Blackhawks’ 3 Up, 3 Down: Team’s Contributions, Katchouk & More

Welcome to the recurring Blackhawks’ 3 Up, 3 Down column. Rather than solely fixating on all that will continue to go wrong for this club in 2022-23, you can expect just as much good news from these reads along the way. Not to worry if you can’t seem to find any such stories yourself, as we’ll do the digging for you!

The Chicago Blackhawks have been playing some of their best hockey recently. Because they are the second-worst team in the NHL, it may seem like there are a lot more negatives than positives, but with winning four of their last seven games and coming out of January with a 7-6 record, that isn’t the case. Here are some of the many highlights from this stretch as the team prepares to return from the All-Star Break on Feb. 7.

Plus One: Everyone is Contributing

When the Blackhawks had success early in October with a 5-4-2 record, the wins could be pinpointed to one specific aspect: shorthanded goals, hot goaltender play, or depth scoring. However, something that stands out from their recent success is that everyone on the team has contributed. Jason Dickinson, who went through a 30-game goal drought, now has three goals in his last five games. He’s not the only one:

  • Seth Jones: 12 PTS in last 13 GP
  • Max Domi: 5 PTS in last 5 GP
  • Patrick Kane: 8 PTS in last 10 GP
  • Sam Lafferty: 4 PTS in last 5 GP
  • Colin Blackwell: 3 PTS in Last 6 GP

To add to the contributions, when the Blackhawks faced the Calgary Flames on Jan. 26, all four lines scored a goal, and almost every forward, except for Reese Johnson, had a point. Speaking of Johnson, he had one goal in 37 games last season, and he had two straight games with a goal on Jan. 19 and 21, to give him four goals this season. Lastly, it also helps that goaltender Petr Mrazek got his first set of back-to-back wins since October. Hockey is a team game, and when everyone steps up, you’re going to win games, and for the Blackhawks, they finally started getting a complete team effort in the last few weeks. Whether all these players can sustain their hot streaks after the All-Star Break is to be determined, but it has been nice to see.

Minus One: Boris Katchouk’s Play

Forward Boris Katchouk is having a season to forget with the Blackhawks. When the season started, he had a lot riding on his shoulders to prove he was part of the organization’s plans. His ceiling has always been questionable, as all that was known is that he was a bottom-six forward with high energy, and physicality, and provided little offense but had the potential to break out occasionally. However, his game has not come together consistently. Between an ankle injury to start the season, and a bunch of healthy scratches, he seems to be back in management’s doghouse. He was a healthy scratch for nine straight games before playing against the Flames on Jan. 26. He did have a goal during that game, which is what you want to see from a player that has been mostly out of the lineup. He played his second straight game against Edmonton on Jan. 28 but received the lowest ice time on the team (10:45) and was a minus-1.

Boris Katchouk Chicago Blackhawks
Boris Katchouk, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Katchouk has only played in 24 games this season and has five points. His average ice time is 9:45, and the coaching staff would rather call up players from Rockford than play him. He doesn’t play much, even when he gets a chance to play. I wouldn’t be surprised if he played more after the All-Star Game in an attempt to shop him for a trade, as it seems like he and the Blackhawks are not a good fit.

Plus Two: Blackhawks’ Successful Call-Ups

Usually, when a team makes call-ups from their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate teams, there aren’t high expectations as the players need a chance to adapt to the NHL level before producing much. But that hasn’t been the case with the Blackhawks this season. They have had great success with their call-ups from the Rockford Icehogs, especially in January.

Related: Blackhawks Sensible to Send Lukas Reichel to AHL

Forward Lukas Reichel had three points in three games after being recalled on Jan. 4, and Luke Philp got his first NHL point on an assist from a Katchouk goal against the Flames during his second NHL game. Isaak Phillips has been one of the Blackhawks’ best defensemen since being recalled in December, and before being sent back down, he had three points in his last four games. Lastly, they recalled goaltender Jaxson Stauber on Jan. 11 after Alex Stalock went into concussion protocol, and he now has a perfect 2-0 record in his NHL career. What’s more impressive is that the last Blackhawks goaltender to win his first two starts was Gilles Meloche in 1971.

