When the Nashville Predators got shutout 3-0 by Nick Schmaltz and the Arizona Coyotes on home ice Thursday, I was worried the Blackhawks were going to get steamrolled in the first 10 minutes. Before five minutes even passed, the Hawks were down 3-0 and the game was essentially over. It looked like it was going to turn even more into a clown show after an idiotic hit from behind by perpetual fourth line goon Miikka Salomaki on Duncan Keith.
What a stupid cheap shot on a veteran and possible hall of fame legend. You don’t do that. I hope the Department of Player Safety looks into this hit. Keith immediately went after Salomaki, got ejected, and the smallest guy on the ice, Alex DeBrincat, dropped the gloves. In all honesty, this moment was very telling. If Joel Quenneville was on the bench, he would have been going berserk. John Hayden or Andreas Martinsen would have been told to hunt down Salomaki and find a way to get a clean, open ice hit on him or drop the gloves. That is what a team that is all in for one another does. That is what a playoff team does. Sure, there is a time and place to retaliate, but when some fourth liner takes a cheap shot run from behind at your assistant captain, that’s when you have to show some pride in the jersey you wear and the love you have for everyone around you in the locker room. At least, DeBrincat stood up for his teammate.
The Hawks slowed the game down, got a couple goals, but just could not dig themselves out of the early hole they have found themselves in so often during the past couple weeks.
Let’s dive into the stock report.
Fishbowl Saad has been the Hawks most consistent forward lately. He is getting back to the style of play that significantly contributed to the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup runs. Saad is driving the net, minimizing turnovers in the neutral and offensive zones, creating odd man rushes with solid tape to tape passes on breakouts out of the defensive zone, and is making it difficult for opposing power play units to fly up the ice on their breakouts. He has really turned his game up a couple notches ever since he was nearly healthy scratched in late October.
What an impressive individual effort short-handed. During his last 8 games, Saad has four goals, three assists, 21 SOG, 19 shooting percentage, one game-winning goal, one short-handed goal and has pushed his Corsi For percentage to 54.5. Boston’s Patrice Bergeron has been a constant reminder of elite possession metrics for the majority of his career. At the moment, he has a 56.3 CF% this season. If Saad keeps pushing the envelope, continues to play with that gritty possession driving style of play, the Hawks could see Saad bring his CF% possession metric into the elite level (55-60 percentage).
Jeremy Colliton has voiced and demonstrated his confidence in the 23-year-old Czech center, and Kampf has responded recently with noticeable improvements in his game. During the last four games, Kampf has a 50 percent face-off winning percentage (FOW) and a 47.5 mark this season. If he continues to slowly progress at the face-off dot, we can see that season FOW move above 50 percent and get closer to 52-54 percent by the end of the season. As a result, the Hawks would have three centers who win more than 50 percent of their draws in their top nine with Jonathan Toews, Dylan Strome and Kampf.
Additionally, Kampf has showcased his ability to drive to the net with speed and create scoring opportunities for his line-mates. Saturday night in Nashville, he almost put the Hawks within one with a near one-handed flip over Pekka Rinne.
In Winnipeg, he took the puck hard to net and forced Connor Hellebuyck to make an incredible stop on a mini-breakaway then Hayden slapped home the rebound. In Florida, he started the comeback with a slick backhand to forehand move on James Reimer. Who knew Kampf had this much speed and skill?
Kampf has one goal and four points in his last four games. He is trending up and is slotting in as the third line center for the future.
The Joker has quietly been one of the Hawks top two defenseman all season. It was clear the defensive group severely missed him on the back-end in Winnipeg and against Vegas. In Nashville, Jokiharju played 20:02 minutes, had one shot on goal, and stabilized the group after Keith was ejected mid-way through the first period. He continues to play in high leverage situations, rarely turns over the puck, and transitions the puck effectively on breakouts. Bowman has made a few questionable moves during the past two years, but trading down and selecting Jokiharju with the No. 29 overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft will go down as a steal if he continues to progress the way he has in his rookie season.
