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3 up, 3 down from Blackhawks’ 8-5 loss to Devils

Patrick Kane had a four-point night in the loss. Who is trending up and down?

Chicago Blackhawks v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After the New Jersey Devils steamrolled the Chicago Blackhawks 8-5 on Monday night, Coach Jeremy Colliton was pretty blunt.

He was right. The Hawks did not look like the team we have watched over the past month. There was no identity to the team in last night’s tilt. Erik Gustafsson was benched in the third period, and Cam Ward was pulled before the third period started. Jonathan Toews had a number of uncharacteristic turnovers, and Duncan Keith was minus-5. It was a tough game to watch overall, but the worse thing the Hawks and the fanbase could do is let the negativity fester. Even in the drubbing by the Devils, there were still some positives to rally around.

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Power Play

Not too long ago, the Hawks power play was consistently a momentum builder for the opposing team. The Hawks would try and do the push-it-back entry to Patrick Kane, while the rest of the team stood flat-footed at the blue line. It gave Kane two options - dump it in or dangle around three penalty killers.

Since Jeremy Colliton started behind the bench, the Hawks have started to utilize a breakout strategy that gets three to four Hawks without the puck moving in synch with the puck carrier in the neutral zone. There is a great example on Kane’s first goal of the game.

Even though the push-it-back entry was utilized, Toews, DeBrincat, and Strome timed their zone entries almost perfectly with Kane. The Hawks came in to the zone as synchronized four man unit with speed, which provided some space for Kane to make a short pass to Toews on the strong side wall. The two strong side penalty killers bit on the pass, which opened a lane to the net for Kane who got a pass right back from Toews. Kane had a 3-on-2 right off the entry and elected to take a snapper low and short-side to tie the game at one.

If the penalty killers did not bite on the pass to Toews, Kane would have driven to the net with two of the strong side Devils attached to his hip. Toews would have then had some space to circle back up high and set up the power play formation.

Speed, as a unit, through the neutral zone makes it nearly impossible for the penalty killers to disrupt the regroup and gives Kane, Gustafsson, or whoever has the puck moving into the offensive zone multiple options. In their last five games, the Hawks have gone 6/16 on the man advantage for a 37.5% conversion rate. A big reason for that improvement is the remodeled breakout.

Carl Dahlstrom

Dahlstrom had his worst game of the season on Saturday night against the Golden Knights. He was minus-3 and was noticeably out of position throughout the game, especially on the overtime winner by Shea Theodore. He was was accountable for his off-night and came back on Monday with a solid effort.

Even in a 8-5 loss, Dahlstrom managed to be plus-3 and set up Dominik Kahun’s goal after reading a clearing attempt by Travis Zajac, stealing it, and whipping the puck almost immediately to Kahun in the high slot.

It was a bounce back game for Dahlstrom and should be a confidence builder for him moving forward. Additionally, the ability to shake off a bad performance and step up the next game is an intangible necessary for individual and team success.

Drake Caggiula

The first few games are always a big statement for a newly acquired player in the locker room. Grinding, hustling every shift, and doing the little things right earns respect from the rest of the group. Caggiula might not have any points yet with the Hawks, but his physicality, tenacity, and speed has been noticeable. In five games with the Hawks, Caggiula has thrown 15 hits, which leads the team during that span. Connor Murphy and John Hayden have 14 hits and are the only ones close to Caggiula.

Near the end of the game against the Devils, Caggiula wasted no time standing up for a teammate. Murphy was getting tackled and punched by two Devils before Caggiula came in and dragged Ben Lovejoy out of the pile. That fight undoubtedly earned Caggiula respect throughout the locker room and it was refreshing to see the Hawks stand up for each other.

Caggiula can turn into a valuable bottom six asset with the Hawks if he continues to play with that grittiness and desire every game. He even has some decent hands to go along with his speed and physicality. The Hawks have been severely missing that style of play, since Andrew Shaw was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in 2016.

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Defensive Zone Coverage

Ward allowed six goals, but the majority of those goals were due to poor defensive play. Bad gaps, delayed assignment switching, puck watching, lazy back-checking, and turnovers made it easy for the Devils to bury eight on the Hawks. Here is the shot chart from Monday’s loss.

The Devils had 41 shots. It is now nine straight games where the opponent took 30-plus shots. An offensive outburst by the opponent was bound to happen. The first shift of the game forecasted the defensive effort for the rest of the game.

Gustafsson turned the puck over behind the net and then gave too much space to Miles Wood behind the goal line. Wood circled around the net and was able to walk freely towards the net without a single Hawks closing their gap on the puck carrier. The coaching staff should roll this tape and explain who needs to switch man coverage assignments and take space away from Wood.

The only way for the Hawks to get back into the win column is to clean up the defensive zone coverage and limit the number of dangerous opportunities that are occurring way too often during this four game losing skid.

David Kampf

Kampf was moved down to the fourth line for Monday’s game. In his last six games he has zero points, a minus-5 rating, and has only averaged 14:42 minutes of ice time. He also has a 44.1 corsi-for on the season, which has regressed from his 47.0 mark during the 2017-2018 campaign. (Updated) Colliton has given Kampf the opportunity to matchup with the opposing team’s top offensive units in the past. He needs to start tipping that possession metric back towards 50 if he wants to slot into that shutdown center role again this season and in the future.

Erik Gustafsson

Gustafsson was benched by Colliton during the third period after going minus-2 in the first two periods. He got torched multiple times by Devils driving wide and to the net, and left other line-mates out to dry with turnovers and lackluster positioning. He deserved to be sat and hopefully this will light a fire under him. Gustafsson’s offensive talent has always been there and is evolving. He just had an eight game assist streak and is tied for fifth in goals by NHL defenseman this season. He quarterbacks the power play and makes some highlight reel passes almost every game. If he can work out some kinks in his defensive game, the former unsigned draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers could be one of general manager Stan Bowman’s top signings in the last few seasons.

What’s Next?

The Hawks get some time off in New York City and will get a chance to mentally and physically recuperate before their matchup with the Rangers at 6 p.m. Thursday at Madison Square Garden. I am expecting a bounce back game from Toews, Gustafsson, and Keith, and looking forward to seeing Kane work his magic again.

Kane now has 64 points (27 G, 34 A) and is currently sixth in the league’s Art Ross trophy race, which is awarded to the player with the most points at the end of the season. He is playing some of his best hockey of his career and it’s a joy to watch.