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I gotta say, this wasn’t the start to the 2019-20 season I was expecting for the Chicago Blackhawks. This “new and improved” team from numerous offseason changes and upgrades was supposed to start off with a bang. Instead, they commenced with a whimper.
The Blackhawks lost all three of their first games this past week, collecting only one out of a possible six points. The irony is they fell by only one goal in each matchup, and could potentially have won all three games. The team is definitely still a work in progress. So what can we learn from the first week of play?
Blackhawks’ Week 1 Matchups
@ Philadelphia Flyers, Fri. 10/4, Loss 4-3
Vs. San Jose Sharks, Thurs. 10/10, Loss 5-4
Vs. Winnipeg Jets, Sat. 10/12, Loss 3-2 (OT)
Related – Blackhawks’ Expectations in Opening Week
Unproductive Second Periods
An undeniable trend from the first week was the Blackhawks had a hard time putting together a full 60-minute effort. They especially struggled in the second frame. Against the Flyers, the Blackhawks managed only seven shots on goal to the Flyers’ 15. Although Alex DeBrincat scored a power play tally at the end of the period, they also gave up two goals to fall behind for the remainder of the game.
Versus the Sharks the Blackhawks also registered only seven shots in the second frame, while the Sharks had 12. Once again, they gave up two goals. While playing the Jets, the Hawks recorded six shots to the Jets’ 11 in that middle frame, and gave up one goal.
Taking it a step further, according to Charlie Roumeliotis of NBC Sports Chicago, in all three second periods combined, the Hawks had 10 scoring chances for and 35 against in 5-on-5 play, two high-danger chances for and 10 against, and a minus-19 shot differential. Head coach Jeremy Colliton mentioned this as an issue after Saturday’s game.
Jeremy Colliton: “The best teams, they dominate the second period. We'd like to control the tempo of the game … and outchange the other team.— John Dietz (@johndietzdh) October 13, 2019
"That's where you show how good you are. So we're not close to where we want to be in that area.”#Blackhawks
The Daily Herald’s John Dietz tells us the Blackhawks allowed the eighth-most goals (90) in the middle frame last season. The nine lowest teams in this category did not make the playoffs. Whereas the top five teams did. (from, ‘Jets get past Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime’, The Daily Herald – 10/12/19).
Kane & Toews Struggle
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the superstars of this team. They’re supposed to lead the way. Well this hasn’t been the case so far. In three games, Toews has six shots on goal and no points. Kane has four points (one goal and three assists), but he also has only has six shots on goal. That’s not ideal.
For the first two contests, Kane and Toews were on the top line together. Alex Nylander was the third member of their trio most of the time, with the exception of Dominik Kubalik joining them for most of the third period against the Sharks. The idea here was to have the red-hot Kubalik give the other two a boost. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. The three never found their stride, and the third line suffered without Kubalik.
For the most recent game against the Jets, Colliton went to the lineblender and split up Kane and Toews altogether. He also split up the dynamic duo of DeBrincat and Dylan Strome. His new lines looked like this:
Brandon Saad-David Kampf-Kubalik
Zack Smith-Ryan Carpenter-Brendan Perlini
I’m not sure we can say these lines were successful either. No particular trio really stood out, they didn’t score during 5-on-5 play, the Blackhawks only generated 29 shots on goal, and they lost the game. So what is the solution?
I would argue to put Kane and Toews back together, as well as DeBrincat and Strome. Hey while I’ve got you here, I discussed my optimal forward lines in a piece last week. Allow me to share:
Caggiula (Nylander)-Carpenter-Kampf (Perlini)
Based upon the last few games, I would lean towards Caggiula over Nylander on the top line. And perhaps stick with Shaw on the second line and Kubalik on the third for now since that third line seems to do so well together. We shall see what the Blackhawks find to work as the season unfolds.
Special Teams Progression
Special team play is always a factor in a team’s success. The Blackhawks went out of their way this offseason to acquire some added reinforcements for their penalty kill. So, how did they do in this department this past week? The Flyers scored one power play goal on three opportunities, and the Blackhawks only allowed them two shots on goal. That’s actually not that bad. It was against the Sharks where things went downhill.
In this contest the Sharks scored two power play goals on three opportunities, and generated seven shots on goal. But let’s look at the big picture. Defenseman Connor Murphy is a big part of the penalty kill unit, and this was his first game of the season. Newly acquired d-man Calvin de Haan will help on the PK as well, and he didn’t suit up until the next game.
