The Blackhawks went 1-1 this past weekend, falling 4-0 the Hurricanes in Chicago’s first North American road game of the season then beating up on the Kings 5-1 at the United Center.
1. Keep Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome together!
I am still bewildered why they were ever separated, but Sunday’s three point performances by DeBrincat (one goal, two assists) and Strome (two goals, one assist) was refreshing to watch. It’s like they have a sixth sense. No matter where one is on the ice, the other knows where they are and how to get the puck to them. They move up and down the ice rhythmically and aren’t afraid to make a risky play because they are confident in each other’s abilities and limitations.
At 5-on-5, DeBrincat and Strome played 10:12 minutes together, generated seven scoring chances and four high-danger scoring chances for, while giving up six and three respectively. My favorite highlight of the night was when DeBrincat forced a turnover behind the net and didn’t rush a wraparound on his backhand. Instead, he got two Kings defensemen to puck watch, while Strome sped to the slot wide open.
Both players were struggling in their past four games. DeBrincat was pointless and a minus-5, while Strome had one assist and a minus-1. Reuniting the duo gave them a much needed spark and it would be ridiculous to consider separating them against Nashville.
2. Slater Koekkoek has stepped up in Connor Murphy’s absence.
When Murphy was placed on LTIR with a groin injury, the Blackhawks depth on the blue line was going to be tested. Head coach Jeremy Colliton stated it will be “an opportunity for other guys to grow.” Koekkoek accepted the challenge and has been noticeably physical and aggressive, confident with the puck on breakouts and has done his job defensively.
vs. Hurricanes: 59.3 Corsi-For, 1 shot, 2 hits and 0 goals against in 13:57
vs. Kings: 48.0 Corsi-For, 2 assists, 1 shot, 4 hits, 1 block, plus-4 and a drawn penalty in 15:46
Acquiring Koekkoek, a former No. 10 overall draft pick, from Tampa Bay for Jan Rutta in Janurary didn’t seem that exciting of a trade when it happened. Now, it’s looking like a steal with Rutta stuck in the press box for the Bolts at a cap hit of $1.1 million. Koekkoek likely won’t ever develop into a top four defenseman, but having him as a depth option over Rutta or Carl Dahlstrom is reassuring when the injury bug inevitably strikes throughout the season.
3. Duncan Keith was dominant vs. Kings.
Keith’s performance against the Kings was nostalgic. He played 24:13 minutes, which was the most on the Blackhawks by nearly four minutes, and had two blocked shots, a hit and two individual scoring chances.
Throughout the game, Keith kept a tight gap on the blue line forcing a dump in or a mistake by the Kings puck carrier, adeptly pinched at the offensive zone blue line to keep the play alive multiple times and made two impressive defensive plays on odd man rushes for the Kings.
- In the first period, Calvin de Haan slapped a shot wide of the net that bounced right to the Kings for a 2-on-1 the other way. Keith read the cross slot pass and used his stick to deflect the saucer pass away.
- In the third period, the Kings forced a turnover in the neutral zone and caught the Blackhawks in a bad change. They had a 3-on-1, but Keith sped right at the puck carrier, took away the passing lanes and turned a 3-on-1 for LA into a breakout for Chicago.
With Murphy out until mid-November, Keith will be expected to log heavy minutes and lead by example with strong defensive play.