Blackhawks Weekly: Dach Starts, Power Play Struggles

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The second week of the 2019-20 season is in the books for the Chicago Blackhawks. Fortunately, they fared a tad bit better than their first week. It wasn’t always pretty, but the team enjoyed their first two wins of the season, and fell just short to a very good NHL team in the Washington Capitals. The Blackhawks picked up four more points in the standings, and are now 2-3-1 overall. Let’s get to the highlights.

Related – Blackhawks Weekly: Slow Starts for Kane, Toews, Special Teams

Blackhawks’ Matchups of the Week

Vs. Edmonton Oilers, Mon. Oct. 14, Win 3-1

Vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Fri. Oct. 18, Win 3-2 (OT)

Vs. Washington Capitals, Sun. Oct. 20, Loss 5-3

Dach’s Debut

By far the biggest storyline of the week was the NHL debut of Blackhawks’ prospect Kirby Dach. The third overall 2019 NHL Draft pick was recalled late Friday night after suiting up in three games on a conditioning stint for the Rockford IceHogs. Having not played since Sept. 10 when he was concussed at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, the IceHogs eased him back into game action.

Dach started on the fourth line for the IceHogs, but moved his way up in the lineup and centered the first line during their matchup Friday night. In his first three games he didn’t have any points but recorded seven shots on goal. According to our Greg Boysen who was a witness from the pressbox, Dach “needs to be better at faceoffs and avoiding hits, but that should come with experience.”

The young prospect finally took the ice in a Blackhawks’ sweater Sunday night against the Capitals. Surprisingly, head coach Jeremy Colliton gave the 18-year-old plenty of responsibility by having him center the second line between Dylan Strome and Patrick Kane. But this also gave him an opportunity to play with highly skilled players.

Kirby Dach Chicago Blackhawks
Kirby Dach made his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday night and lined up next to superstar Patrick Kane. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The numbers don’t exactly show it, but Dach did well in his new role. He had one shot attempt, one blocked shot, and went 1-for-5 in the faceoff circle in 13:41 minutes of playing time. He also didn’t cover his man early in the third period which resulted in a goal for the Capitals. But that man also happened to be THE Alex Ovechkin ripping off and incredibly fast shot. So it’s hard to be too critical there. Poor kid didn’t even know what hit him.

Colliton was complimentary of Dach’s first game.

Really good, very pleased. He looked comfortable. Made a lot of plays. Play away from the puck I thought was quite good. Pressure to cause turnovers, was safe with it – he made plays but did it safely. So good start for him.

from ‘Five things we learned from Blackhawks rookie Kirby Dach’s NHL debut’, The AthleticChi – 10/20/19

The Blackhawks can play Dach in up to nine games before his entry level contract counts for the season. Can Dach help the team win? Can he make a case for himself to stay with the big club? He certainly earned another look with his performance Sunday night.

Crawford, Lehner Usage a Mystery

The goalie usage for the first six games of the season has been a bit puzzling. Corey Crawford started the first two contests and did just ok. The struggling defense in front of him was certainly a factor as well. Predictably Robin Lehner got the nod for the third game, and he performed very well. Unpredictably, the Blackhawks turned around and went with Crawford for the next tilt. He in turn had his best performance of the season to date, but was replaced by Lehner again.

Chicago Blackhawks Robin Lehner
Robin Lehner has had two solid performances in net for the Chicago Blackhawks in their first six appearances. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

And the dance goes on. Crawford and Lehner have switched off in net every other game for the last four contests. Colliton explained his thought process before the Blue Jackets game on Friday (Lehner played in that one).

We’ve had a little lighter schedule and we want both guys going because we’re coming up to a stretch where we’re going to play a lot of games, so we’re going to need them both. Both guys feel pretty confident in their games and both of their last performances were good, so we’re in a pretty good spot there.

Obviously Colliton is trying to keep both netminders fresh and on their game. That busy stretch he refers to starts now; the Blackhawks play at least every other day for the next nine days, with their first back-to-back matchups this weekend. It’s a mystery who starts each night, but it appears a given both goaltenders will be utilized.

Power Play Struggles

The Blackhawks want to get their power play going, and the first order of business is to get more opportunities on the man advantage. As Dylan Strome told Jimmy Greenfield of The Chicago Tribune, this is how they can go about doing that:

Play (more) with the puck. It’s hard to draw penalties when you don’t have the puck. I think the last game (against the Oilers) we did a better job of playing with the puck, it was probably our best game. I don’t know the statistics exactly, but it felt like it was our best game with possession and we drew three penalties. We can even do a better job. The more they get tired, that’s when penalties happen.

Blackhawks aren’t getting power-play opportunities: ‘It’s hard to draw penalties when you don’t have the puck’, The Chicago Tribune– 10/18/19

Strome is correct, and the Blackhawks did a good job in their next two games as well. Against the Blue Jackets, they drew four penalties, and against the Capitals they drew five. The only problem is, with 12 opportunities in the last three games, the Blackhawks only scored one power play goal.

This goal by DeBrincat is a set play, and it was this same play that got them their first PP goal of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson gets the puck up to Kane, who then finds a seam and passes it to DeBrincat, who shoots it home. Yes, this is a great play. And it’s going to work a lot, because the players involved can many times out-execute their opposition. But it’s also very predictable. The opposition is going to prepare for it and attempt to cut it off.

The power play will have its ups and downs throughout the season, and if the players keep working at it the goals will come. But they should also consider some new looks on the power play to shake things up a bit. As I said last week, this should also include utilizing your second unit more.

Blackhawks’ Stat Lines

Here are some notable player statistics over the last three games and the season so far:

  • Drake Caggiula scored two goals this past week. One was playing on the first line and assisted by DeBrincat (against the Blue Jackets), and the other was while he was on the fourth line and assisted by Alex Nylander (Caps game). Caggiula is doing a good job of being effective no matter where he slots into the lineup.
  • Speaking of Nylander, he tallied for his second goal of the season against the Oilers. Nylander is now tied for second place on the team with Brandon Saad and DeBrincat, who all have two goals and two assists for four points.
  • Fourth line center Ryan Carpenter is doing his part to help the team win. He provided the primary assist on Nylander’s goal against the Oilers, and the secondary assist on Caggiula’s goal against the Capitals. Add that to his helper on Saad’s shorthanded goal against the Jets, and that’s three assists in six games. He also currently has a whopping 66% win rate in the faceoff circle!
  • Dominik Kubalik continues to dominate. Against the Capitals Sunday night, he scored a goal and had 10 shots on goal! Keep up the good work, and keep shooting.
  • Lots of love has been given of late to the third line which includes Kubalik and Saad. But the third member of the trio tends to get lost in the shuffle. Nevertheless, center David Kampf has quietly been having a solid season thus far. He earned his first assist of the season on Saad’s goal against the Oilers, and has a 57.1% success rate at the dot.
  • After not tallying a point in the first three contests, Jonathan Toews earned his first assist of the season against the Oilers, and his first goal in overtime against the Blue Jackets. It’s not the best start for the Blackhawks’ captain.

Related – Blackhawks’ 3 Stars of the Week: Oct. 7-13

This coming week the Blackhawks host the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday and the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday. Can they get revenge from their loss to the Flyers in Prague? The Flyers matchup will mark the seventh game of their homestand. But on Saturday the Hawks finally leave the friendly confines of the United Center to take on the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena.

They won’t be gone long, as the Hawks turn right back around and host the LA Kings on Sunday. This will be their first back-to-back tilts of the season. Look to see both netminders Crawford and Lehner in action over the weekend. Four good matchups coming up people! Keep it right here at The Hockey Writers for all your news and updates.