When you start the day off by trolling an entire fan base saying how the Hawks are their daddy, it doesn’t feel great to lose and especially not in that fashion. It’s always great to pick up a point when you’re on the road, but the Hawks lost a point more than they gained one against the Wild. The Blackhawks had numerous chances to put the game out of reach. Saad pushing a rebound chance a bit wide from about 3 feet away, then missing on a breakaway, then Kampf not shooting from over the redline on an empty net late in the game, and then a blown coverage in the final seconds allowing Minnesota to push it to overtime. Tough loss and a HORRENDOUS beat for anyone that had Hawks in regulation +200. That’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth, but it wasn’t all bad and I want to start this blog by focusing on the positives.
- Cam Ward…actually good. I talked about Cam Ward quite a bit following the 7 goal game vs Toronto. Even in that game he played well, though the numbers didn’t reflect it. Last night vs Minnesota Ward was the main reason the Blackhawks had a chance to win the game to begin with. He was spectacular. Battled hard in front of the net, stayed square, and looked fresh as a daisy going across his net. People who only look at box scores or don’t know what they’re looking at will say he sucks, but they’re morons and you should listen to me and not them. Ward is a very capable backup and he’s LIGHT YEARS better than what the Blackhawks got out of Glass/Forsberg/Berube last year. The Hawks get dusted if one of those guys were in net. Be thankful for Ward and his play so far this year because he has the Blackhawks tied for first place. When Crawford is back next week and when he’s back to being Corey Crawford the Hawks could have one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL if Ward continues to play at this level.
- Brandon Saad was…better last night? I’m all about good habits leading to results. You can’t be lazy, play on the perimeter, and then hope to get lucky and score. That’s not how hockey works. Saad was in the right place more often last night. Having said that, this is a results oriented league and he didn’t convert on his Grade-A chances last night. He needs to consistently play with more pace and energy on the forecheck or he will see himself demoted. He’s not playing or producing like a top 6 player even though he’s playing opposite of an offensive genius. Not a good look.
- Jonathan Toews continues to be sensational. Another two GREAT assists last night. One play was VINTAGE Toews
North-South, good speed, and so strong that he absolutely BULLDOZES Dumba on his way to the net before finding DeBrincat. When I close my eyes and think of Jonathan Toews I think of plays like that. The second assists was the new Toews. The sexy Toews. The Toews who is now looking like Adam Oates with eyes all around his head
Great awareness there to find Kahun. Toews has always been a great player, but I love the way he is finding new ways to score and make his teammates better. Credit to his linemates for finishing around the net too. Gotta love how excited Kahun gets about scoring goals. It’s a little intangible thing that I love. This type of enthusiasm is infectious.
Look at that face and tell me you don’t want to line up and go score again. Kahun makes it fun. When you traditionally talk about “energy guys” in hockey it’s usually Andrew Shaw type little trouble-maker guys, but you can be like Kahun and be an “energy guy” too. Love his attitude and how he competes. He will continue to get better this year as we go along.
- THE POWERPLAY SCORED A GOAL. I could barely believe my eyes. I’ve been calling for DeBrincat and Schmaltz to switch spots on the PP if they are insisting on running the 1-3-1 and they finally did it. DeBrincat just has the natural ability to find dead areas and get his shot off. Its instinctual. He reminds of Brett Hull in that way. Hull obvioulsy had a MUCH harder shot, but the way they score and from where on the ice is similar. I also thought they finally looked cohesive in general running the 1-3-1 and their best set-up didn’t result in a goal. The puck snapped around quickly to stretch the D, Toews popped to the side of the net to get a pass on the goal and slipped it back to Schmaltz sneaking down. The best part of the 1-3-1 is that it gives you lots of options when run properly and you can attack in different ways. The Hawks don’t have the best personnel to run it, but if they “invent” the system and work more low to high rather than working for shots from distance they’ll be better off. Last night they did that it was great to see. Having a PP that finishes in the top half of the league will go a LONG way towards getting this team back to the playoffs.
- I really like Alex Fortin last night. His wheels were SO noticeable and he battled hard for loose pucks. I wish he got a little more ice time to be honest. He seemed to always be positively impacting the game with the one big exception at the blue line which led to the Wild’s first goal.
- Hayden works hard too. I feel like he has more to give offensively, but that was a key block shot last night sliding head-first to take away a chance. That type of thing is infectious too.
Overall, even though that was a HARD point to give away, the Hawks are still meeting my threshold. I said before the year and over a million times on social media that I just want to have fun watching the Blackhawks and for them to work hard. For the most part that is what they’re doing.
Now…for the negatives…
- The defense leaves a lot to be desired outside of Keith and Jokiharju. A LOT.
- Rutta flat out stinks and he doesn’t play hard enough. Or should I say that he’s not hard to play against. That’s probably more accurate. Seldom wins battles along the boards. Goes in a little too soft many times. He’s in there because he has puck skills but I just haven’t seen it yet. If it were up to me I’d have Davidson in for him next game.
- Manning, well I’d probably have Davidson in for him next game too. Manning does play a hard and heavy game though. Unlike Manning he goes 100mph, but he might just do it in the wrong direction. Another guy who doesn’t have particularly strong puck skills, but does enough of the other things well to be ahead of Rutta on the depth chart.
The defense needs an upgrade. I don’t know where it comes from. I am not sure that Murphy and Forsling are the guys to fix this, but they’re probably better options than what the Blackhawks have available right now. This is Stan’s greatest failing. He doubled down on defensemen who were clearly overmatched last year and they don’t look much better today. I understand not wanting to commit long term to free agent dmen because Jokiharju was ready now, Mitchell will be in Chicago as soon as March, and the Boqvist and Beaudin are coming as well. BUT…the Blackhawks currently have $9.6M committed to Murphy, Manning, Rutta, and Gustafsson. Hjalmarsson re-signed in Arizona for 5. I’d MUCH rather have Hjalmarsson and $4.6M to spread around than having those 4 guys. This is what it is though. It will be very interesting to see what the Blackhawks do when Forsling and Murphy are healthy. I think they’re both better than Manning/Rutta/Gustafsson/Davidson. My D-pairs would be
- Again, I LOVE the spirit of this team, but man do they ever have a lot of dead weight/overpays with their contracts. When you have big ticket guys like Toews and Kane you can’t consistently miss on your other high priced players. Anisimov, Murphy, Saad, and Kruger are all making more than what a replacement level plug would make for similar production. You want to know why the team is where it is lately…look no further than that.
The sky isn’t falling. There’s plenty to be excited about and plenty of fun to be had. This team is going to the playoffs by sheer force of will and that is a group that we can ALL get behind. We can talk about the fuck ups of Stan Bowman without shitting on the team, because this is an effort level we can be proud of in Chicago. We get championship level hustle out of average players…that will go a long way AND…Corey Crawford is back next week. It’s great to be us. Enjoy the climb and get on board. Join or Die.