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Are The Blackhawks Back?

“Seabrook is done!”, they shouted. “Fire Joel Quenneville”, they said. “Toews isn’t good anymore”, they whispered. Through the first part of the season, those who wish for the demise of the Blackhawks had plenty of ammunition. Haters around North America, haters in the city, haters at the gates. People seemed way too giddy about the slow start. I almost had to start banning people from the bandwagon in November.

Now, I too have been worried about this team. They have seemed disjointed. I didn’t like the way they played structurally or even the way they competed. However, in recent weeks our Blackhawks have started to look like our Blackhawks again. Even that game against New Jersey where they blew a 4-1 lead and eventually lost 7-5, I thought they showed some signs of progress, at least offensively. And that has been the message on this blog even in the darkest of times…talent eventually wins out. Or as Big Cat used to say about the Cubs in 2016 “water finds it level”. This team has talent, it was just a matter finding the right roles and combinations. Last night we got a glimpse of what this team can be.

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Seabrook was obviously a BIG part of that. He has declined, yes, but he’s not a BAD player by any stretch. He just needed to be deployed in a way that set him up for success. In my opinion that means less minutes against weaker competition. Seabrook was taken off of the PP last night, which is good because he hadn’t been very effective there, but also he doesn’t have such a heavy load to carry. The coaching staff also gave him some favorable matchups. Two weeks ago at home vs Philadelphia Seabrook played more minutes, by far, against the Giroux-Couturier-Voracek line than any other Dman. Last night Seabrook didn’t have to deal much with Nash-Zuc-Hayes. Instead he got Vesey-Miller-Desharnais. And what do you know…he looked a lot better. He’s not 2010 Team Canada Seabs, but people saying he’s completely washed are wrong. This is the path forward. Reduce his wear and tear now so he has more gas in the tank at the end of games and at the end of the year.

Murphy gets better every game and playing with Seabrook fits his game. Seabrook is smart and knows where to be to support the play when Murphy has the puck. That’s something Murphy needs, a partner that compliments his game by being steady and predictable. Kempny isn’t that guy. I really like Murphy’s talent. Things are getting better for him.

Franson has been so solid as well. Like Seabrook, he’s not a spring chicken and not particularly fleet-footed. However, the guy is just smart. He knows he can’t skate the puck out of trouble, and he doesn’t try to either. He just puts the puck in safe areas where his teammates can get to it and exit the zone. He’s also a huge asset on the PP. Big shot, but knows where to move the puck. That was evident last night too. And if he helps the PP that negates some of his defensive defiencies. He has chemistry with Keith and when they’ve been together they’ve been really good. Franson’s ability to read plays and read Keith gives Keith freedom and confidence to take some risks.

Then you’ve got Forsling and Rutta. Its tough to really know who is the Hawks “2nd pair”. Forsling-Rutta got more minutes, Murphy-Seabrook had the “tougher” assignment. Suddenly this group is balanced. If Murphy, Rutta, and Forsling continue to improve the Blackhawks will be in good shape come playoff time. Both of those guys look like real NHL Dmen now. Forsling, now healthy, looks to be consistently improving. A modern type Dman who can skate and move the puck. He also used the boards well last night and caused turnovers. The wall was an area where he struggled in the past, but he’s using angles and his stick better this year so his physical strength is as exposed. He was tremendous.

Up front, who knew Anisimov would be the key to the Blackhawks success. Not me, I was advocating trading him a few weeks ago. While I still think logically that’s a good idea in the long run, he’s been really good playing with Kane and Schmaltz. He knows his role…get the puck to his wingers and get to the net. Guy gets more cookies than anyone in the league and it’s because he’s willing to go to the big boy areas around the net. I still think the Blackhawks ceiling is higher with Schmaltz as a center, but it’s clear that Anisimov is LIGHT YEARS more effective when he plays with guys who can keep the puck on a string. It’s tough for him if he has to be the guy trying to win races and retrieve the puck. Playing with two guys who can skate and handle the puck makes his life a ton easier.

And finally, I was wrong about DeBrincat too. I said send him down last week, since then he’s been pumping in goals left and right. That Sharp-Hartman-DeBrincat line had some juice last night too. Credit to Hartman for being able to transition pretty well to center. He’s a tough sonofabitch. That’s what you need out of your third line center. He competes everywhere and does what is asked of him. He’s a better fit for those wingers because unlike Anisimov he has the quickness to win races and retrieve pucks. That creates more opportunities for his wingers who are pure shooters. If you had told me before the year that these would be the line combos for the Hawks I would’ve laughed at you, but they were all rolling last night.

Yes, I’m an optimist, but I believe in this group. As I have said many times before, when the Blackhawks get off the bus they’re a better looking squad than just about everyone they play against. It wasn’t personnel, it was performance. They seem to have figured out some line combos, and they are definitely competing harder than they were 3 weeks ago. This team isn’t dead. Not even close. Big tests coming up in the next week with games at Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. Time to show that this group can be among the best in the league. Lets GO

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