career best four-game point streak (2 goals, 3 assists). His assist on Janmark’s goal in the the most recent Red Wings game gave him 100 career points.
- While the Blackhawks scored only nine goals in the first four games, they came away with 10 goals in the last two contests. They also allowed 20 goals in their first four matchups, but only three goals in the their last two games. Something positive to build on on both sides of the puck.
The Blackhawks aren’t getting any scheduling favors from the league in January. After four away matchups and then just two games with home ice advantage, they’re on the road yet again. The team will take on the Nashville Predators in back-to-back contests this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. The Predators are currently 2-2-0 on the season, with another game against the Dallas Stars Sunday night before facing the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks, in the meantime, now boast a 2-3-1 record.
The Hawks and Preds have built up a rather intense rivalry over the years, and that hasn’t changed much these past few seasons. Let’s hope we’re in for some competitive and entertaining hockey. And some more success for the Blackhawks!