Seabrook had another careless turnover from below his own goal line that cost his team the third goal at 4:11 of the first. After he whiffed on the puck up the boards, he let rookie Eeli Tolvanen waltz right to the front of the net and get a wide-open opportunity for his first career NHL goal.
At least show some urgency after a turnover as blatant as that. In his last six games, Seabrook has an assist and is -2. He was -3 in Tampa Bay and has played like a bottom-pairing defenseman, lately. He is making $6.875 million until the 2023-2024 season. That’s not good for what he’s producing. He needs to step up and lead this team by example. Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang is making only $500k more than Seabrook. Letang has five goals and 20 points in 24 games this season while averaging 25:56 of ice time. That is what a $6.5 million and up defenseman is worth.
I want to Seabrook get rid of the careless turnovers that seem to happen game after game, and to get back to being a trustworthy blue liner for the Hawks that has a plus rating, fires SOG, and earns the ‘A’ on his jersey with his current play and not past performances.
Hear me out on this one. Kane is a superstar and there is no doubt in that. However, his recent play has been a bit worrisome. During his last five games, Kane is a -7. Sure, he is getting his points, but I have noticed that he is becoming lazy in the neutral and defensive zones. He flies the zone too early looking for a breakaway or odd man rush, and then his man finds his way backdoor or wide open in the slot. Kane has every right to be upset about the Artemi Panarin and Schmaltz trades. To Kane it must feel ridiculous for general manager Stan Bowman to trade away the best chemistry he has ever had with another line-mate.
Patrick Kane on Nick Schmaltz: "It’s tough, for sure. I think the world of the kid. I think he’s a great kid, I think he’s got the potential to be a star in the league. I think he’ll get there, for sure."— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) November 26, 2018
When Kane gets the puck, he is magical. However, recently Kane has not bought into the defensive system Colliton is trying to instill. I would like to see Kane step up and be a leader by example on this team. If Kane is selling out in the defensive zone, the rest of the team will follow. Kane talked about trusting the process the other night in Winnipeg. I want to see Kane show it on the ice.
Defensive zone coverage
During the last six games, the Blackhawks have let up 31 goals against for a 5.2 goals-against average. Corey Crawford and Cam Ward have done the best they can do in net. This is not their fault. Quenneville instilled a defensive zone system for 10 years that was zone coverage. There were a lot of assignment switching and collapsing to the slot in that system.
On the other hand, Colliton has tried to put in a man-to-man defensive zone strategy. There were a few games early in his tenure against St. Louis and Minnesota where the defensive zone looked impenetrable. However, during the past six games the group continues to make poor judgements on man assignments, on 3-on-2 rushes for the other team, when the puck is being cycled in the defensive zone, and when there are opposing players in the slot. It seems like the team is having a really tough time executing Colliton’s strategy, and as a result, escape back into Quenneville’s zone coverage. That just makes things worse and usually results in a penalty, a high-quality chance or even a goal. When you have one or two playing zone coverage, and the other three playing man coverage you will see wide open opportunities like the Nikolaj Ehler’s goal in Winnipeg.
Ehler’s goal was the result of blown coverage by Toews who has played in Quenneville’s zone coverage his entire career. It takes time to instill a completely new defensive zone system. Colliton needed an entire training camp to make a shift like the one he is trying to make on the fly with barely any practice time and games every couple of nights. It will be interesting to see how the Hawks respond over the next couple weeks. If they can ‘trust the process’ and can play man coverage for a full 60-minutes, we could see some wins start to pile up.
The Hawks host the Flames on Sunday. A couple of positives to look for - Get through the first five minutes tied or up a goal, keep the blown coverage to a minimum in the first period, and for the third and fourth lines to continue to drive possession in the offensive zone like they have been doing recently.
It will be interesting to see how Kane and Toews respond after a couple tough nights on the road. Look for them to have a solid game tonight.