This past week for the Chicago Blackhawks showed just how fluky the game of hockey really is. They started their three-game road trip with all eyes on their first destination: Arizona. Because the Arizona Coyotes are the worst team in the NHL, it seemed like a great opportunity to overcome the Hawks’ five-game losing streak. Yet, they ended up getting dominated by the Coyotes in a 6-4 loss.
After adding another loss to their belt, the last opponent they wanted to meet was the Vegas Golden Knights. They’re the top team in the Pacific Division and carried an 8-1 record against the Blackhawks going into their matchup on Jan. 8. However, that matchup ended up being exactly what the team needed to boost their morale as the Hawks came out victorious with a 2-1 win. Here are the takeaways.
Fleury Shined In Vegas Return
Marc-Andre Fleury is a goaltender that is beloved around the league, but no more so than in Vegas. Although he was only with Golden Knight for four seasons, he made his mark (pun indented) on the city forever. Leading the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season and beyond led to an emotional reunion for Fleury in the fortress. However, the emotions didn’t last long as he held strong in net against his former team.
He stopped 30 of 31 shots with a .968 SV% (Save Percentage). He faced flurries (again, pun indented), of pressure from the Golden Knights around the blue paint during the course of the first and third periods, and made it look easy. It was a prime Fleury game and in a prime Fleury setting. Things could not have gone any better for him and he helped the team break their six-game losing streak for the cherry on top.
To add a fun fact on the night, with Fleury’s win against the Golden Knights, he is now the first goalie in NHL history to beat all 32 NHL teams. The flower power remains a force to be reckoned with!
Blackhawks’ Defense Played Stellar
Fleury included, the Blackhawks’ entire team played a great defensive game. Vegas has prime-time goal scorers from their offense and defense with players like Mark Stone, Shea Theodore, Jonathan Marchessault, and Alex Pietrangelo. Chicago was able to keep those names virtually silent throughout the whole game. That is very hard to do. Granted, Vegas played an awful game. They were sloppy, disorganized, and over 50% of their shots didn’t make it on net, but the Hawks made them pay for it.
The Hawks are notorious for allowing a lot of shots against per game. In their last four games, their shots against averaged over 34. In the game against Vegas, they only allowed 31 shots, which is no small feat for them. The fact that Fleury was only facing less than 15 shots on goal per period is fantastic. They allowed only nine shots in the first period alone and only allowed five shots over the last 16 minutes of the game.
Their forecheck and backcheck were good. It allowed the Blackhawks to keep the puck away from their zone for long stretches of time. They were relentless with an added 34 blocks and 35 hits. They took advantage of Vegas, who was clearly having an off night, which is exactly what they needed. The defensive side of their game was feeling it all night and the energy was contagious. The one goal allowed speaks for itself.
Blackhawks’ Penalty Kill Got a Night Off
When it comes to the Blackhawks’ special teams, the penalty kill is the one thing that has been hurting them for most of the season. They’re ranked 26th in the league with a 74.8% success rate. Going into the game against Vegas, they allowed a power-play goal in 14 of their last 20 games. Their game against Arizona on Jan. 6 was rock bottom for the penalty kill. Arizona has the worst power play in the league and Chicago went 3/5 on the penalty kill. It didn’t help that during the past week, the Blackhawks couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. In their last four games, they have taken 13 penalties.
It has created a vicious cycle of penalties taken, turning into automatic goals against, and resulting in losses. However, Vegas was a different story. The Hawks did not commit one penalty all night. That was a breath of fresh air. Because the Blackhawks are fourth-worst in the league in scoring, they don’t have the firepower to overcome goal deficits that their penalty kill allows. Their penalty kill getting a night off kept the game in striking distance since the Golden Knights didn’t get an extra opportunity to add to their one-goal lead.
Blackhawks’ Unsung Heroes
The last key to the Blackhawks’ victory came from the unsung offensive heroes. Fans have come to expect goals from either Alex DeBrincat or Patrick Kane, who are the two leading goal-scorers on the team. But the two goals that led the team to victory didn’t include either of them. The first goal came from Jujhar Khaira in the second period. His wrist shot was his third goal of the year. The second goal, and ultimately the game-winning goal, came from defenseman Riley Stillman in the second period as well. That goal was his first goal of the season and the second goal of his career. His last goal came against the Carolina Hurricanes in June 2021. It’s always nice to see the players you least expect, end up being the difference-makers.
There you have it! When players rise to the occasion, anything is possible. The NHL proves that teams can’t consistently rely on just one or two players for offense and expect to have success. It has to be a complete team effort and that is what led the Blackhawks to win their first game of 2022! Hopefully, they will deliver a similar performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 11.
Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.