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3 takeaways from Blackhawks 2-1 shootout loss to Golden Knights

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Brandon Saad shows he’s Chicago’s best two-way skater this season.

Vegas Golden Knights v Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks and Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights chase the puck
Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Shea Theodore scored in the shootout to send the Golden Knights past the Blackhawks 2-1 on Tuesday at the United Center. Chicago remains winless against Vegas in seven outings with an 0-5-2 record.

Brandon Saad’s dominant play shines

Saad had a 100-percent Corsi-For and shot share in two minutes of penalty kill time. Nobody has exhibited what the Blackhawks’ more aggressive penalty killing style can look like better than Saad to this point this season, and he has the fifth-best Corsi-For on the team at 57.4-percent.

But Saad has been more than just penalty killing. At even strength, Saad has the fourth-best Corsi, shot share and fifth-best expected goal share. He had a 64.7 percent expected goal share and 66.7 percent high-danger share against the Golden Knights, allowing just one high-danger chance against at even strength.

Saad is 19th in the NHL in individual expected goals this season, and led the Blackhawks with 0.46 expected goals against the Golden Knights.

Shot heat map with Brandon Saad
Micah Blake McCurdy
Shot heat map without Saad
Micah Blake McCurdy

So while this may have been the game where Saad threw himself a coming out party, he’s already been here this season. He needs to be moved to the top line to help boost the play of Jonathan Toews, who needs a proven possession beast like Saad, made in the model of both he and Toews’ former mentor Marian Hossa, in order to make him better. Saad isn’t a third-line forward, and against Vegas, he proved it.

Toews isn’t performing well

Toews has been bad this season. Like... really bad. He was also bad against Vegas.

Toews had a 35 percent Corsi-For, 30.8 percent shot share and 28.9 percent expected goal share. That goes with his total season marks of 43.3 percent Corsi, 38.4 percent shot share and 43.1 percent expected goal share. Toews just isn’t himself so far this season, and he’s made a negative impact on the 5-on-5 defense as well.

Shot heat map vs. Toews
Micah Blake McCurdy
Shot heat map without Toews
Micah Blake McCurdy

Toews makes $10.5 million a season off the back of being a two-way player, but he’s certainly played a very poor 200-foot game this season. A player like Saad could help both with clearing the zone and with Toews’ defense, but Toews has been poor offensively as well, and that’s part of the problem with the power play.

Toews had just 0.04 expected goals against the Golden Knights, and has just 1.18 this season. That may be more than just Saad (and probably Dominik Kubalik) can fix, no matter how good he’s been this season.

Power play needs serious help

It’s more than Toews that’s causing the power play to go a combined 0-for-9 in their last two games. The whole system has been bad, and while their on-ice shot percentage hasn’t helped (8.6 shooting percentage, seventh-worst in the league), and an inconsistent ability to draw penalties has also perhaps hurt (29th in power-play time), there needs to be more there for the Blackhawks.

Against Vegas, the Blackhawks got two high-danger chances and seven shots on goal in more than six minutes of 5-on-4 time. There needs to be an improvement there, and the Golden Knights had more expected goals (.6 to .56) in just 1 second more than the Blackhawks.

Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton put Alex Nylander on the first unit power play Tuesday, replacing Dylan Strome, and while the full effects of that decision haven’t fully revealed themselves (there’s not enough sample size), perhaps there need to be more changes than even that. Erik Gustafsson has not been excellent as a power-play quarterback to this point, and Patrick Kane is turning the puck over too much.

Maybe it’s time to put the second unit out more.