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3 up, 3 down from Blackhawks’ 5-2 loss to Sharks

Who is trending up and down?

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a gritty effort by the Chicago Blackhawks, the San Jose Sharks capitalized on a handful of turnovers and defensive lapses in route to a 5-2 victory.

For the majority of the game, the Blackhawks competed with the Sharks, who were without two offensive weapons in Evander Kane and Erik Karlsson due to injuries. The Hawks even had the majority of puck possession in the third period that resulted in three San Jose goals.

Puck Possession Game Flow

A lost puck battle on the boards by Artem Anisimov to Joe Thornton, along with missed coverage in the high slot on Marcus Sorensen, led to the third Sharks’ goal. Then a strange bounce off of Melker Karlsson’s stick on a shot by Brent Burns during a delayed penalty put the game out of reach for the Hawks.

Chicago could have hung their heads and stopped competing down by two goals to one of the top teams in the Western Conference and NHL, but they forced Martin Jones to make a handful of high quality stops in the last ten minutes of the game. The Blackhawks looked fast all game and demonstrated the type of effort that is needed to compete in this league. It was clear that the Blackhawks were not the better team; however, it was encouraging to see group respond with snarl and hustle after a disparaging loss to the Los Angeles Kings Saturday afternoon.

It’s disappointing that this recent 1-4 stretch has more than likely cost Chicago a realistic run at the Wild Card in the season’s final 16 games. However, 2018-2019 was not meant to be a playoff season. It was a chance to watch the development of players like Alex DeBrincat, Erik Gustafsson, Dominik Kahun, Henri Jokiharju, and Dylan Strome, who was acquired via trade for Nick Schmaltz in late November. It has been opportunity for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to showcase their talent and that they are still in their prime. It is a remodeling project that started with the firing of coaching legend, Joel Quenneville, and placed a 33-year old behind the bench who barely had any time to implement new systems.

In retrospect, it could have been a lot worse. There are still 16 games left and anything can happen, but if the Blackhawks end up missing the playoffs for the second straight season there should still be hope and excitement for the future.

For one, the younger players got to experience meaningful games down the stretch, which is invaluable to their development. Collin Delia impressed and earned himself a new contract to be Corey Crawford’s backup next season. Colliton and the coaching staff turned the dreadful power play into a lethal unit. Plus, there are numerous defensive and offensive prospects in the pipeline that are excelling in their current leagues.

A remodeling project by the front office was bound to happen. It’s nearly impossible in today’s NHL to sustain a run like the Blackhawks had for nine seasons. Chicago has gotten the hard part of gaining the player’s trust in the new coaching staff out of the way, which has expedited the development of this restructured Blackhawks team to one that is ready for a splash in free agency and a legitimate run at playoff contention next season.

Trending Up

Erik Gustafsson

Gustafsson has been on fire over the past eleven games. He has 14 points (2 G, 12 A), and is averaging 23:21 minutes of ice time per game. The 26-year old defenseman continues to showcase soft hands, a knack for putting the puck in the net, confidence as the power play quarterback and impressive edge work when getting out of precarious situations when handling the puck.

Colliton continues to suggest that Gustafsson’s defensive game still needs work. It absolutely does. However, the last time the Blackhawks had a defenseman with more than ten goals in a season was Brent Seabrook during the 2015-2016 campaign, who had 14. Gustafsson has another season with a $1.2-million cap hit, which is cheap for that type of production from a blue liner. If Gustafsson can improve his defensive zone coverage and lessen turnovers on breakouts, he could be a valuable member of the defensive core next season and beyond.

I am looking forward to seeing more of these type of goals and celebrations.

Alex DeBrincat

DeBrincat picked up his 65th point of the season on a primary assist to Dylan Strome against San Jose. He was buzzing all night and just missed a couple one timers. Check out his event map from Sunday night.

DeBrincat had a game high 76.2 Corsi-For rating, and helped generate 17 scoring chances for him and his line-mates, while only giving up five to the Sharks. He has silenced all of his doubters with a sophomore campaign that puts him on pace to break the 40-goal mark, and has secured his place in Chicago’s offensive core. DeBrincat was a 39th overall pick in 2016, and could end up being one of the best draft picks of general manager Stan Bowman’s tenure with the Blackhawks.

Brendan Perlini

In the last two games, Perlini has showcased his speed and rocket of a shot. He had his first multiple goal game with the Blackhawks against the Kings on Saturday, and was moved up to the second line to start the game against San Jose. If Perlini can cut down on taking hooking and tripping penalties he should not have to take with his speed and lessen blown assignments in the defensive zone, Perlini has a chance to secure a spot in the bottom six for the rest of the season.

Trending Down

Patrick Kane’s ice time

Pat Foley spoke about Kane’s absurd ice time as Sunday night’s game against San Jose came to a close. Kane has gone 27 games straight with 20-minutes or more of ice time. That is just not sustainable in a grueling 82 game NHL season. In the last four games, Kane has looked exhausted and it’s showing on the scoresheet. He has one goal in his last four games and is minus-6. Obviously, Kane is having an MVP season and could be the one asking for all this ice time. However, if the Blackhawks want Kane to continue to play at this level for the next four or five seasons, Colliton needs to start combining more 17-19 minutes games with the 20-plus minute performances.

Defensive zone coverage

Too often, the Blackhawks have shot heat maps that have large dark circles right around their own net.

Opposing team goals regularly come from right above the crease or in the high slot (i.e. the high danger area), which gives Cam Ward, Collin Delia, or Corey Crawford a low chance of stopping the puck. The Blackhawks have allowed the most goals in the NHL this season with 250 goals against, and have given up 37 more goals than any other team in the Western Conference. The majority of these goals are due to blown coverage, turnovers, or mental lapses. Playoff teams do not give up four or more goals on a regular basis. Colliton has found a winning combination of lines when the team is healthy, but has a tough task ahead of him the rest of the season and in training camp to improve the Hawks’ defensive zone coverage and tendencies.

John Hayden

Hayden has only averaged 6:39 minutes of ice time in his last five games, and for good reason. He is not finishing checks, not getting to the dirty areas in front of the net, and is not adding much value to the bottom six at the moment.

Who’s Next?

The Blackhawks head back to Chicago to battle the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.