Jaxson Stauber Chicago Blackhawks
Jaxson Stauber, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Seeing all these prospects immediately have success should send a good message for the future. Chicago has needed their forward and defense pipeline to show promise, as they have not been ranked favorably in recent years. Although all of them have been sent back to Rockford, be on the lookout for more call-ups soon because the March 3 trade deadline is coming up, and based on the team’s luck with Rockford this season, that is a good thing.

Minus Two: Blackhawks’ Blowout Losses in Seven Games

As much as the Blackhawks have struggled, blowout losses have been few and far between. They had two significant losses against the Boston Bruins (6-1) and the Winnipeg Jets (7-2) in November, but otherwise, they haven’t been outlandish. However, even though the Blackhawks have played some good hockey lately, they have had two blowout losses in their last seven games. First was an 8-5 loss against the Seattle Kraken on Jan. 14. Don’t let the three-goal deficit fool you; that was a terrible loss. They allowed six goals on the first seven shots, and the Kraken scored five goals in five minutes. It would have been 8-3 if it weren’t for some lucky breaks.

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Then came the Oilers on Jan. 28. They scored three goals in three minutes, and the Blackhawks then allowed two power-play goals and couldn’t keep up with the pace of the game, which resulted in a 7-3 loss. Seeing those two performances close together should bring the Blackhawks down to earth. They can put up strong performances but then get knocked down so much harder.

Plus Three: Blackhawks’ Penalty Kill Has Been Stellar

Watching Blackhawks’ games, the one consistent successful factor as of late has been their penalty kill. They put themselves in positions where they had to kill two, four-minute major penalties in a seven-game span, yet they executed their game plan perfectly.

Chicago Blackhawks Celebrate
Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

According to Ben Pope of the Chicago-Sun Times, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill has had an 84.8 percent success rate since Christmas, which is 10th-best in the NHL, and are on a 23/26 run as of late, with their worst showing coming against the Oilers on Jan. 28, where the penalty kill went 1/3. Either way, it’s no small feat, all thanks to the new “diamond formation” the team has implemented. It is described as “positioning one forward on top, one forward and one defenseman on the sides, and one defenseman in front of the net.” Jason Dickinson told the Sun-Times, “It gives us a little bit more predictability. It gives us an ability to dictate where we want the puck more and where we don’t want it to be.”

Related: 5 Reasons the Blackhawks Found More Success in January

We will see some tight games if Chicago’s penalty kill keeps up its strong play. It might not always be enough to win, but it has instilled confidence in this team, and you can see they are having fun with it.

Minus Three: Jack Johnson’s Drought

Defenseman Jack Johnson started the season strong with two points in his first four games, but since then, his play has regressed. The Blackhawks signed him to a one-year deal over the summer to provide a veteran presence on the back end for the rebuild, but he has been over-relied on this season. The coaching staff gives him an average ice time of 19:59 a game, which are minutes he has not seen since being with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2018 to 2020. He has the second-highest ice time on the team behind Seth Jones (24:32), but it’s not warranted, as more is needed to earn the role of a second-pairing defenseman. He also has the fewest points on the team (four), is the only player without a goal this season, and is a minus-20 in the plus/minus column.

Furthermore, according to NHL stats, among NHL defensemen in January, he ranks 241st out of 243 with zero points. He has not recorded a point since Nov. 30, which is a 26-game drought. He has also played in every Blackhawks’ game this season.

Jack Johnson Chicago Blackhawks
Jack Johnson, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Many are questioning why head coach Luke Richardson won’t make him a healthy scratch to allow prospects like Ian Mitchell to play more. Giving him nights off would have allowed more significant looks for Isaak Phillips and Filip Roos before being sent down. Johnson is beloved in the locker room as he brings positive energy and has been a good mentor for the younger players with his 17 years of experience, but with his recent play, it wouldn’t hurt to give him a break.

When the Blackhawks return, remember these factors, as these positives and negatives can change quickly, and there is still plenty of room for improvement.