The Chicago Blackhawks concluded their three-game road trip to start out the 2022-23 campaign with a record of 1-2-0. Not surprisingly, they fell to the defending champion Colorado Avalanche 5-2. They held their own against a talented Vegas Golden Knights club. But they couldn’t find the back of the net and were shut out 1-0. But everything came together against the San Jose Sharks, even if they aren’t a very good team. Nevertheless, it must have felt good for the Blackhawks to procure their first victory by a score of 5-2. It was also fittingly Luke Richardson’s first win as an NHL head coach. Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks first three games.
Toews Line off to a Good Start
There were some question marks coming into the season about how Jonathan Toews would respond. He made some controversial comments after the trades of some key players last season. But he was saying all the right things as this year’s preseason came to a close, and he appears to be backing it up with a solid effort on the ice.
The captain provided the initial score of the season, a power play goal against the Avalanche. He also contributed the first tally in the Sharks game, setting the tone for a comeback after being down 2-0 in the first period. Averaging 15:25 in ice time, Toews added three blocked shots, two takeaways and won 25-of-44 faceoffs for a 56.8% success rate. He certainly led the way for his linemates and the team as a whole.
Speaking of linemates, Tyler Johnson is credited with three primary assists so far, including this shot block that led to Taylor Raddysh’s breakaway goal during the Sharks game.
Tyler Johnson sells out for a shot block and it leads to a Taylor Raddysh breakaway goal.— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) October 16, 2022
Raddysh immediately pointed to Johnson after the goal to give him some love. #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/jYyCkzzWex
Raddysh gave credit where it was due after the game. “That was pretty special to have a guy like that selling out in a key point of the game.” Here is yet another veteran player leading by example. Let’s hope this line of T. Johnson, Toews and Raddysh can keep the momentum rolling.
Blackhawks Supporting Cast Not Too Shabby
The line of Andreas Athanasiou, Max Domi and Patrick Kane doesn’t have much to show for their efforts together. Granted Domi has a goal, and Kane and Athanasiou both have assists. But all were earned on the power play. Kane, however, leads the team with nine shots on goal through the first three games. It’s safe to say the opponent was concentrating on shutting this top line down, which is one of the reasons the Toews line was able to capitalize. I don’t see this slump lasting too long. The time will come for the Kane line.
But one of the frustrations from last season was that there wasn’t much scoring depth among the bottom-six forwards. Already there appears to be improvement in this area. The trio of Philipp Kurashev, Sam Lafferty and newcomer Jason Dickinson comprised the third line Saturday versus the Sharks, with Lafferty and Dickinson making an impact on the penalty kill.
Related – Meet the New Blackhawks: Jason Dickinson
Kurashev is currently credited with two primary assists, Lafferty two goals and an assist, and Dickinson a goal and two assists. It they can keep up being a threat to score when they’re out on the ice, this should progress the Blackhawks offensive game.
New Defensive System Working Well
Yes, the Blackhawks have given up eight goals so far. But four of them were against the high-octane Avalanche power play. All in all, Coach Richardson is happy with the team’s defensive efforts since implementing his box+1 defensive scheme. Obviously, going from giving up five goals in the first game and then only one in the second matchup is an improvement. Winning against the Sharks while only allowing two goals is commendable as well.
Richardson offered this analysis following the Blackhawks shutout loss to the Golden Knights.
Richardson: “Defensively, much better. And we can only work on one thing at a time, because I don’t think we’re going to get better at everything at the same time. So if we can chip away at that…that’s going to add to more possession time, which hopefully adds to more offense.”— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) October 14, 2022
The Blackhawks did just that by scoring five unanswered goals versus the Sharks after a sloppy start where they gave up the first two goals. Obviously, the focus has been on the defensive end with the team struggling to score in preseason as well. But hopefully their first win was evidence that things are working defensively, and the offense can open up as a result.
Some shoutouts on defense:
- As expected, Seth Jones is leading the way on defense, averaging 25:24 minutes of ice time and being credited with an assist, eight blocked shots, nine hits and four takeaways.
- Connor Murphy isn’t too far behind Jones with nine blocked shots, eight hits and three takeaways. After missing preseason games due to back soreness, he’s played in all three regular season games. This is despite receiving a puck to the face last Tuesday during practice AND during warmups against the Golden Knights on Thursday.
- 24-year-old Filip Roos has surprisingly suited up for the Blackhawks first three contests, the Avalanche game being his NHL debut. An injury to prospect Alex Vlasic may be a factor, but Roos has performed well. He’s averaging 16:15 minutes of ice time while playing on the third pairing, and he has yet to be on the ice for a goal against.
Don’t look now, but it appears the Blackhawks might actually have some people besides just Toews who can win faceoffs! We mentioned above that Toews has won 25-of-44 faceoffs for a 56.8% success rate so far. Over the past few seasons, he’s been the only center on the Blackhawks who can consistently maintain a faceoff percentage over 50%.
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It could be a different story this season. Currenting playing on the top line, Domi has actually taken more faceoffs than Toews in these first three games. He’s won 28-of-48 of them for a 58.3% success rate. Jujhar Khaira has always been good in the faceoff circle. He’s currently won 5-of-8 for 62.5%. MacKenzie Entwistle is 4-of-7 for 57.1%.
Reese Johnson has only suited up for one contest, and it’s still up for debate whether he’ll be a consistent regular this season. But he won three of his six faceoffs (50%) against the Golden Knights. Even Lafferty has some potential, going 13-of-28 for 46.4% at the dot. Having more players that can win faceoffs and gain possession for the team will give Richardson more lineup options, and this should only help the team moving forward.
Blackhawks Fitting Persona of Being Hard to Play Against
While they might not have the most talent, general manager Kyle Davidson has indicated he wants the rebuilding Blackhawks to have a high compete level and be hard to play against. In these first three matchups, one of the aspects about this that stood out was the number of hits delivered.
Overall, the Blackhawks have outhit their opponent 95-to-68 in their first three contests. I’m not sure if this is a long-term recipe for success, but it sure is setting the tone right away that this team isn’t going to back down. Richardson was a physical defenseman that doled out his fair share of hits and physicality in his 21 years in the NHL. I’m sure he has a good understanding and can support this style of play.
Related – Meet the New Blackhawks: Jarred Tinordi
So who are the individual leaders in hits? Six-foot-six Jarred Tinordi, who was picked up off waivers from the New York Rangers, is leading the charge with 13 hits. I would assume he was acquired specifically with this in mind. S. Jones and the five-foot-eight Tyler Johnson both have nine hits. Yep, that’s a 32-year-old with some compete level! Murphy follows with eight, and Kurashev is credited with seven hits. One of Kurashev’s weaknesses has been his lack of physicality, so this is a promising sign this early in the season. Entwistle and Khaira trail with six hits apiece, but they both possess a physical game and this will likely increase as they go along.
Obviously, hits is just one part of being hard to play against. Players should provide energy, tenaciousness and a high compete level, along with a never-say-die attitude. But so far I see a team that possesses a lot of these attributes. For this reason, they should be fun to watch this year.
All in all, the Blackhawks had a successful road trip and start to their season. While they were only victorious in one of their three matchups, they progressed and improved along the way. They will now have a week of practice to analyze their game plan moving forward before they embark on a four-game homestand. It starts with the Detroit Red Wings this Friday night, and the Seattle Kraken on Sunday. Let’s hope they can keep building on the momentum from their first week and their first win.