Speaking of the next game, the Blackhawks allowed one goal and four shots on four power play opportunities for the Jets. De Haan logged a hefty 3:12 minutes of shorthanded ice time. Murphy had 4:16 minutes! Newcomers Olli Maatta and Carpenter look to be big contributors on the PK as well, and they’re still getting used to their new team. In my mind, it’s too small of a sample size to make any rash judgments here. There’s potential for the Blackhawks’ penalty kill to be quite solid moving forward.
Related – Meet the New Blackhawks: Ryan Carpenter
The power play, on the other hand, needs some work. Yes, the Blackhawks scored on the man advantage against the Flyers (DeBrincat) and the Jets (Seabrook), but they certainly weren’t able to generate the kind of chances one would expect. Of the three games, the Hawks had six power plays opportunities, two in each contest. But they only shot the puck on net three times. Against the Sharks, they didn’t even have a shot on goal in four minutes of power play time.
Colliton is still leaning heavily on his top power play unit of Toews, Kane, DeBrincat, Strome, and Erik Gustafsson. But maybe it’s time to give the second unit more opportunities. This unit consists of Kubalik, Shaw, Nylander, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. Nylander was healthy scratch Saturday against the Jets, and Saad took his place. This is a good sign. Saad has been playing extremely well and deserves more ice time as a result. Hopefully he can keep this spot on the PP unit moving forward.
It’s interesting to note the second unit did spend more time on the ice in their most recent game against the Jets. They averaged over one minute of play versus less than a minute in the two previous contests. Will this be a trend moving forward, and will it help the Blackhawks generate more on the man advantage?
Defensive Reinforcements in Murphy & de Haan
Both these defensemen were already mentioned above as integral members of the penalty kill unit. But the Blackhawks had to wait for their services. Murphy sustained a groin injury during the preseason and wasn’t available until the second game of the season versus the Sharks. He replaced Dennis Gilbert. Although Gilbert gave a valiant effort against the Flyers, he struggled to find his way and was reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs.
Murphy looked solid in his first two matchups, playing on the third defensive pairing to start out, but then replacing Gustafsson on the first pairing next to Keith. He’s been consistent and trustworthy in this assignment. Look for Murphy to continue lining up on the top defensive pairing.
De Haan has also been dealing with a groin issue and didn’t play the entire preseason or the first two contests. But his first game was a good one. He lined up on the third pairing with Gustafsson, and registered one shot on goal, three hits, and three blocked shots in 18:03 minutes of playing time.
Although, he was also credited with three giveaways. And he was on the ice for the Jet’s game-tying goal in the third period. Some would say that the goal was more on his partner Gustafsson, but it was definitely miscommunication between the two of them (albeit in their first game playing together).
I personally think the Blackhawks are easing de Haan in on the third pairing until he gets his legs under him. Look for the new blueliner to move up in the lineup and make solid contributions.
Other Notable Blackhawks’ News and Notes
- Newly acquired Kubalik has really stood out so far. During Thursday’s effort against the Sharks he scored his first NHL goal, registered a team-high six shots on goal, and was credited with five hits. He’s a big body that’s strong on the puck and has a great shot. Excellent addition!
- Re-acquired Shaw has been buzzing as well. He’s been a staple on the second line, and so far he’s generated two goals, 11 shots on goal, 11 hits, and two blocked shots. Not too shabby!
- Former New York Islanders’ goaltender Robin Lehner made his Blackhawks’ debut this past Saturday against the Jets and had an excellent outing, stopping 30-of-33 shots for a .909 save percentage.
- The Blackhawks’ third overall 2019 draft pick Kirby Dach was activated off injured reserve and assigned to the IceHogs on a conditioning stint. His first game was this past Saturday, and he performed well. How Dach fares with the IceHogs and when he’s available for the Blackhawks will be something to follow in the coming weeks.
Related – Kirby Dach Impresses in Professional Debut
- Forward Perlini suited up for the first time this season versus the Jets, replacing Nylander who was a healthy scratch. Perlini didn’t do much to help his case of becoming a regular part of the lineup. In only 7:49 minutes of ice time, he managed one shot on goal and one hit while playing on the fourth line.
The Blackhawks are still searching for that elusive first victory, but they won’t have to wait long to try to find it. They host the Edmonton Oilers this Monday, the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, and the Washington Capitals on Sunday. Here’s hoping they have better luck in their second week than they did in their first!