That was my quote after the Avalanche game. I had similar types of tweets and comments on various platforms over the next two games. Through the first three games the Blackhawks were a disaster. There was PLENTY of blame to go around. They looked lost defensively. They looked inept offensively. They didn't compete the way an NHL team with playoff aspirations should. They weren't getting results and it was obvious as to why.
That wasn't the case last night. I think by now people know how I feel about Stan Bowman and Jeremy Colliton. I do think it is in the best interest of the organization in the short term and DEFINITELY in the long term to make a change. Having said that...the absolute best case scenario for a return to the top is this team and this coaching staff to figure it out and start winning without making big changes. That is a fact. I am not sure it is possible, but last night gave a glimmer of hope even if the box score didn't say so. I am always going to try to be an honest broker here and just tell the truth about what my eyes see. I saw better things last night. Encouraging things.
The Blackhawks played a very good game last night. They DOMINATED the first period. Carried the play for the second period. Their checks were tight in the dzone. Sticks were active. Exits were clean. They were creating in transition and also off ozone possession for the first time all year. The defensemen were engaged offensively. They were competitive all over the ice and were winning races and battles. Positionally sound for the VAST majority of the game. They just didn't get the breakthrough goal. If Seth Jones scores on that pass from Kane when he jumped in the rush the roof probably blows off the building. Everyone gets going and the Hawks might've been the team to win 4-1.
Same thing for Debrincat. If he scores on one of his early chances and the energy is up throughout and his confidence gets going that'd completely change the game. He didn't score, but he was MUCH better last night than the first three games. If you told me the Blackhawks would get the better of the Isles in scoring chances and #12 had a handful of grade A chances then I will sign up for that every night because more times than not Debrincat is going to cash.
The team isn't perfect. The team isn't even "good" at this point, but last night was the first instance where you had a little hope. The Islanders have made a living out of winning games like that and the Blackhawks under Colliton are always on the wrong side of that. We are getting to a point here early in the season where results REALLY matter, but realistically I'd rather see them play a game like last night and lose than somehow squeak out an ugly 2-1 goalie win where the bad habits and lack of compete were still huge problems. If the Blackhawks play the EXACT same way on Thursday against Vancouver they will win and that is a Barstool Chief Integrity Burrata Guarantee.
--I don't understand the "fans" that seem to enjoy the two games where Seth Jones was very meh and are silent when he's good. Jones was VERY good last night. He was a rock defensively. He broke up plays. He started rushes. He helped offensively. Played in all situation and logged a VERY good 23+ minutes. He was everything he was supposed to be. He was a #1 Dman last night and that pairing with de Haan is working. If he has bad games or moments I will say so. There were times against Pittsburgh and Colorado where he didn't look comfortable and he was thinking too much so he was a half step or half second late on things. Stick wasn't active enough. It's okay to be critical when necessary, but that also has to be met with praise when he's good and he was very good last night.
--Erik Gustafsson wasn't. The first goal was on him. I can understand going behind the net there even with another guy down below the goal line but he was soft on the puck. When you commit to that puck in that moment you have to go hard as a motherfucker to make sure you win that puck and get it to the corner. He did a little one handed flick right to the Isles player. He should've been given an assist. I would've preferred he closed the gap and made life tougher on the Clutterbuck goal too. I don't understand why Stan and Jeremy love this guy so much. Feels like a signing that they didn't have to make. He probably isn't going to be in the lineup once Caleb Jones and Wyatt Kalynuk are back, but I'd rather see Ian Mitchell, Nic Beaudin, or even Regula out there making those mistakes as young players and learning from them rather than watch Gustafsson make the same mistakes he's been making since 2016. I never need to see him in a Blackhawks sweater again, but I am sure we will. Also...I know he's not a tough guy, but I would've like to see Gus stand up to Matt Martin when Martin pulverized Hardman's face into the dasher. Just give him a whack or a shove or something to let him know you're there and that you've got your teammates
--Speaking of the lineup...I am officially frustrated that Dylan Strome can't get a game. He had a good summer. He had a good preseason in my opinion. The team has REALLY struggled to produce offensively in the offensive zone and that is something Strome has been able to do. Colliton and Stan no longer like him, apparently. He does have some deficiencies to his game, but I would love to see the staff put Strome in a position to succeed which is something they've never really done. Put him with a guy like Hagel who can really skate, forecheck, and retrieve pucks, and then another guy who can finish. See what happens.
--I have been underwhelmed by Tyler Johnson and Kurashev to start the season. Those are guys who the Hawks like, clearly, but if this were a merit based system exclusively then you need consider rotating those two out. There
--My lineup for Vancouver would be:
This lineup is balanced. It gives every line a little gas and sets up proper support for Strome and others throughout the top 9. Worth a crack, in my opinion. If Hardman is healthy or if you wanted to give Gaudette another look I'd be cool with putting either of them in as well.
At the end of the day the Blackhawks need results. They haven't won a playoff series since the 2015 Stanley Cup. Haven't made the playoffs since 2017. I don't know when missing the playoffs for 5 years became acceptable. It's fair to say that we should be officially on Colliton watch because if the Blackhawks best game of the year results in a 4-1 loss at home then that's an issue. If they can replicate that game from last night consistently they'll win a lot of games and likely make the playoffs. If they can't then they're back in the lottery and giving that lottery pick to CBJ. Tough spot.