It was not even five minutes into the game and the Pittsburgh Penguins were up 2-0. The Blackhawks were running around leaving opponents wide open in the slot, no one was battling hard in front of the net, and it just felt like one of those games in the middle of our long losing streaks in November. At one point in first period, NBC Sports put up a couple interesting stats. The Hawks have given up the most goals in the NHL in the first period with 59 goals against. They also have 17 losses when the opponent scores first, which is tied for second in the NHL.
All signs pointed to an 18th loss when the opponent scores first, but the Hawks capitalized on a late first period power play with a cross-ice backdoor pass from Patrick Kane to Alex DeBrincat. The Cat has an unbelievable release. In a split second, the puck was on his stick, off of it, and in the back of the net. Very few players have that type of release and it makes DeBrincat a lethal weapon on the power play, which is starting to come together.
The Hawks took that momentum into the locker room and found a way to complete the comeback with the help of a few Hawks we rarely see on the scoresheet anymore - Chris Kunitz and Duncan Keith. Kunitz has had a tough season. He has only played in 24 games, and when he does get a chance to suit up, he averages 10:06 minutes. In the games he has played, his possession metrics are not too shabby. He owns a 54.5 corsi-for rate, which is second on the team only behind rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju. Kunitz is most likely in his final season in the NHL, so converting those strong possession metrics into his first goal of the season, on a tribute night that he participated in, was a nice addition to the final chapter of his career.
Good for him. He’s the only active player in the NHL with four Stanley Cup rings, and I just wanted to give him a shout out. It must be hard not playing for weeks at a time when you have that much experience in the NHL. I am sure he has been an inspiring mentor to all of the younger players in the locker room and I hope the best for him when his time with the Hawks and the NHL is done.
Let’s jump into the stock report.
In Strome’s last six games, he has two goals, six assists, is +2, has 14 shots, averaged 19:45 minutes on ice, and has won 47% of his draws. Of course, Strome is playing with a superstar in Kane who will inflate any line-mate’s production, but Strome’s recent trend in play has been impressive. In twenty games with the Arizona Coyotes this season, he only mustered three goals and three assists. Strome has been a major factor in the resurgence of the first power play unit along with Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, and Erik Gustafsson. He plants himself in the high slot looking for a one timer from Kane, Jonathan Toews, or DeBrincat, and also has been instrumental in keeping the play alive by winning battles on 50/50 pucks bouncing around in the zone.
On Keith’s goal, which was only a few seconds after the second power play ended, Strome could have easily just stood still on the wall. However, he drove the net, created a distraction in the slot, and gave Keith space and time to find a lane to the net.
Strome was then awarded a goal right after the third power play ended (again) when Kane found him sneaking backdoor. A few seconds earlier, Strome makes a great play by being patient with the puck in the high slot. He then circles back towards the boards, opens up space with a give-and-go with Toews down low, and finds Kane cross ice, which forces the exhausted penalty killers to shift their box to the opposite side freeing up the lane for the backdoor pass from 88. One could make the argument that the Hawks scored on three power play chances tonight even though the scoresheet will only say 1/3. Strome was a significant contributor on all three power play chances.
Strome is only 21-years old and has a bright future with the Hawks. Right now, the Schmaltz trade looks like a win for the Hawks.
Murphy is not going to find himself on the scoresheet often with goals or assists, but he has been a shutdown defenseman who finishes his checks, blocks shots, and rarely gets scored on. In his last five games, he has zero points, but has been a +4, has 19 hits, seven blocks, and averaged 19:49 minutes on the ice. He is taking over Brent Seabrook’s ice time and has done a masterful job at calming things down in the D-zone, getting the puck out with clears high off the glass or tape-to-tape passes on breakouts, and making it difficult for the opponent’s top producers to find the back of the net.
This one of my favorite shifts Murphy had last night. He kept Sidney Crosby below the goal line and on the boards, and also forced him to his back hand side. Crosby is so talented at making defenders miss out of the corners or off the boards. Murphy decided to assign himself to Crosby and kept him from being dangerous with five minutes left to play.
Earlier in the game Murphy also had a sliding block that stopped a high danger opportunity for the Penguins. Carl Dahlström and Murphy have become the shutdown pair for the Hawks recently, which is something they have not had much of the past two seasons.
DeBrincat has played his way into the core of the Hawks future with his touch, goal scoring and playmaking ability, as well as his elite release time on his shots. DeBrincat has five goals and three assists in his last eight games. In those eight games he has 21 shots, which gives him a shooting percentage of 23.8. He is at 19 goals on the season, and is already at 47 goals with the Indian Head on his sweater. He will continue to be a weapon on the man advantage and a scoring threat in the top 9 forward group for years to come. His height and the fact that he played with Connor McDavid and the Eerie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League drove his draft ranking down. Thank you Stan Bowman for snagging him. DeBrincat will most likely get a raise and an extension soon. He deserves it.
Check out this release in slow-mo. Unbelievable.
Maybe he was playing through an injury the last few games, but Forsling has not looked sharp. He has been turning the puck over way too much, taking penalties, and does not look like a top 6 NHL defenseman quite yet. In his last three games, he has piled up eight penalty minutes. With Henri Jokiharju coming back from the World Junior Championship with tons of confidence after winning the gold medal, look for Forsling to head back to the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs to work out some kinks in his game and get prepared to move back up to the NHL in the near future. Forsling is only 22-years old and has lots of time to mature and develop into a bottom pairing, fringe top-4 defenseman for the Hawks.
With Drake Caggiula joining the Hawks, Hayden will have to dig deep to play on a nightly basis. He has the intangibles to be a successful fourth liner in the NHL - size, above average speed for his stature, drives the net, protects the puck well on the boards and below the goal line, finishes checks, and plays on the penalty kill. However, he has not topped ten minutes of ice time in his last five games and continues to not play his role. There have been shifts in the past where he is flying around, finishing checks, and wreaking havoc on the force-check. That’s what the Hawks need every shift he is out there. What we do not need is another big forward doing fly-bys on the puck carrier when he could finish a check or making unnecessary circles in the defensive zone when he should stop and start. I think Hayden can be an important part of the young group of Hawks, but he needs to understand his role on the team and accept it. If he does not, he will continue to find himself on the healthy scratch list.
In Kampf’s last five games, he has one assist, is a minus-3 and has only won 43.5% of his draws. He is slotted in as the third line center, but his recent play has started to make him look like the next fourth line center that plays similar to Marcus Kruger. Kampf has a great opportunity with a sniper like DeBrincat on his wing, but he has not taken advantage of that. His skillset is better suited on the fourth line where he can focus on playing strong defensively and winning draws . Look for the Hawks to switch things around in the near future with Kampf moving down to the fourth line, and a free agent signing, Artem Anisimov, if he is not traded, or Strome moving into the third line center role next season.
The Hawks take on the Calgary Flames in the second half of a back-to-back at the United Center Monday night at 7:30 PM. The Flames are 4-1-1 in their last six games and are tied for first in the Pacific Division. They have tons of offensive firepower in their top 6 with Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk. Collin Delia and the Hawks have a tough task ahead of them, but have vastly improved on the defensive side and as a team overall since November. It should be a hard fought battle and the Hawks look to improve to 8-3-2 in their last 13 games.