Rangers Gameday Preview: Chicago Blackhawks – 12/4/21

The New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks, two of the franchises that comprise the NHL Original Six organizations, meet for the first time this season tonight. The Blackhawks are playing better now than they were from the start of the season up until Nov. 6 when the organization made a head coaching change. The Rangers have won five straight games and appear to be clicking all throughout their lineup. Let’s take a look at some storylines for each team ahead of tonight’s game.

2 Storylines: Chicago Blackhawks (8-12-2)

King Aims To Get Blackhawks Back To Winning Ways

The Blackhawks were off to an awful start to begin the season as the team had only one win through the first 11 games of the season. Having a 1-9-2 record was enough for the Blackhawks to make a head coaching change. Jeremy Colliton was let go of his duties as coach on Nov. 6, three years to the day that he was hired as head coach. Derek King, who was the head coach for the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League (AHL) was hired as the interim head coach by interim general manager Kyle Davidson.

Since King took the reins as the head coach, the Blackhawks are 7-3-0. The team clearly was in need of a change at head coach as Colliton did not appear to be a right fit. The head coaching change also serves as a wake up call to the players that they could be playing elsewhere if the team does not begin to win games and play more competitively.

King made some line changes and moved center Kirby Dach off the top line to the second and replaced him with veteran Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks captain continues to work his way back after missing the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). The interim head coach initially put forwards Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat back on the same line in addition to pairing Toews and forward Dominik Kubalik up again. Kubalik has struggled so far this season with a stat line of 4-4-8 through 22 games and has been moved throughout the four lines in an attempt to jump-start his offense.

Derek King Rockford Icehogs
Derek King, former head coach of the Rockford IceHogs and current interim head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Blackhawks will be without forward Tyler Johnson for three months after he underwent neck surgery. He had a disc surgery that is similar to Vegas Golden Knights forward Jack Eichel. The Golden Knights forward is the first player in the league to have artificial disc-replacement (ADR).

Related: Blackhawks Need Kirby Dach to Show More

DeBrincat Leads in Goals

The 23-year-old from Farmington Hills, Michigan, leads the Blackhawks in goals with 13. He is the beneficiary of playing with the elite veteran in Kane, who leads the team in assists with 19. While leading the team in goals, DeBrincat still views the Blackhawks’ veteran winger as the team’s best player and came to his defense in a game against the Seattle Kraken on Nov. 17.

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DeBrincat came to Kane’s defense after the latter was cross-checked by Kraken forward Yanni Gourde. The Blackhawks’ young player got into a fight with the Kraken forward to send a message that that will not be tolerated against Kane. The Blackhawks veteran had high-praise for the youngster.

“He’s getting better every year. All around the puck, his puck-handling [and] his playmaking is getting better. And then he’s able to step up like that, when he doesn’t like something that’s going on with his teammates, and able to fight like that. [He’s] pretty special.” (from ‘Alex DeBrincat affirming superstar status on Blackhawks’ thriving 1st line, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/20/2021) DeBrincat has established himself as one of the stars the franchise can build around for years to come.

2 Storylines: New York Rangers (15-4-3)

Rangers Continue Winning Ways

The Rangers have established themselves as a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference with a record of 15-4-3. The Blueshirts, who are coming off a 1-0 victory on Friday night against the San Jose Sharks, are clicking on all phases of the game currently. Head coach Gerard Gallant appears to have found the right line combinations to maintain success.

The line consisting of Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere and Julien Gauthier consists of energy and bursts of speed. The combination created several chances against the Sharks as Gauthier managed to have four shots on net before the first period concluded.

Related: Rangers’ Julien Gauthier Taking Advantage of Opportunity

Filip Chytil New York Rangers
Filip Chytil, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Putting Kaapo Kakko on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider will allow the young forward to continue to get goal-scoring opportunities while producing scoring chances for his linemates. Dryden Hunt’s presence on the second line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome gives his linemates someone to look for near the net to set up screens and deflections.

Shesterkin Injured Against Sharks

No team in the NHL can afford to be without an impact player for a significant period during the season. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin has been one of the top three players for the Rangers during the 2021-22 season. He left last night’s game during the third period after sustaining a lower-body injury.

He struggled to get up off of the ice after making a save and appeared to injure his right side. He was replaced by backup Alexandar Georgiev, who filled in admirably on short notice. Head coach Gerard Gallant said after the conclusion of the game that Shesterkin’s injury is minor, which did not appear to be the case after the occurrence took place.

The Rangers and Blackhawks game should be interesting to watch as both teams have players who off to hot starts in goal-scoring – Chris Kreider for the Rangers and DeBrincat for the Blackhawks. Both teams are playing well entering tonight’s game. The Original Six matchup will be the first of two between the teams as the second takes place on Tue., Dec. 7 at the United Center.

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