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3 takeaways from weekend split vs. Penguins, Maple Leafs

Chicago captured 3 of 4 possible points against two challenging Eastern Conference opponents.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The Blackhawks went 1-0-1 this past weekend, losing 3-2 in a shootout to the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena and hanging on to beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 at the United Center.

1. Calvin de Haan’s defensive stability

During the weekend there were only four Blackhawks with more than 30-minutes of ice time at 5-on-5, Erik Gustafsson, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and de Haan.

De Haan has become one of the Blackhawks most reliable defenseman. He rarely makes a mistake, is calm with the puck, especially in the defensive zone, doesn’t force passes that aren’t available, has tight gaps on opponents in the neutral zone forcing them to the boards or to dump it in and is a shot blocking machine.

At 5-on-5 this weekend, de Haan was on the ice for two goals for and zero against, had a 53.1-percent expected goals for rate, four shots — including one against Toronto that created a rebound for Kirby Dach’s second career goal — one drawn penalty, six hits and eight blocks tying him for the team lead with Keith at 30.

De Haan isn’t flashy, but he’s has been consistent and sound defensively. In times of chaos in the defensive zone, coach Jeremy Colliton can count on him to make a smart play or defensive read, force a turnover and get the puck out.

2. Jonathan “The Goon” Toews leads Chicago in penalty minutes.

But, for good reason. During the first shift of the game against Toronto, Brandon Saad tried to knock an airborne puck down with his glove putting him in a vulnerable position below the goal line. While the puck was in the air, Jake Muzzin blindsided Saad with a high hit and Toews immediately rag-dolled Muzzin to the ice. Toews dropped the gloves and initiated a fight, but the refs broke it up before any punches were thrown:

The rest of the first period was one of the best all around team efforts by Chicago this season. They buried three more goals, including two in 10 seconds, and could have easily scored more if not for a few quality stops by Michael Hutchinson. According to Natural Stat Trick, Chicago collected 12 scoring chances and five high danger chances in the opening period.

The 4-1 lead gave the Blackhawks enough insurance to capture two much needed points against a playoff caliber Maple Leafs team and the jolt of energy that started it was Toews leading by example:

3. Breakouts from defensive zone and neutral zone regroups are smoother.

After the 4-2 loss to San Jose, the Blackhawks altered their strategy on breakouts and neutral zone regroups. Instead of forcing a pass up the boards to a winger and hoping for a chip out of the defensive zone, the centers are swinging lower to create a short passing option for the defensemen. As a result, the opposing forecheckers have to choose to cover the swinging center or winger on the boards, which often leads to a direct passing lane for a controlled breakout with speed.

The quick transitions have also positively impacted neutral zone regroups. Instead of sitting back and allowing the opponents to change or to set a trap between the blue lines, which forced a boring, ineffective dump and chase strategy, the defensemen push the play north hitting a low-swinging center that has lots of speed or one of the wingers in between center ice and offensive zone blue line. It’s given the Blackhawks more 4-on-3 rushes and opportunities to attack a flat-footed defenseman with a 2-on-1 right at the blue line.

The change has led to more offensive zone time, shot attempts and scoring chances. Plus, it’s added confidence to Gustafsson’s game who excels at pushing the play and joining the rush. He’s made a handful of nifty breakout passes off his backhand and through defenders legs in recent games and is starting to look a lot more like the defenseman who hit the 60 point mark last season.