The Blackhawks earned all four points in back-to-back wins against the Bruins 4-3 in overtime and the Devils 2-1 in a five round shootout. Chicago now sits three points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card spot.
1. Calvin de Haan stepped up in Duncan Keith’s absence
In both games of the back-to-back, de Haan led all Blackhawks in ice time with 25:25 minutes vs. the Bruins and 23:37 minutes vs. the Devils. He rarely made a mistake, had tight gaps in the neutral zone and on opponents’ zone entries, pushed the play on breakouts with tape-to-tape passes and a few confident saucer passes over forecheckers’ sticks and even joined the rush multiple times in the offensive zone. De Haan was a force defensively and deserves a lot of credit for taking charge with Keith out of the lineup.
vs. Bruins - One assist, two shots, two hits, three blocks, 48.6 CF%, 51.4 xGF%
vs. Devils - Two shots, three hits, three blocks, 51.2 CF%, 48.0 xGF%
De Haan paces Chicago with 57 blocks and 78 hits on the season and consistently plays calmly and confidently on the back end. He’s been a great acquisition by general manager Stan Bowman who traded Anton Forsberg and Gustav Forsling for de Haan.
2. Alex DeBrincat gets off the schneid.
After 12 games and 35 shots on goal, DeBrincat finally connected on two shots and collected goals in back-to-back games for the first time this season. With Dylan Strome back in the lineup against Boston and New Jersey, the duo’s uncanny chemistry was back in full force with numerous no-look passes right on the tape and clean offensive zone entries.
DeBrincat’s line with Strome and Patrick Kane were also much more dangerous in the last two games:
vs. Bruins - Ten shots, five scoring chances, two high-danger scoring chances, 56.6 xGF%
vs. Devils - Eight shots, nine scoring chances, one high danger scoring chance, 58.7 xGF%
Goal scorers are often streaky. Hopefully, with Strome back from a concussion and Kane working his magic, DeBrincat is the on the verge of a scoring frenzy and will see that 8.1-percent shooting percentage creep back up near his career average of 15.6-percent.
3. The penalty kill has been impressive.
In two straight games Chicago took a penalty in the first shift of the game and went to the sin bin four times in each game. Not a recipe for a success, but the penalty killers rose to the challenge and went 7-for-8 in the back-to-back.
Connor Murphy led the way with 9:05 minutes short-handed, Slater Koekkoek and Ryan Carpenter sacrificed the body with a handful of shot blocks, Carpenter picked up a short-handed goal in Boston for his first goal with the Blackhawks and Brandon Saad nearly buried a short-handed breakaway in New Jersey.
The four man units have been more aggressive, which has forced poor passes from the opponents that were picked off and cleared down the ice. Plus, instead of moving as disjointed individuals, the box formation has seemed to be expanding and contracting at the right times in unison.
The penalty kill has vastly improved since last seasons pitiful performance and was a major factor in Chicago picking up all four possible points on the road trip.