Blackhawks Finding Their Stride Amid Controversy

The Chicago Blackhawks headed into the month of February on a high note, having won four consecutive games. They have a number of players that are putting up impressive numbers. As a team, their efforts and hard work are finally paying off.

But the month of February also brings the trade deadline. This season, rumors are swirling regarding changes for the Blackhawks, specifically on the defensive end. The organization has some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks. But meanwhile, it’s business as usual on the ice. Let’s start with the positive.

Blackhawks’ Last Four Wins

Vs. Washington Capitals, Sun. 1/20, Win 8-5

Vs. New York Islanders, Tues. 1/22, Win 3-2 (SO)

@ Buffalo Sabres, Fri. 2/1, Win 7-3

@ Minnesota Wild, Sat. 2/2, Win 4-3 (OT)

Overall Record: 20-24-9, 49 points

That’s right, four wins in a row! Let’s just savor this for a minute, because the Hawks haven’t won four consecutive games since Dec. 2017, over a year ago. That’s how bad the Blackhawks have been over the last two seasons. So this recent winning streak shouldn’t be taken lightly. Captain Jonathan Toews spoke about it after Saturday night’s game.

We’ve been working for this type of run. So it’s one of those things when we’re feeling good, we’re working for our bounces, we can’t just let that momentum, that energy slip. We got to ride it out & keep getting better throughout the whole thing.

The Hawks are on a roll and looking to build on their momentum. As Toews mentioned, in addition to winning, they want to focus on getting better. Right now they have some pretty good leaders in that department.

Kane Leads, Others Follow

Unless you’ve been living in a hole recently, you know Patrick Kane is having all kinds of streaks of his own. He earned his 900th career point with his 30th goal of the season in his hometown of Buffalo on Friday night. He also provided two more assists and an empty-netter, making it the third time in the last five games he’s recorded at least four points. His 76 points are only four behind the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov for the league-lead.

Kane is also currently on an 11-game point streak. Over that span, he’s recorded nine goals and 17 assists. He had everyone a tad nervous when he hadn’t hit the scoresheet late in the third period Saturday night, but never fear, he remedied that with a perfect feed to Toews for a power-play goal.

Speaking of Toews, the above goal was his 23rd of the season. An assist on the game-winning overtime goal earned him his 51st point of the season for second place on the team behind Kane. And let’s not forgot about his recent hat trick against the Capitals.

Alex DeBrincat scored a goal as well Saturday night, extending his own point streak to five games. It was also his 54th career goal. The 21-year-old has now passed Kane and Denis Savard for the fifth-most goals by a Blackhawk before his 22nd birthday. His 26 goals on the season are second behind Kane’s 31.

Brandon Saad tallied two goals in his 500th career game Friday against the Sabres. He now has six goals in the last nine games. Finally, Dylan Strome has recorded two or more points in four of the last six games.

The Supporting Cast

As you can see from the above section, the Blackhawks’ heavy hitters are getting it done. But a few complementary players have stood out in the past few games as well.

The Blackhawks acquired forward Drake Caggiula on Dec. 30th from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for defenseman Brandon Manning. In his first eight games with the Hawks, Caggiula recorded just one assist, but head coach Jeremy Colliton was nonetheless impressed with his play and thought he could add some physicality to the top line. So Caggiula lined up alongside Toews and Kane against the Capitals on Jan. 20.

Drake Caggiula, Edmonton Oilers
Drake Caggiula is making the most of his opportunities with his new team, the Chicago Blackhawks. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

“He played a perfect game. Won a lot of battles, did a lot of good things,” said Kane. (from ‘Caggiula impresses while playing with his Blackhawks idols’ – The Daily Herald – 1/21/19)

Caggiula’s been on this line since, and it finally paid off on the scoresheet Friday night in Buffalo. He scored his first goal as a Blackhawk, and then went on to assist on both of Kane’s two goals. It was his first career three-point game and fourth multi-point effort of the season, his first with the Hawks. Whether Caggiula remains on the top line long-term remains to be seen, but for now he’s making the most of his opportunity.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson should also be mentioned as a supporting cast member. It’s frustrating to watch Gustafsson because he oftentimes is quite a liability on defense. But his offensive abilities on the back end tend to make up for it. He’s especially strong as the point man on the power play, and he’s found great chemistry with Kane.

In the last 14 games, Gustafsson’s recorded 14 points, 12 of them assists. But he got back into goal-scoring Saturday night. He tallied two goals, including the game-winner in overtime.

Well, he did have the lane. And he did shoot the puck. The Hawks won, and the frustration of trying to find the balance in Gustafsson’s game continues.

Trade Deadline Dilemmas

It’s nice to see the Blackhawks focusing and winning games because there are some underlying distractions around the upcoming Feb. 25 trade deadline. This past Monday, Jan. 31, rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs. Many were confused by the move, as he has been one of the Blackhawks’ most consistent and promising members of the blue line all season.

But the general consensus is the Hawks are trying to showcase their other defensemen in preparation for the deadline, and Jokiharju will be recalled when the deadline is over. If this is so, it’s still doing him a disservice. What is he going to get out of a stint in Rockford? He’s already proven he’s fully capable of playing, and thriving, in the NHL.

Henri Jokiharju, Chicago Blackhawks
Henri Jokiharju was recently assigned to the Rockford IceHogs. (Dayna Fjord/Portland Winterhawks)

It turns out there is something the AHL has to offer Jokiharju. In his first game with the IceHogs, he scored his first North American goal. This is a feat he had yet to accomplish with the Blackhawks, although he did tally 12 assists in 37 games.

Meanwhile, it was reported over the weekend that the Blackhawks approached veteran Brent Seabrook about waiving his no-movement clause. However Seabrook denied that Monday morning after practice, adding to the controversy. Either way, the Hawks would be hard-pressed to find someone to take him and his huge contract off their hands. It’s expected the Hawks will have a discussion with Duncan Keith as well.

It makes sense for management to sit down with both Seabrook and Keith. After all, they’re both reaching the ends of their careers. They might not want to wait for the Hawks to rebuild. Perhaps they’re interested in going to a contender and getting one more shot at winning the Stanley Cup again.

Duncan Keith Blackhawks
It’s assumed Duncan Keith will be asked about waiving his no-movement clause by the Chicago Blackhawks.  (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If they did want to leave and a deal could be made, it would allow the Blackhawks to utilize their salary cap money to obtain pieces towards said rebuild. It remains to be seen whether Seabrook or Keith have any interest in this proposition. It certainly would be strange to see either one of them in anything but a Blackhawks’ sweater.

Related – Blackhawks’ Focus for the Rest of the Season

It’s hard not to get excited about the Blackhawks winning four games in a row, and the team pulling together and finding individual and shared success. But it’s also concerning to watch the drama unfold around the blue line.

The team will face the Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and the Detroit Red Wings this coming week. Can the Hawks extend their win streak? Will certain players continue their solid play? What will the defense look like after the trade deadline? Answers to that and more are right around the corner.