The Chicago Blackhawks grabbed a quick lead Tuesday night, but a missed opportunity on an extended two-man advantage in the first period shifted the momentum and the Blackhawks lost 6-3 to the Bruins. It was Chicago’s first loss since a Jan. 17 defeat to the Rangers.
Offense from the blue line
Duncan Keith scored his third goal of the season, while Erik Gustafsson scored his 12th. That makes for a total of 27 goals scored by Chicago defensemen in 57 games — a pace of about 40 goals. Last season, Chicago’s blue-liners combined for just 33 goals all season. Gustafsson is the biggest difference, of course, becoming the first Chicago defenseman to eclipse double digits in goals since Brent Seabrook in the 2015-16 season. The defense remains a question, but Chicago is getting more offensive contributions from its blue line.
About the only good news to emerge from Tuesday night was that the Blackhawks did not lose any ground in the playoff chase, with the Minnesota Wild also losing in regulation. Chicago remains four points out of a playoff spot with 25 games remaining.
It only counts as a moral victory, but some minor encouragement can be gleaned from Chicago’s rally after Boston jumped ahead 4-1 late in the second period. For much of the season, any deficit the Blackhawks would face seemed insurmountable, and Chicago’s play on the ice reflected that. But after falling behind by three, Chicago scored the next two goals and made a game of it for much of the third period, before a brilliant passing play by the Bruins put the game away for good.
It may not be a lot, but it’s probably all you’ve got.
Chicago’s possession numbers
The Blackhawks possession metrics haven’t looked good all season, but they were especially ugly against the Bruins. As a team, Boston owned a 62-37 advantage of 5-on-5 shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick. Gustav Forsling was a minus-15 in that department, while Gustafsson was a minus-19. The worst night belonged to Brendan Perlini, though, who was on the ice for 7:07 of 5-on-5 ice time without a single shot attempted on Boston’s net during that time. There were 15 shot attempts against, though, along with an 8-0 deficit in scoring chances.
Forcing the puck to Alex DeBrincat on the power play
Alex DeBrincat has 29 goals this season and nine of them are on the power play, so it’s not a bad idea to work the puck to No. 12 when he’s ready for a one-timer near the faceoff circle on his off-wing. But Chicago seemed over-committed to that strategy during the extended 5-on-3 in the first period, which generated just one shot on goal when the Blackhawks had a chance to break open a tight 1-0 game. With Dylan Strome, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews also on the ice, Chicago has more than just one option when it needs to score a power play goal — and they need to use them.
Delusions about the Blackhawks
Tuesday’s result should not have been too much of a surprise. Boston has one of the better teams in an Eastern Conference that is clearly superior to the Western Conference this season. Not only are the Blackhawks in the weaker NHL conference, but they’re among a group of about eight teams that are in equal contention for both a wild card spot and a draft lottery spot. Boston’s just plain better than Chicago this season. This doesn’t mean the Blackhawks are destined for the NHL basement or guaranteed a playoff spot, but it should serve as a reminder that there remains a decent gap between the Blackhawks and the top tier of teams in the NHL.