The Sunday before Christmas started with another Chicago Bears win and the Chicago Blackhawks on their first three-game winning streak of the season. Hopes were high in Chicago for a fourth consecutive victory for the Blackhawks, but alas, it was not to be. With a 6-3 loss to the Florida Panthers, Hawks players and fans were forced to head into the Christmas break on a bit of a low note. But let’s not forget the positives. Since losing eight games in a row, the Blackhawks are 4-2-1 in their last seven contests. Here’s a closer look at the highlights from Week 12.
Blackhawks’ Week 12 Matchups
Vs. Nashville Predators, Tues. 12/18, Win 2-1
@ Dallas Stars, Thurs. 12/20, Win 5-2
@ Colorado Avalanche, Fri. 12/21, Win 2-1
Vs. Florida Panthers, Sun. 12/23, Loss 6-3
Overall Record: 13-20-6, 32 points
Second-year Blackhawks left-winger Alex DeBrincat started out the week celebrating his 21st birthday this past Tuesday. He didn’t record any points that night against the Predators, but had a strong outing on Thursday, with a goal and two assists in Colorado. DeBrincat added a goal apiece in each of the last two tilts as well. He’s now tallied six goals in his last nine games.
The irony of all this is his recent success came after he was “demoted” to the third line alongside David Kampf and Dylan Sikura after playing most of the previous week on the second line with Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome. Former head coach Joel Quenneville also often used DeBrincat as a scoring weapon on the third line last season. Herein lies the value of DeBrincat, he appears to succeed no matter where he’s placed in the lineup.
DeBrincat and Strome are known for their chemistry since playing together for two seasons with the Erie Otters of the OHL. Although on different lines of late, both still have the opportunity to work their magic on the power play. DeBrincat’s most recent power play goal came from some nice back-and-forth between he and Strome.
DeBrincat is currently tied with Kane for the team lead with 17 goals. His 14 assists rank fourth on the team and his 31 points earn him third place in that category.
Special Teams Improvement
Last week we discussed how the Blackhawks’ power play and penalty kill have been struggling. But this week has seen marked improvement in both areas.
They recorded a power play goal in three of their last four contests, on 10 opportunities. They seem to be gaining some confidence in this area and are shooting the puck more often. Erik Gustafsson’s presence on the top unit is paying off as he tallied two of the three recent power play goals. One of them turned out to be the game-winning goal against the Predators.
The penalty kill is seeing similar success. They killed off 10-of-11 power plays in the four games this past week, including five from one of the best power play teams in the league, the Avalanche. For reference, the Blackhawks let in six goals on 13 opportunities in their previous four games. Hopefully their special teams improvement is something they can build on moving forward.
Goaltending Ups and Downs
It’s been quiet the week in net since Corey Crawford went down and sustained another concussion on Sunday, Dec. 16. Collin Delia was subsequently called up from the Rockford IceHogs. It was also time for backup goaltender Cam Ward to step up to the plate, and he didn’t disappoint.
Ward stopped 30-of-31 shots for a .968 save percentage (SV%) against the Predators and 26-of-28 shots for a .929 SV% against the Stars. According to Scott Powers of the Athletic, in these two wins, Ward “made 56 saves on 59 shots and stopped 15-of-18 high danger shots in those games” (from ‘The Wraparound: How the Blackhawks Put Together Their First Three-Game Winning Streak’, The AthleticCHI – 12/22/18).
Unfortunately, Ward was unable to build upon his strong outings from earlier in the week. Against the Panthers on Sunday, he gave up five goals, making 21 saves on 26 shots for an .808 SV%. He had an off-night that he’ll want to put behind him.
The Blackhawks had back-to-back tilts this past Thursday and Friday and many thought Delia would get the call against the Stars instead of facing the high-powered Avalanche. But for whatever reason, Delia’s debut came against one of the best offensive teams in the league on Friday. He surprised everyone by stopping 35-of-36 shots for a .972 SV%. It was an impressive performance for the 24-year-old undrafted free agent.
Many are of the opinion that Delia should get as many starts as possible in order to see what he has to offer. After all, the Blackhawks’ playoffs hopes are likely far out of reach at this point. Finally, Crawford was sighted at the United Center during practice Sunday morning. He didn’t skate and there’s no update on his health, but it’s a positive sign that he was on hand.
Personnel Changes and Contributions
There have been some personnel adjustments for the Blackhawks recently, as well as numerous individual players making strides in the right direction. Let’s take a look at some of these developments.
- The Blackhawks loaned rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju to Finland for the 2019 World Junior Championship. He will be out an estimated eight games. While the tournament could be helpful to Jokiharju’s overall development, it’s also an admission by the the team that their playoff hopes are essentially over.
- Artem Anisimov came off injured reserve last Tuesday after missing four games with a concussion. He’s since recorded a goal and a primary assist in the last four games and he’s been a steady presence on the Blackhawks’ second line.
- Defenseman Gustav Forsling was also activated off injured reserve Tuesday. He’s since been on the second pairing with Brent Seabrook. He earned his second goal of the season in his first game back on Tuesday.
- The fourth line center position has been a revolving door of late. Marcus Kruger was the recipient of a questionable hit and diagnosed with a concussion Tuesday against the Predators. Luke Johnson was called up from the IceHogs for two games, but was replaced by Jacob Nilsson for the Panthers contest on Sunday. Neither Johnson or Nilsson did much to impress, but it appears the Blackhawks are seeing what they have in their younger players until Kruger returns.
- Defenseman Connor Murphy scored his first goal of the season Sunday against the Panthers. It was also the opening goal of the game, marking the fifth time in the last seven games that the Blackhawks scored the first goal.
Fifth time in seven games #Blackhawks have scored the first goal after failing to do so in the previous 11.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) December 24, 2018
- With a goal and two assists on Sunday, Strome recorded a career-high three points.
- Do we even need to mention that Kane’s had at least a point in each of his last four games? His best performance was against the Stars, when he notched two goals and a helper.
The Blackhawks are now enjoying their Christmas break and won’t return to the ice until Thursday when they host the Minnesota Wild. On Saturday they’ll have their second meeting in as many weeks with the Avalanche, whom they recently defeated. Overall, the Blackhawks have found more success than failure these past few weeks. Let’s hope they can continue to build upon that.
In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all! We’ll see you on the other side.