Blackhawks’ Surprising Storylines From First 2 Games

The Chicago Blackhawks‘ schedule could not have started more challenging as they had back-to-back games against the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights on the road. Those are tough opponents for any team in the league, but it was a wake-up call for the Blackhawks as they knew they would be tested early on. Unfortunately, it went as most expected as the Blackhawks started the season 0-2 with a 5-2 loss against the Avalanche and a 1-0 loss against the Golden Knights. However, what wasn’t expected was that Chicago did not perform as poorly as predicted in both outings. Here are some of the surprising storylines from the matchups.

Blackhawks Weren’t Outplayed

The Avalanche are the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, and the Golden Knights have a roster built for the playoffs. Something evident was that the Blackhawks were overmatched in talent. It’s hard to go against Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, Cale Makar, and Nathan MacKinnon on back-to-back nights when the Blackhawks’ top talent is Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. However, the team was not defeated in competitiveness, which was the most critical aspect. They suffered moments where they looked overwhelmed, but not all game. Those points came in the second period of both games.

Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

When facing the Avalanche, the Blackhawks headed into the second period trailing 2-1 and came out trailing 4-1, getting outshot 22-10, mainly because they allowed two power-play goals in that period. The Avs’ power play was a significant reason the Hawks lost, as they went 4/6 with the man advantage. But five-on-five was a different story. The five-on-five scoring chances were 19-18 in favor of the Avs, and the high-danger scoring chances were 7-6, supporting Chicago. They also dominated in the faceoff dot as the Hawks won 61.2% of the draws. The game wasn’t as lopsided as predicted, and the team put up a good fight, scoring two power-play goals by Toews and Max Domi, but talent and special teams ultimately prevailed.

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The Blackhawks started the second game against Vegas well and kept them off the scoresheet for the entire first period until the second-period collapse. They were outshot 18-8 and allowed a 2-on-1 goal from Knights’ forward Paul Cotter after a successful penalty kill. However, they out-hit the Knights 41-20, had the advantage in blocked shots 22-19, and rebounded remarkably on the penalty kill, going 3/3. In addition, the Blackhawks also had another successful night at the dot, winning 50.9% of their faceoffs. Their offense ultimately faltered as they have yet to score an even-strength goal, but there were positives in that game.

Blackhawks’ Second Line Soared

Typically, the first line is the one you pay attention to because it is usually the team’s most vital line, especially because Patrick Kane is on the team’s first line and is their best player. Yet, the second line was arguably the most noticeable through the two games. The line consists of Tyler Johnson- Jonathan Toews- Taylor Raddysh. Their shots-for compared to their shots against was 11-6, and they had no goals against. They’re a great defensive line, and they created 10 scoring chances throughout both games, which was the best on the team, but unluckily, the players whiffed or had a pass that was too hot to handle.

Taylor Raddysh Chicago Blackhawks
Taylor Raddysh, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Nevertheless, there is potential on that line, which should translate into goals soon. Toews scored the Blackhawks’ first goal of the season, and Johnson got an assist on Domi’s goal for their first points of the year. Although those instances both came on the power play, they showed they were playing correctly and confidently. There were questions about the team’s chemistry in the preseason, but that trio seems to be meshing the best. I don’t see head coach Luke Richardson changing the second line anytime soon. 

Blackhawks’ Goaltending Excelled

I don’t think how well the Blackhawks’ goaltending did on Wednesday and Thursday can be understated. Petr Mrazek started the game against Colorado, and although allowing five goals with a .857 SV% (Save Percentage) doesn’t sound pretty, it was a valiant effort by him. He fought all game, even when the shots totaled 35-17 in the Avalanche’s favor. The first goal allowed by Mrazek was questionable as it was a deflected shot by Andrew Cogliano, but otherwise, he was fine. Four of the five goals were power-play goals, and there isn’t much a goalie can do when their team is constantly pinned in their own zone with the man advantage. But it was a promising start for the starting goalie.

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Alex Stalock was exceptional as well against the Golden Knights. He stopped 36 of 37 goals during the second game and was a big reason Chicago kept the game 1-0. The Knights had their chances, and some quality looks, but Stalock was near perfect. He is not afraid to play the puck and leave the net, which can sometimes cause some uncomfortable moments. It did during the second period when he left the crease to confront defenseman Brayden McNabb, who had the puck in a prime shooting lane, which had him out of the net for a moment. It left Vegas with an open net, and the Blackhawks’ second line picked their goaltender up and helped save a goal.

When Stalock was asked about his wild night in net, he responded, “you’ve got to go all out in the NHL, right? It’s the best league in the world. I can’t show up and give it half-effort, that’s for sure.” He sure did show up with an entertaining .973 SV%.

Alex Stalock Chicago Blackhawks
Alex Stalock, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Considering both goalies had struggled last season, it was fun to see them have successful outings against elite teams. Although they didn’t win, they were far from the problem, and their time will come if they keep those performances up.

The Blackhawks may get outmatched most nights, but they proved they don’t have to get outplayed. They showed they could hang with the best of them, even if it didn’t result in wins. That is the most ideal outcome for them, as the alternative of being outmatched and outplayed isn’t exactly practical. They’re not a juggernaut, but they have things they can build on. They won the faceoff battle in both games, their penalty kill rebounded greatly, the goaltending stood strong, and they played hard.

Their next game is against the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 15. The Sharks are 0-2 and have struggled on offense as well, scoring 1.50 goals per game to the Blackhawks’ 1.00 goals-per-game. If Chicago continues to play as they did against a similar opponent in San Jose, they will give themselves a great chance to win. They just have to hope they can figure out a way to put the puck in the net, and the second line could play a big part in that. Now, onto game number three!

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