Well…we’re through roughly one-third of the regular season and I still don’t know what to think of this Blackhawks team. So far this year, Winnipeg has looked like a team that can sneak their way into the postseason and should do so for the coming years. However, these are games that you would like to see the Blackhawks win, especially come playoffs. Being the third best team in hockey looks good, obviously, but the Hawks are doing it in a very unconvincing manner. I will say this: Patrik Laine is an absolute stud. I have always had a gut feeling that Auston Matthews will not be the best player to come from this year’s draft class, and Laine is making me feel more confident in that with every game he plays. It’s not very often that a team has a guy that makes you scared every time he touches the puck, and thats exactly what Laine is: just a pure scorer and has the ability to change a game at only 18 years old. Having said this, there are definitely some things to take out of this game and recent moves made in the organization.
- First of all, Scott Darling was sick. Losing a Vezina-caliber goalie like Crawford sucks. But when you see Scottie standing on his head out there it is incredibly comforting. He did absolutely all he could tonight stopping 30. The Hawks just never capitalized on the chances they got.
- Secondly, not having Toews in the lineup is huge, obviously. At times it looks like they didn’t know what they were doing and spending way too much time carrying the puck in the neutral zone. Toews works hard on the boards and helps create chances in front of the net for guys like Tyler Motte and Hoss. Hopefully he’s back ASAP and gets his men back into shape.
- I think this goes without saying, but the Hawks PP/PK stinks. Starting off the year killing ~50% of penalties is impossible to recover from from a statistical standpoint, so expect to see them in the bottom third of that category for the majority of the year. It’s good to be aggressive when backchecking, but you cant take dumb penalties while having the dumpster fire that is the Chicago penalty kill and expect to win games. That simple.
- Before tonights game, Nick Schmaltz was sent down to Rockford for very good reason. Don’t get me wrong, Schmaltz is a very solid hockey player and should be a core player for the future. But as of now, he just looks like a deer in the headlights on the ice. He always seems to be trying to “not make the wrong play” rather than making the right play. Hopefully getting more ice time in Rockford can get him going.
- Most importantly, Chicago has to get their big dogs going. Artemi Panarin picked up a goal tonight and Kane had the helper, which was certainly good to see. Each player on the Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line has seemed to show bursts of great play but it seems like they’re never seemed to mesh this year like they did for much of last year. I certainly wouldn’t expect Kane to go for another 100+ points year, but he isn’t receiving many solid chances from his linemates. If they get going, the Hawks get going.
Bottom line, this team should continue to grow together as the year goes on, but there is no doubt we are certainly witnessing some growing pains.