The Blackhawks are off to a surprising 6-2-2 start through their first 10 games of the season. Here are 10 things we’ve learned as the Blackhawks have played a little more than 10 percent of their schedule.
Corey Crawford is back to form
No one knew what to expect from Crawford when he returned from a 10-month absence due to a concussion. Crawford has erased any doubt of rust with a 1.52 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage in four starts. He has allowed only one goal in each of his three victories.
Rejuvenated Jonathan Toews
The Blackhawks captain has come to play this season. He looks faster on the ice and determined to create scoring chances, not only for himself but for his new linemates in Alex DeBrincat and rookie Dominik Kahun. Toews’ offensive numbers have dropped off the past two seasons, but this season he’s on pace for 50 goals and 90 points, both which would be career highs. His top marks came in the 2010-11 season when he racked up 32 goals and 76 points.
Patrick Kane’s best career start
Seeing Kane’s name on the scoresheet is no surprise, but the frequency at which he’s doing it so far is. Kane is the first player in franchise history with nine goals in his first 10 games since Jeremy Roenick in 1993-94. Kane is second in the league for goals scored to Toronto’s Auston Matthews (10).
No sophomore slump
DeBrincat edged out Kane last season to be the Blackhawks’ leading goal scorer with 28 goals. DeBrincat started this season on a seven-game point streak before Chicago’s loss to the Lightning. He’s already back to scoring with three points in his last two games, including a goal and an assist against the Rangers. He’s adjusted well to playing on the top line with Toews and Kahun, and is showing his elite scoring in juniors is translating to the NHL.
Top guy business
The Blackhawks have scored 37 goals, including 23 from DeBrincat, Kane and Toews. The trio has accounted for 73 percent of the team’s scoring, while the bottom-six forwards have only found the back of the net 10 times. Marcus Kruger is the only forward consistently in the bottom-six with multiple goals with two.
Brandon Saad bounces back
It’s only 10 games, but Saad has seen time on every line except the top line. After a slow start, Quenneville had Saad has a healthy scratch for two days before putting him on the fourth line and taking him off the power play. Saad has responded with two goals against the Ducks and is back to playing around 18 minutes per game.
Power play is still bad
The Blackhawks have never been known for being successful on the power play, and this season is no different. They did change up their formation to a 1-3-1 system, but it still hasn’t led to much success. Chicago ranks 28th overall in conversion rate at 11.4 percentage.
Henri Jokiharju is here to stay
The 19-year-old rookie said his No. 1 goal this offseason was to make the Blackhawks’ roster out of training camp. Not only has he done that, but he’s gained coach Joel Quenneville’s trust. The Finnish blue liner is averaging about 20 minutes of ice time per game on the top line alongside two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith. The duo is the only one that Quenneville hasn’t split up this season. Jokiharju’s offensive skills were on display early with five assists in his first three games, but he’s settled down with one assist since.
With Jokiharju playing 10 games his contract won’t slide a season and there’s no chance he’ll return to Portland in the WHL.
Injuries hurting defense
Connor Murphy’s back injury helped open the door for Jokiharju to make the roster. Gustav Forsling’s wrist injury gave Brandon Manning a spot, too. So far this season, Jokiharju has done well but it’s the third pairing that has been rough to watch with Manning or Brandon Davidson and Jan Rutta. Forsling, a left-handed shot, was cleared to play earlier this week and is the first blue liner is line to be called up. Murphy is expected to return in December.
In the most head-scratching offseason move, Blackhawks general manager signed Manning to a two-year deal with a $2.5 million annual salary cap hit. Once Forsling is ready it’ll be hard for the Blackhawks not to call him up and part ways with Manning, who has been a turnover machine this season. Rutta also carries a $2.3 million cap hit, but his deal ends this season.
Erik Gustafsson is a top-4 defenseman
One player that has taken a big step forward is Gustafsson. The 26-year-old is averaging near 20 minutes a game and is contributing on the power play. He has one goal and four assists this season. He had only 30 points (five goals, 25 assists) in his previous 76 NHL games. At even-strength, the Blackhawks are generating more scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances with Gustafsson on the ice than any other player, according to naturalstattrick.com. He’s doing this while being paired with Seabrook. Imagine what he could do if he was paired with Forsling or Murphy.
Gustafsson is readying plays better and knowing when to jump into the action and when to sit back to see how things develop. It’s a skill that doesn’t end up on the stat sheet, but is definitely noticeable when things don’t go well. He’s also a lot more active with his stick by disrupting shooting lanes.