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Similar to last week, the Chicago Blackhawks managed to salvage another rather brutal week with a win on Sunday night. It got better as they went along. There was an ugly loss to the Predators, a crazy comeback that fell short in overtime versus the Kings, and a tooth-and-nail battle against the Ducks that ended in a OT. Phew!
The big news this week was the announcement of 18-year-old Kirby Dach sticking around for the season, and the call-up of 19-year-old Adam Boqvist. How are these two youngsters contributing so far? And what else is afoot with the Blackhawks? I’m glad you asked.
Blackhawks’ Matchups of the Week
@ Nashville Predators, Tues. 10/29, Loss 3-0
@ LA Kings, Sat. 11/2, Loss 4-3 (OT)
@ Anaheim Ducks, Sun. 11/3, Win 3-2 (OT)
Dach Getting Comfortable
The 2019 third overall draft pick is officially here to stay. The Blackhawks announced Dach would be around for the season on Wednesday. After missing the preseason with a concussion and spending time with the Rockford IceHogs on a conditioning assignment, it must be a relief for the youngster to finally know his fate.
Through eight NHL games, Dach has recorded one goal and two assists. For the last two tilts, he’s been placed on the second power play unit. This is where he earned his second assist against the Kings Saturday night. Dach parked himself in front of the net and deflected a shot that Dominik Kubalik was able to pounce on for the score. It was in that same spot where Dach scored his first goal as well.
Head coach Jeremy Colliton has been experimenting with where he fits best in the lineup. In the most recent matchup against the Ducks Dach was deployed on the right wing of the third line, with David Kampf centering and Kubalik on the left wing. Look for Dach to be more of a factor moving forward as he gets more and more comfortable with the Blackhawks.
Boqvist’s Great Start
One day after it was announced Dach would stay, the Blackhawks recalled Boqvist from the IceHogs. The team has been having trouble of late moving the puck out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone. Boqvist is a mobile defenseman and a good puck mover that could potentially help the Blackhawks with their struggling transition game.
Boqvist was given a lot of responsibility right off the bat, being placed on the top defensive pairing alongside Duncan Keith. The two had some success together during the preseason. Boqvist was also assigned as the lone defenseman on the second power play unit.
He looked solid in his first game against the Kings, recording one shot on goal, three hits, one giveaway, and one blocked shot in 15:38 minutes of ice time. He even logged three shifts in overtime.
But it was his second game where he really shined. In 15:44 minutes on the ice, he had three shots on goal, and one of them found the back of the net for his first NHL goal.
So far Boqvist has held his own and helped the team. But there is still some concern his defensive play is not where it needs to be to compete at the NHL level. This will be something to keep an eye on in coming games.
Power Play Adjustments
After struggling mightily on the power play, coach Colliton finally went back to the well and changed up the power play units for the most recent two games. In an attempt to spread the wealth, he split up Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the top unit. He also took defenseman Erik Gustafsson off the man advantage altogether (who by the way was a healthy scratch against the Kings). He then infused some youth into the mix. The fresh units look like this:
Power play unit No. 1: Duncan Keith, Dylan Strome, Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Andrew Shaw
Power play unit No. 2: Toews, Alex Nylander, Kubalik, Boqvist, Dach
Wouldn’t you know it, the second unit has looked better than the first so far! As referenced above, Kubalik notched a power play tally against the Kings. Colliton actually put this second unit out first, and they scored just 17 seconds into the man advantage. Boqvist’s first goal (also referenced above) could easily have occurred on the PP, but it was tallied just after.
Kane connected to DeBrincat for another power play goal versus the Ducks. It was his signature seam pass through traffic with hardly any space; but this is what Kane does. It works because he’s so good, but it’s also predictable and therefore easier to defend. Either way, the Blackhawks scored twice in two games on the power play which is good to see.
Colliton said he would commit to giving both units more equal playing time moving forward.
Colliton adding more context to the new PP units:— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) November 1, 2019
"To this point, the one unit has got the lion's share of the time, and if you're going to do that, you've got to score. Now it's going to be more of a competition." https://t.co/BacLqg7h5r
A shake-up was long overdue, and hopefully it will continue to breath some renewed life into the power play.
Blackhawks’ Shots Against Statistics Struggling
One area in which the Blackhawks could use some improvement is the chances they’ve been giving up to their opponent. Against the Predators, they allowed 51 shots on goal to their 20. Against the Kings, the shot differential was 49-27. Versus the Ducks it was a little better; they allowed 38 shots to their 37.
Still, 38 shots is a lot to give up, much less 49 and 51. The Blackhawks are spending way too much time in their defensive zone and not clearing pucks, which is a recipe for the opponent to find the back of the net. At one point during the Kings’ game, defensemen Keith and Boqvist were stuck in their end for almost three minutes. They were lucky to come out of it without a goal against.
Of course this certainly doesn’t help the Blackhawks’ success offensively. It goes hand in hand with the fact they’ve been having trouble scoring. The entire team needs to contribute and work together to avoid this. Let’s see if they can continue trending in the right direction here.
Other Blackhawks’ News & Notes
- Defenseman Brent Seabrook returned to the lineup Saturday night after two consecutive healthy scratches. He lined up with a new partner in Calvin de Haan. The two appear to complement each other better than the Olli Maatta/Seabrook pairing.
- Goaltend Robin Lehner earned his 100th career win against the Ducks Sunday night, stopping 36-of-38 shots for a .947 save percentage. In eight games played, Lehner has a phenomenal 2.22 goals against average and a .939 save percentage (third in the league). The Blackhawks are lucky to have him in the crease.
- Nylander’s continued solid play earned him a spot on the top line with Toews and Saad for the last two tilts. He tallied an assist in each matchup, and recorded a team-high and personal career-high seven shots on goal against the Ducks Sunday night.
- The Blackhawks penalty kill has been awfully good the last handful of games. They made 15 straight successful kills in their previous four matchups before giving up a power play goal in the third period Sunday night. You can’t win them all; time to start another streak.
No rest for the weary as the Blackhawks complete their four-game road trip with a matchup against the San Jose Sharks this Tuesday. They host the Vancouver Canucks Thursday before heading to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins on Saturday. Their busy stretch continues as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs Sunday night. This will mark the Blackhawks third back-to-back matchups in as many weekends. What will this next handful of games bring?