Ladies and Gents, Boys and Girls...the Blackhawks have won two in a row. They are currently undefeated under new coach, Derek King, and the boys are buzzing. There's a gleam. There's a buzzing gleam. A glimmering buzz. None of that makes sense, but anyone who watched the last two games knows what I am talking about. The Blackhawks look completely different since King took over. They look loose. They look like they're playing more on instinct. Playing the game they've been playing since they were little kids. They look like they're having and stopped thinking and they're getting results. I don't want to overstate two OT home wins against Nashville and Pittsburgh, a couple of very average teams in my opinion, but they're heading in the right direction. They details are there. The competition level is up. There seems to be meritocracy under King that didn't exist under Colliton. They've won two in a row. The next two are against Arizona and Seattle. They'll be favored in both of those games. Should they win those two that would push the the winning streak to four games and their overall record to 5-9-2. That is striking distance of the wild card spots before a Western Canada swing through Edmonton, Vancouver, and Calgary before American Thanksgiving. American Thanksgiving is historically one of those places on the calendar where you kind of know exactly what type of team you have. The Blackhawks are still finding themselves as a group because of everything that has gone on, but a couple more wins and a road trip to bond while facing quality opponents is just what the doctor ordered. They're not dead yet.
--Seth Jones is fucking awesome. Like what can the haters possibly say now? He is the best player on the ice last night. Impactful in every zone and all situations. He's a very good skater, he's strong as a fucking ox, he has skill, and most importantly he has the brain required to know how and when to support the puck and his teammates. This tracking video showcases what he can do offensively
There's not many guys in the NHL who can play this way. He did this at 5 on 5. With confidence and trust in and from his teammates he will only make more plays like this. They played as a 5 man attacking unit here. Cal de Haan also supported the puck well and was engaged here. That's great to see.
Even though the Hawks have struggled early this season, Jones is still producing. He is now only behind defending Norris Trophy winner, Adam Fox, for points among defenseman with 12 in 14 games. Imagine what type of production he will have as the team gets better and more cohesive.
Now, I do try to be as objective and there is only one major flaw in Jones' game that I can see. I don't have the fancy tracking tech like you see above. I have to use my finger and DVR
He does get caught flat-footed too often in transition and the gap control isn't what I'd like or what I'm used to seeing from elite defensive dmen in the neutral zone. I don't know why he can't seem to stay "connected" and maintain a better gap which would allow him to deny entries more effectively. He skates well enough to be better at this. His reach and ability to turn and go mitigates this issue a little as you can see in that play above he is still able to forcing the play to the outside, but that is not ideal. I'd love to talk to a well-schooled coach about this issue because right now it is beyond me.
At the end of the day though if you watch the last two games and your analytics model says he is playing poorly then your model stinks. People like to fall in love with their own creations. That was the warning from Nietzche against the "rational mind". People also like things simple while simultaneously wanting to feel intelligent. So if they see charts that are easier to understand than the most complex sport to track in the world then they'll point to that and accept it without digging for answers or much thought. That is a tale as old as time itself and it is cross cultural and goes beyond sports. Jones is very very good and getting better.
--Cal de Haan…also good. People love to hate on him too. I don't understand that. He's a similar player to Hjalmarsson. Plays a simple and honest game. He knows where to be and where the puck should go. He takes pride in doing the little things well. He's not Cale Makar, but every successful team needs guys like de Haan. Please stop hating on him just because the things he does well aren't flashy or always noticeable.
--Fleury is finding his game. He was spectacular last night. They don't win last night without his 3rd period heroics. His new mask is also SICK
--I am not sure what is up with Kurashev. If I were to point at two guys who were negatives in the game last night it'd be Kurashev and Gaudette. Gaudette needs to be better in his own zone when it comes to supporting his teammates and the puck. There were a couple times where he was not aware of where the puck was and didn't make himself available for an outlet to start the breakout and that resulted in a turnover in the zone and another time it resulted in just an uncontrolled exit. Not what you want to see. He was great in preseason. I hope he can round out different aspects of his game because he has talent. Same for Kurashev. He just hasn't been the same guy we saw last year. I don't have an explanation for that other than, you know, he's still very young.
Tyler Johnson, Brandon Hagel, and Borgstrom will be active eventually. Competition for minutes, opportunities, and dressing games is going to intensify here. Gaudette and Kurashev will need to step it up if they want to remain in lineup on a regular basis because right now they're behind those three as well as Hardman at this point.
--Down the road, if the Blackhawks continue to have success I think my ideal line up would be as follows
de Haan-Seth Jones
That's a good team.
We talked about Colliton and Pittsburgh on Redline Radio this week and you can find that episode below