Coming off a rare eight-goal outburst on Friday against the New Jersey Devils, the Chicago Blackhawks couldn’t bring the same level of energy on Sunday afternoon. Concluding their season series, the Blackhawks suffered a 4-0 shutout loss to the St. Louis Blues, falling to 19-27-8 on the season. Chicago has now lost eight of its last nine home games, and ended February 1-4-1 on home ice as a postseason berth is pretty much out of the question.
The Blackhawks finished their season series 1-3 with the Blues. The two teams ended the first period scoreless before the Blues made it 1-0 early in the second period off a wrist shot from forward Jordan Kyrou. St. Louis carried its momentum the rest of the second, as goals from forwards Pavel Buchnevich and David Perron made it 3-0 at the second intermission. Just more than three minutes into the third, Perron put the cherry on the cake for the Blues and made the score 4-0 St. Louis.
Here are three takeaways from Chicago’s loss.
Lack of Jump
Chicago kept pace with its Central Division rivals for the first 20 minutes, outshooting St. Louis 12-8 while arguably looking like the better team. However, this energy did not carry over the rest of the way. After a promising start, the Blackhawks looked much more lackadaisical in the second period and especially struggled to capitalize in their first of four power plays, which saw poor giveaways from forwards Brandon Hagel and Patrick Kane.
For the Blackhawks, even after a slow second period, things didn’t look much better in the third. Even as goaltender Marc-André Fleury made a handful of saves down the stretch that could’ve prevented the score from getting worse, the offense struggled and didn’t have too many high-danger chances. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Blues led the Blackhawks 11-5 in high-danger chances while outshooting Chicago 35-30.
The loss marked the sixth time in 54 games Chicago has been shut out all season. Only once were the Blackhawks shut out in the 56-game 2020-21 season, a 3-0 loss to the Nashville Predators. Although Chicago’s offense has underperformed all season, it’s concerning when putting it in perspective given that last year’s roster was arguably weaker and more inexperienced.
Murphy Can’t Get It Done
In his second straight game paired with Caleb Jones, defenseman Connor Murphy looked less than adequate, to say the least.
Ending the first period with three giveaways, it was the second period where the 28-year-old Murphy really faltered. After blocking a shot off St. Louis forward Ivan Barbashev, Murphy then produced a turnover back to Barbashev, who found linemates Brayden Schenn and Kyrou to make the score 1-0 St. Louis. Fewer than five minutes later, quickly after Chicago forward Henrik Borgström won a faceoff in his team’s zone, Buchnevich found the back of the net off a pass from Robert Thomas — a sequence in which Murphy greatly struggled to find his balance and control.
Early in the third period, Murphy also looked lost when Perron tucked his second of two goals past Fleury off an offensive zone draw which squeaked right past the veteran netminder. Compared to Friday’s win, where he recorded an assist and a plus-2, Murphy ended Sunday’s game with a minus-3 and four giveaways with 19:11 of total ice time (TOI). He and Jones were on the ice for all three of the Blues’ five-on-five goals, too.
Though there are areas of his game where he can grow, this kind of play is unacceptable from Murphy if the Blackhawks want to play for pride down the stretch. Murphy has quietly emerged as a backbone of Chicago’s defense over the past few seasons and could remain a reliable contributor moving forward. However, games like these raise concern for a player who is most known for his shutdown presence and leadership.
Binnington Outduels Fleury
If it weren’t for Fleury, there’s no question St. Louis could’ve found the back of the net a few more times. While the offense in front of him was shut out, the 37-year-old goalie had a respectable game. He stopped 32 out of 35 shots, and made a few impressive saves in the first period, including denying a wrist shot off Blues’ forward Tyler Bozak about eight and a half minutes into the game.
Ultimately, though, Blues’ goaltender Jordan Binnington came away with the win, and had the better team in front of him. He posted a 30-save shutout, his second of the year. Coincidentally, his first was the season series opener between Chicago and St. Louis, a 1-0 Blues win on Oct. 30. In three starts against the Blackhawks this year, Binnington went 2-0-1 and averaged a .963 save percentage.
While by no means was Sunday’s game a top-notch effort from Fleury, it could gradually — very, very gradually — increase his trade value as the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline approaches on March 21. Though the defense in front of him, especially Jones and Murphy, wasn’t good, Fleury kept the Blackhawks intact early on. There’s no obvious trade partner for Fleury right now, but his ability to keep the Blackhawks somewhat close in games like these could draw an eye from contenders looking to improve their goaltending.
Despite the loss, fans watching the Blackhawks’ local broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago had a treat. Beloved TV play-by-play announcer Pat Foley, who is stepping down after this season, called the game with analyst Eddie Olczyk — the duo’s first broadcast in nearly a month. Per Scott Powers of The Athletic, Foley will have 11 more games on his schedule after Sunday, and is set to call his final game on April 14 against the San Jose Sharks. The remaining local broadcasts will be split up among a group of different broadcasters, likely including the person who will be named Foley’s full-time successor (from ‘The inside story of legendary broadcaster Pat Foley’s retirement and final season with the Blackhawks,’ The Athletic, 02/24/22).
Forward Josiah Slavin and defenseman Isaak Phillips drew in for the Blackhawks on Sunday after both were called up from the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs on Saturday. Slavin centered the third line between forwards Philipp Kurashev and Dominik Kubalik, finishing with 14:37 of TOI. Phillips, Chicago’s 2020 fifth-round pick, played on the second defensive pairing with Seth Jones and finished with two shots on goal and a block in 16:47 of TOI.
The Blackhawks conclude their six-game homestand this Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers. So far, the two teams have split their season series, as Chicago fell to Edmonton 5-2 on Nov. 20 before the Blackhawks defeated the Oilers 4-1 on Feb. 9. The game could mark Duncan Keith’s homecoming, as he won three Stanley Cups with Chicago before he was traded to Edmonton last July. However, the 38-year-old defenseman has been out since Feb. 9 due to an upper-body injury, and his status for Thursday’s game remains uncertain. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m. CST.
Connor Smith covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. He is from Naperville, Illinois, and recently graduated from Ball State University in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, earning summa cum laude honors. This fall, he plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago to further his studies and earn his master’s. Along with The Hockey Writers, he’s written and edited for The Ball State Daily News, Ball State’s on-campus student newspaper, and has interned for Best Version Media (BVM) Sports and Jersey Column, a Georgia-based sports blog. You can find more info about Smith and his work through his online portfolio, connornsmith0719.wordpress.com.