The Blackhawks can head into the All Star Break with some swagger after beating the first place Islanders in a shootout 3-2 at the United Center on Tuesday. The Hawks have won two straight against the top two teams in the Metropolitan Division, and boost their home record to 10-10-6.
The first period puck possession was dominated by the Isles and their 21-year old phenom Mathew Barzal. Cam Ward made a few impressive stops to keep the Blackhawks within one. Here is one of his best saves of the period and game following an egregious turnover by Erik Gustafsson behind the net.
At the end of the first period, there was a scrum in the corner before players went to their respective dressing rooms. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were in the middle of the shoving and shouting match, and near the benches John Hayden started chirping Matt Martin of the Islanders.
The Hawks carried that snarl to their game into the second period. Hayden was able to annoy Martin enough to get him to take a stupid penalty during a delayed call on Cal Clutterbuck, which gifted the Hawks with a rare two-minute 5-on-3 opportunity. Dylan Strome capitalized with his ninth goal, and 21st point in 27 games with the Hawks.
Additionally, it was the ninth straight game where the Hawks scored on the man advantage as they continue to crawl their way up the power play leaderboard. Late in the second period, Toews was able to tie the game with an impressive mid-air swat of the puck into the net. It was the Hawks second power play goal of the period.
A few numbers on the power play:
- The Hawks now sit tied for 15th in the NHL with a conversion rate of 20.3-percent
- In their last nine games, the Hawks have gone 12 out of 26 for a 46.2-percent conversion rate
Ward was calm and collected in net and earned the first star with 36 saves, which included a handful of big stops in the third period, overtime, and a smooth glove save on Barzal to clinch the shootout victory.
It was a much needed win for the Hawks as they enter a nine day hiatus where they can recharge and prepare for the last 31 games of the season. Here is the current playoff picture going into the break.
Caggiula - Toews - Kane
Coach Jeremy Colliton decided to throw Drake Caggiula on a line with Toews and Kane before the Sunday afternoon clash with the Washington Capitals. It immediately clicked. In the past six periods, the trio has generated numerous 5-on-5 scoring opportunities, and have looked dangerous when they start cycling and circling around with the puck in the offensive zone. Toews and Kane can bury and make the final pass, while Caggiula finishes checks and plays the gritty style needed to provide space for his line-mates.
It felt like this unit was buzzing in the offensive zone almost every shift like below.
Against the Islanders and Capitals, Toews, Kane, and Caggiula all averaged corsi-for (CF) rates above 50-percent. Toews was at 50.8, Kane was 50.5, and Caggiula led the pack with a 54.1 CF, which means that the majority of the first line’s ice time was spent with the puck on their stick generating possession and shots.
It will be interesting to see how long Colliton sticks with the nuclear option of Toews and Kane together. For right now, it’s exciting hockey when they are on the ice and Caggiula complements the skill and speed of Kane and Toews nicely with his tenacity and fearlessness.
On an individual level, Toews has shined these past two games. He has four goals, two assists, eight shots, has averaged 21:57 minutes on the ice, and has won 57.1-percent of his draws. Toews had a gutsy block during overtime that halted a dangerous opportunity. In the shootout he dangled Robin Lehner with a fake shot drag to the backhand top shelf move. Toews is now up to 48.9-percent in shootouts in his career.
For most of the season, Toews has looked resurrected offensively and continues to lead the team by example on the ice, as well as off of it with a positive attitude that reflects his confidence and trust in Colliton’s coaching style. That mindset radiates around the locker room and is a massive step in the formation of the remodeled Hawks.
Here is a birds-eye view of his whack out of mid air.
While Toews and Kane have played like stars, Strome has put together a four game stretch where he has two goals and five assists. He continues to be a significant contributor to the power play’s success by finding open space to give Kane and DeBrincat an option below the goal line, and wins puck battles to keep possession alive in the offensive zone. He also gives the unit a backup option on regroups as they enter the opponent’s zone. Before Strome was traded to the Hawks for Nick Schmaltz, he was labeled as a bust. Now, Strome looks like a top 9 center that can provide a legitimate scoring threat behind Toews, Kane, and DeBrincat for the rest of the season and beyond.
Here is a shot heat map for Strome as a Blackhawk. Most of his opportunities have come right around the crease or low slot, and he is outpacing his expected goal count of four.
Strome is exuding confidence and comfort in Chicago. The trade continues to look like a win for general manager Stan Bowman.
In Tuesday’s shootout victory, Anisimov only saw 7:51 minutes of ice time and had a putrid CF of 26.9-percent. Eight out of his 13 shifts started while the puck was in play. During those eight shifts the Islanders either had possession when Anisimov jumped over the boards and continued to maintain it or the Hawks had the puck and a turnover happened after he got on the ice. A CF below 30 is asking for trouble and it resulted in a goal against in the first period.
Seabrook - Keith
The pairing has been a staple of the Hawks for most of their illustrious career; however, against the Islanders they had a 35.3 CF rating. I would like to see Keith and Seabrook separated. Jokiharju slotted in nicely with Keith in the past, and I think it would be advantageous for both Jokiharju and Keith to play together. It gives Jokiharju a mentor on the ice that pushes him to keep up with Keith’s hockey IQ and defensive techniques, and motivates Keith to lead by example like Toews.
Against Washington, Kunitz had a 45.4 CF. On Tuesday night against the Islanders, Kunitz had a 33.3 CF. When Perlini gets lifted off of the concussion protocol list, look for him to slot into Kunitz’s role in the bottom 6.
The Hawks start their All-Star Break. Patrick Kane heads to San Jose this weekend to participate in the festivities, while the rest of the squad gets a chance to take their mind off hockey and restore their energy for the final push of the season.
The Hawks take on Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres at 6 p.m. Friday, February 1st at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York.