Blackhawks Finish First Half With Strong Wins

The Chicago Blackhawks appear to finally be hitting their stride. They’ve now won their last two games, and five of their last six as they wrap up the first half of the 2018-19 season. That’s right, the Hawks have officially played 41 of their 82 games, and it incidentally coincides with the end of the 2018 calendar year. Considering their troublesome efforts so far, they’re wrapping up the year in a nice spot.

The Hawks are still well out of playoff contention, and it would take quite the run in the second half to get them there. It’s going to end up being too little, too late. But at this point, it’s just fun to see the Hawks winning and building confidence. Today we’ll look at this past week’s action, as well as highlight the Hawks’ progression through the first half of the season.

Related From Last Week – Blackhawks’ 3-Game Winning Streak Ends on a Low Note

Blackhawks’ Week 13 Matchups

Vs. Minnesota Wild, Thurs. 12/27, Win 5-2

@ Colorado Avalanche, Sat. 12/29, Win 3-2 OT

Overall Record: 15-20-6, 36 points

Kane and His Cronies

Patrick Kane has been especially hot of late. He earned his fifth-career hat trick against the Wild, and followed up with two goals and an assist (including the overtime winner) in Colorado. He now has 13 points on a current seven-game point streak. At the half-way point of the season, he leads the team with 22 goals, 28 assists, and 50 points. Kane and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin are now the only players in the NHL to have at least 20 goals in each of the last 12 seasons.

While looking at Kane’s recent seven-game point steak, it’s interesting to see the chemistry he’s built with a couple of teammates in particular. Of six assists, Kane has provided the helper on two goals for Dylan Strome, as well as two goals for defenseman Erik Gustafsson. When looking at Kane’s seven goals, Strome and Gustafsson have each assisted on three of them.

Strome and Kane have played together on the same line since Strome came to the Blackhawks from the Arizona Coyotes. In 17 games played, Strome has six goals and seven assists. All but one of his goals has been assisted by Kane, and three of his seven assists have resulted in goals for Kane. The two appear to work well together.

Chicago Blackhawks celebrate
Dylan Strome (17) has been an excellent addition so far for the Chicago Blackhawks. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Gustafsson has slowly been building chemistry with Kane for the past two seasons. According to John Dietz of the Daily Herald, eight of Gustafsson’s 23 assists have resulted in goals for Kane. And that was before Gustafsson’s secondary assist on Kane’s overtime goal against the Avalanche Saturday, so we can add one more to that. Conversely, Kane has assisted on five of Gustafsson’s 13 goals (from ‘In Gustafsson, Kane has offensively gifted D-man to partner with’, The Daily Herald -12/28/18).

Blackhawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson
Blackhawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson is finding ways to gel with Patrick Kane. (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

“I’m not trying to look for him, but he’s open all the time. He screams for the puck too,” smiles Gustafsson. The 26-year-old claims he not yet ready to scream for the puck from Kane. But you never know.

Power Play Picking Up

The Blackhawks scored two power-play goals against the Wild. It was the first time all season they scored more than one goal in a game on the man advantage. And they were the last team in the league to do so.

But they didn’t stop there. They followed up with two more power play goals against the Avalanche on Saturday as well. And it’s not just a fluke. The top unit of Jonathan Toews, Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Strome, and Gustafsson really seem to be clicking. Check out this beautiful power play goal below.

Notice both Toews and Strome at the net. And what you don’t see in this video is the Hawks were moving the puck and had a few good chances before this shot went in. They stuck with it, and their hard work paid off. Hopefully, they can keep things rolling on the power play.

Delia Getting It Done

Goaltender Collin Delia was called up from the Rockford IceHogs when Corey Crawford recently sustained another concussion. This has been a chance for the Blackhawks to see what they have in the 24-year-old. Delia started the last two games in net, as well as the tilt against the Avalanche on Dec. 21. All three games resulted in wins.

Collin Delia Eric Burgdoerfer
Collin Delia is taking full advantage of his chance with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Delia has currently relinquished only five goals on 116 shots, for an overall save percentage of .957. Against the Wild on Thursday, he made 46 saves. He’s looked strong and confident in all three of his matchups. Head coach Jeremy Colliton credits Delia for making the most of his two NHL starts last season, and his strong playoff run with the Rockford IceHogs. “He understood what he was getting into and he’s been preparing himself for that chance.”

It appears Delia is not only the goaltender of the present for the Blackhawks, but he could be the netminder of the future. Now the question remains. Has Delia earned the start over veteran Cam Ward in the upcoming Winter Classic?

Related – Blackhawks’ Roundtable Christmas Edition: Past, Present & Future

Noteworthy Notes From the First Half

Here are a few tidbits of interest from the Blackhawks’ first 41 tilts of the season.

  • These five players have suited up for all 41 games so far: Toews, DeBrincat, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Dominik Kahun. Kane sits right behind them at 40 games, having sat out one game due to illness. Brandon Saad is at 39 games, missing two games with an illness.
  • We already noted above that Kane leads in goals, assists, and points for the team. DeBrincat sits in second place in goals, with 18. Toews earns second-place honors in assists (19), and points (35).
  • Veteran defenseman Keith holds third place with 16 assists. But ironically, he’s picking up right where he left off from last season when he only scored two goals. So far this season he has zero goals on 73 shots. It would be nice to see a few go in for Keith in the second half.
  • Only four players currently sit at 10 goals or more: Kane (22), DeBrincat (18), Toews (16), and Saad (11).
  • It’s no surprise that Toews leads all centers with a 57% faceoff percentage. Strome has established himself as the second line center, and he’s at 47.7% so far with the Blackhawks. Artem Anisimov fills in when needed, at 47.4 %. David Kampf sits at 44.3%, and Marcus Kruger at 47.3%. All in all, the Blackhawks currently have some pretty good center depth.
  • The Blackhawks’ leader in takeaways is Toews, with 40.
Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews is doing his part to help the team find success during a difficult season. [photo: Amy Irvin]
  • The Blackhawks’ leader in hits is Andreas Martinsen. He has 80 hits in 23 games played.
  • Seabrook leads with 88 blocked shots. But he also leads the team in giveaways, with 34.
  • Before head coach Joel Quenneville was fired, he had a 6-6-3 record with the Blackhawks. New head coach Jeremy Colliton now stands at 9-14-3 and counting.
  • Trade Alert: It was announced late Sunday the Blackhawks acquired forward Drake Caggiula and defenseman Jason Garrison from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for defensemen Brandon Manning and Robin Norell.

It’s been quite the roller coaster ride in this first half of the season for the Blackhawks. They started strong, slumped, lost their Hall of Fame coach, and started fresh with the youngest coach in the NHL in Colliton. They’ve predictably struggled under a new system, but embraced the change as best they could. At the half-way point of the season, we finally see some progress. All the teaching points appear to be paying off, and now the Hawks are reacting and not thinking so much out there. They’re ultimately finding some success. Now can they continue to build on this?

The Blackhawks will start the New Year out right, as they host the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic on New Years Day. These two Original Six teams will battle it out at iconic Notre Dame Stadium, home of the Fighting Irish. The Hawks meet the New York Islanders for the first time this season on Thursday, and finish out the week against the Pittsburgh Penguins this Sunday. Here’s to a productive second half of the season!