Blackhawks Come Full Circle in Another Crazy Week

Last Monday the Chicago Blackhawks were defeated by the bottom-feeding New Jersey Devils by a score of 8-5. Yet on Sunday they dominated the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, winning by the same score. Oh, and then there was another 4-3 loss in-between. Because hockey. It’s a wacky and unpredictable game, but that’s why we love it so much. Here are some talking points from this past week.

Blackhawks’ Week 16 Matchups

@ New Jersey Devils, Mon. 1/14, Loss 8-5

@ New York Rangers, Thurs. 1/17, Loss 4-3

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

Overall Record: 17-24-9, 43 points

Related – Blackhawks Roundtable: Colliton, Kane & Tanking Concerns

The Unstoppable Kane and Toews

The Blackhawks’ superstar winger and captain have been putting up some crazy numbers of late. Patrick Kane tallied two goals and two assists, as well as a team-high nine shots on goal even in an ugly loss to the Devils. As a matter of fact, he was pretty much the main reason it wasn’t a complete blowout. Against the New York Rangers, he earned a power-play helper to go along with another team-high five shots on goal. He topped that off with two goals and three assists against the Washington Capitals.

But he was outdone in that last contest by Jonathan Toews who notched a hat trick and two assists in the win. It was his second three-goal game and his first five-point game of the season. Toews now has 21 goals making he, Kane (29 goals) and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (33 goals) as the only three players to have 20-plus goals in each of the last 12 seasons.

It certainly helped that Kane and Toews played on the same line this past contest against the Caps. Head coach Jeremy Colliton wanted to try something different after five losses in a row, so he put Joel Quenneville’s nuclear option together. They took advantage of their old chemistry with one directly assisting the other on four of their five combined goals. If the two continue to stay together and build on this, things could get really fun.

Massive Man-Advantage

The Blackhawks have now gone eight straight games with at least one power-play goal. They scored two power play goals apiece against the Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. Of their 10 power play goals over the past week, Kane has scored five, Alex DeBrincat four and Brandon Saad one. It certainly has been fun to watch this team turn around what used to be a huge weakness in their game.

Alex DeBrincat Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat continues to be a force on the power play for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

As you can see from those numbers, the top power-play unit, which includes Kane and DeBrincat, is doing most of the heavy lifting. We talked about this at length last week, of which the link is provided in the opening paragraph. So it was nice to see the second unit cash-in against the Rangers. Saad scored the goal and was assisted by Artem Anisimov and Brent Seabrook.

Defensive Dilemmas

Coach Colliton has been doing a lot of experimenting with the blue line this past week. It started with dressing seven defensemen against the Devils on Monday night. The coach didn’t want to scratch anyone, but also wanted to get newcomer Slater Koekkoek into the lineup. It ended up being a disaster with none of the pairings able to find much cohesiveness in the loss. Erik Gustafsson was benched the entire third period after questionable defensive play in the first two frames. Duncan Keith finished the game a minus-five.

Koekkoek benefited from Gustafsson’s late benching. He saw 12:27 minutes of ice time and recorded two shots on goal and one hit. He was scratched against the Rangers but suited up for the Capitals game on the third pairing with Gustafsson. Koekkoek had a good day, logging 16:26 minutes and recording two shots on goal, two blocked shots and a team-high six hits. Considering the Hawks won the game, expect Koekkoek to get another look.

Slater Koekkoek #29, Tampa Bay Lightning
Newcomer Slater Koekkoek has participated in two games so far with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But Koekkoek’s participation came at the expense of Henri Jokiharju, who was a healthy scratch against the Capitals. When asked about benching Jokiharju, who has arguably his best defenseman throughout the season, Colliton responded to the media.

I’m not sure the way to go is to play them until they drown. I think we try to give them what they can handle and sometimes maybe give them less than they can handle while giving them feedback, whether it’s off-ice work or video work or extra practice time.

Okay, so they’re taking a cautious approach with their top prospect and trying not to rush his development. I think it has more to do with knowing what they have with Jokiharju and wanting to experiment and take a closer look at some of the other defensemen.

And speaking of not drowning people, how about not leaning on Keith and Seabrook so much?! Sitting them here and there could be viewed more as a rest than a benching. Along those lines, both defensemen saw less ice time on Sunday, while Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom picked up the slack.

What can we take from all this? Mainly that the Blackhawks’ defense continues to be a work in progress.

Other Blackhawks’ News and Notes

  • Seabrook notched his 100th career goal against the Devils on Monday.
  • Forward Drake Caggiula tallied his first point as a Hawk with the secondary assist on Dominik Kahun’s late goal against the Rangers. He also held his own on the first line with Toews and Kane in the most-recent tilt against the Capitals.
  • Defenseman Gustav Forsling practiced with the team on Saturday for the first time since being placed on injured reserve on Jan. 9.
  • Collin Delia continues to look strong. He started in net versus both the Rangers and the Capitals, as well as replacing a struggling Cam Ward against the Devils. His worst outing was against the Capitals, in which he allowed a few soft goals. But he made up for them with other strong saves, including this sequence.

  • Star netminder Corey Crawford skated on Saturday before team practice for the first time since being diagnosed with a concussion on Dec. 16. There was no other update on his progress.

Related – Top 3 Wingers in Blackhawks History

Never a dull moment with the Blackhawks. They provided three more wild and entertaining tilts (and a win!) this past week. They host the New York Islanders this Tuesday before being granted nine days off, including the upcoming All-Star break. Let’s hope they can head into this break on a high note with another win.