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Of four games this past week, the Chicago Blackhawks headed to overtime three times, and to the shootout twice. That doesn’t happen very often. Needless to say, they competed in some hard-fought matchups. After three consecutive tough losses before that, the Blackhawks’ resiliency is coming through. All in all, they earned five of a possible eight points against some stiff competition. Here’s how the week unfolded.
Blackhawks Matchups of the Week
Vs. St. Louis Blues, Mon. 12/2, Loss 4-0
@ Boston Bruins, Thurs. 12/5, Win 4-3 (OT)
@ New Jersey Devils, Fri. 12/6, Win 2-1 (SO)
Vs. Arizona Coyotes, Sun. 12/8, Loss 4-3 (SO)
The Salary Cap Debacle
Last Monday’s contest against the Blues was doomed before the Blackhawks even hit the ice. A case of really bad timing forced the team to dress only 17 skaters, 11 forwards and six defensemen, instead of the customary 18 skaters.
Drake Caggiula was on long-term injured reserve, but four other players found themselves unable to suit up. Dylan Strome and Andrew Shaw were both out with concussion issues, Duncan Keith with a groin injury, and Robin Lehner had the flu. NHL rules require two goaltenders to dress, so with Lehner out the Blackhawks were forced to call up netminder Kevin Lankinen from the Rockford IceHogs. But unfortunately, that was the only move they were able to make.
As Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times explained, LTIR takes a player’s salary cap hit off the books, but it also requires said player to miss at least 24 days and 10 games. Regular injured reserve only requires seven days missed, but it doesn’t provide any cap relief. Not knowing the extent of the injuries, the Blackhawks didn’t want to put anyone else on LTIR. They therefore didn’t have enough money to call someone else up. (from ‘Plague of short-term injuries puts Blackhawks in bizarre, unfortunate roster and salary cap situation’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 12/2/19)
It was a very unfortunate situation, and just one more of many disadvantages against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Predictably, the Blackhawks were unable to rally.
The good news is things got better. Strome returned the next game, as did Lehner. But the Blackhawks are still missing several key players. Keith and Shaw are both considered week-to-week. Caggiula has been traveling and practicing with the team, but still hasn’t returned to the lineup. Defenseman Olli Maatta has been added to the injury list, having missed the last three contests due to illness. Although now the Blackhawks have the cap flexibility to reach out to Rockford for some help. One such player especially comes to mind.
Give It up for Gilbert
Defenseman Dennis Gilbert was recalled some the IceHogs last Wednesday and has since suited up for the last three contests. He had a solid outing in just his fifth NHL start against the Bruins on Thursday, lining up on the third pairing with Erik Gustafsson. He recorded two shots on goal, four hits, one takeaway, and two blocked shots in 14:31 minutes of ice time. Sure, he was out of position on the Bruins’ game-tying goal. But we can chalk that up to a rookie mistake that can be learned from.
Against the Devils, the 23-year-old managed three more hits, two blocked shots, and one shot on goal. He even dropped the gloves with noted enforcer Wayne Simmonds. But that still wasn’t enough for the physical blueliner. During the Coyotes contest Gilbert took exception to a hard hit on Alex DeBrincat. He chased down the culprit Jason Demers for his second fight in two games. He also logged five hits, one blocked shot, and 2:27 minutes of time on the penalty kill for the Blackhawks.
Gilbert’s success has been a pleasant surprise on the back end. He has taken advantage of his opportunity with Keith and Maatta out.
Too Many Penalties
One of the things the Blackhawks can learn from this past week is they have to be more disciplined. Against the Blues they only committed two penalties. But in the next contest the Bruins had four power play chances. They gave the Devils four power plays as well, and the Coyotes had six chances on the man advantage.
Kudos to the Blackhawks’ penalty kill units for not allowing a single power play goal against the Bruins, and only one against the Devils. They won both those tilts by the way, although the wins would have been that much easier without having to kill so many penalties.
But their luck ran out against the speedy Coyotes. The Blackhawks capitalized and were up 3-1 in the first period before allowing two power play goals in the second frame to tie the game. It gave the Coyotes momentum, which they used to push the pace and eventually win the game.
Let’s hope the Blackhawks can clean things up and make it easier on themselves moving forward.
Leaning on de Haan
Did I mention yet that Keith hasn’t been available for five games in a row now? His presence has certainly been missed, but one man that has stepped up in his absence is Calvin de Haan.
In the last three tilts de Haan has recorded 25:26, 23:38 and 26:33 minutes of ice time, respectively. These were team-high minutes with the exception of Connor Murphy’s 27:47 minutes against the Coyotes (de Haan’s time was second).
With his heavy ice time de Haan contributed a combined two assists, 12 hits and nine blocked shots to go along with four shots on goal. Head coach Jeremy Colliton has certainly leaned on the defenseman, who has come through big time for the Blackhawks.
Other Blackhawks Notable News & Notes
There’s several worthy individual tidbits in here. The Blackhawks are getting contributions throughout their lineup. They just have to keep building on it.
- Forward Ryan Carpenter notched his first goal as a Blackhawk against the Bruins Thursday night. It was highly appropriate it was a shorthanded goal, as the gritty depth forward is an integral part of the penalty kill. Carpenter also boasts seven assists on the season.
- Goaltender Corey Crawford earned his 250th career win against the Devils Friday night. He stopped 29-of-30 shots for a .967 save percentage.
- Strome got right to work after being out of the lineup. In his first game back against the Bruins he notched a goal and an assist. He added another helper the following night against the Devils.
- DeBrincat has recorded a goal in the last three tilts after not scoring in the 12 previous contests. Let’s hope his streak continues.
- Jonathan Toews has two goals and two assists in the last three games. This comes after not scoring a goal since Nov. 17 against the Buffalo Sabres. Toews also outdid even himself at the faceoff dot Sunday night, winning 10-of-13 faceoffs.
- Rookie Kirby Dach held the game on his stick Friday night in the ninth round of the shootout. He converted for the win! Coach Colliton went back to the well a few nights later and chose to have Dach go third in the shootout right after Toews and Patrick Kane. Alas, this time it didn’t work out. But look to see Dach given more opportunities moving forward.
- Goaltender Lehner had to stand on his head once again. He stopped 44 shots in the shootout loss to the Coyotes, marking his fourth 40+ save performance of the season.
- The two matchups the Blackhawks won this week were on the road, and it also coincided with their annual mom’s trip. Moms always provide extra motivation. Who wants to start a petition to have the moms present for every game?!
Related – Blackhawks: 5 Reasons to Be Thankful
No rest for the weary! The Blackhawks head to Vegas this coming Tuesday to take on the Golden Knights. They’ll have a chance for two rematches on Thursday and Saturday, as they square off once again against the Coyotes and the Blues. Sunday night the Blackhawks host their division rival, the Minnesota Wild.
It’s do-or-die time for the Blackhawks. Even with their two wins and added shootout point they’re still last place in the Central division. Every point counts as they scratch and claw to be contenders. Let’s see if they can make some progress.