No, this isn’t exactly the start to the season the Chicago Blackhawks were looking for. They recently went 2-3-2 on their seven-game homestand, and are currently 3-5-2 on the season. After a defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals on Oct. 20, they fell in three more games this past week. Four losses in a row is never a good thing. But they finally snapped the skid with a 5-1 win over the LA Kings Sunday night. There have been some interesting developments over the past week. Let’s get to it.
Blackhawks’ Matchups of the Week
Vs. Vegas Golden Knights, Tues. 10/22, Loss 2-1 (SO)
Vs. Philadelphia Flyers, Thurs. 10/24, Loss 4-1
@ Carolina Hurricanes, Sat. 10/26, Loss 4-0
Vs. LA Kings, Sun. 10/27, Win 5-1
Connor Murphy Injury
Defenseman Connor Murphy was placed on long-term injured reserve on Oct. 23 for a groin injury he sustained in the game against the Golden Knights. This makes him ineligible to return to the lineup for 11 games, which isn’t until Nov. 16 against the Nashville Predators. This is a big loss for the Blackhawks.
At the time of his injury, Murphy had played the last five games on the top defensive pairing alongside Duncan Keith. The two did very well together, much better than the Keith/Erik Gustafsson pairing before that. Murphy was arguably the best defensive defenseman on the ice, solidifying that top pairing.
Calvin de Haan took Murphy’s place on the top pairing, and Slater Koekkoek filled in on the bottom pairing, but the results just weren’t the same. The Blackhawks lost games to the Flyers and the Hurricanes 4-1 and 4-0 respectively right after Murphy went out. Of course these losses can’t fully be attributed to losing Murphy. But it’s obvious the Blackhawks are having trouble adjusting to his absence. The D-corps will have to dig deep to fill in for the stable blueliner.
In spite of Murphy’s absence, three-time Stanley Cup winner Brent Seabrook was announced as a healthy scratch for the Blackhawks’ most recent tilt against the LA Kings. This is only the second time he’s been benched since Jan. 9, 2018, when former head coach Joel Quenneville sat him to send a message for the defenseman to play better. Current head coach Jeremy Colliton was diplomatic about the situation.
Colliton on his reasoning for sitting Seabrook: "We want to get Gilbert in, and it's a back-to-back. It's a good opportunity to give Seabs a rest and see what Gilbert has."— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) October 27, 2019
But let’s face it, Seabrook has declined in all areas of play. His defensive production isn’t what it used to be. He’s consistently out of position because he can’t keep up with the speed of the new NHL. He tries to make up for it by playing smart, but it simply isn’t cutting it anymore.
He used to be an offensive threat with his heavy shot, but that strength has declined as well. Seabrook is more of a liability than an asset to the Blackhawks at this point. Especially since his huge contract straps the salary cap, hampering the team from signing another top-four defenseman.
Still, Seabrook is also highly respected in the locker room. He wears the “A” on his sweater. Heck, first round draft pick Kirby Dach is currently staying with him and his family. It’s a tough situation all the way around to bench somebody of that stature.
But the team needs to win, and the best players should play regardless of the past. The question remains, is there a better option than Seabs on the roster? Could it be Koekkoek? Is it Dennis Gilbert who drew in Sunday night? Perhaps top prospect Adam Boqvist will be called up from the Rockford IceHogs? Time will tell.
The Dach Decision
Can Dach help the Blackhawks win this season? Should he stay up with the big club beyond nine games when his contract will count for the year? Well, he’s suited up now for five games. Let’s see how he’s fared.
Dach scored his first NHL goal in his second game by placing himself in the right place at the right time. He earned a secondary assist on Brandon Saad’s goal in his third game. In his fourth and fifth games he didn’t record a point, but his fourth game was by far his strongest. In 12:40 minutes of ice time, Dach recorded four shots on goal and went 4-of-5 in the faceoff circle for an 80% success rate.
Dach has been playing on a line with Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw these last two tilts. He looks to have some good chemistry with Shaw. He’s definitely noticeable when he has the puck, and you can see his confidence grow as he goes. He’s responsible defensively as well.
Can Dach help the Blackhawks win this season? I think so. And staying will help his development. He’s more than ready. Keep the kid!
Chemistry Does Count
After the brutal loss to the Flyers last Thursday night, Coach Colliton said in his post-game presser that the combos (line combinations) didn’t matter.
The lines that have success, they’re playing a very direct, hard-working, team-oriented game and they’re willing to do the dirty work…The lines that aren’t having success, they’re not having success because they’re not doing those things. It’s not the combos. I could get the bingo balls out and with the players we have, I can throw any combos out there and they would work. (from ‘3 takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 4-1 loss to the Flyers, including Jeremy Colliton criticizing his players’ work ethic’, The Chicago Tribune – 10/25/19)
Of course Colliton was upset with the effort level for that particular game, and he was trying to make a point. But it turns out there is something to be said for chemistry. And who better to show that to the head coach than Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat!
Coinciding with Dach joining the lineup, Strome found himself the odd man out. Colliton put him on the wing instead of center, and he was taken off the first power play unit. For the last two matchups, he’s been demoted to the fourth line. But in the most recent tilt against the Kings, Colliton placed DeBrincat on the fourth line as well.
And boy did it pay off! DeBrincat set up Strome for two goals, and Strome returned the favor by feeding DeBrincat for a goal of his own. The two created numerous other chances, with the help of Ryan Carpenter to complete the trio. Strome and DeBrincat have proven chemistry from way back when they played together with the Erie Otters in the OHL. Many were scratching their heads why Colliton would break these two up, especially in the middle of a four-game losing streak.
Well their three combined goals helped the Blackhawks win 5-1 and break out of their slump. I don’t think Strome and DeBrincat will play apart again any time soon.
Other Blackhawks Notable News & Notes
- Alex Nylander has continued his strong play. He’s been promoted from the fourth to the second line for the last two games. Against the Kings, he fed David Kampf for a goal, had four shots on goal, three hits, two takeaways, and one blocked shot in 13;20 minutes of ice time.
- Shaw committed his seventh penalty in 10 games during the Kings game. It continues to be a balancing act of good versus bad for the gritty forward.
- Defenseman Gilbert drew back into the lineup when Seabrook was made a healthy scratch Sunday night. He had a solid game playing on the third defensive pairing with Gustafsson, recording eight hits and two blocked shots in 16:01 minutes of ice time.
- Robin Lehner continues to make the argument that he should be the starting goaltender. He suited up for two tilts this past week. He didn’t fare so well against the Flyers, stopping 19-of-23 shots for a .826 save percentage. But a lot of that can be attributed to a horrific effort in front of him. Against the Kings, he stopped a hefty 38-of-39 shots for a solid .974 save percentage. On the season he has a .935 save percentage in five games played.
The Blackhawks hit the road for three games next week. They take on their divisional foe the Nashville Predators this Tuesday, who currently sit in second place in the Central division. They’ll then enjoy three days of rest before taking on the Kings again Saturday. After their deflating loss to the Blackhawks from Sunday night, I’m sure the Kings will be looking for revenge. Finally, the Hawks head to Anaheim to meet the Ducks on Sunday. The Ducks are in third place in their Pacific division.
Three road games this week! And a chance to add more wins.