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3 takeaways from Blackhawks’ wins vs. Senators, Canadiens

Slater Koekkoek and Olli Maatta elevated their game, the penalty kill shined and Chicago stumbled upon a new first line.

Chicago Blackhawks v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

The Blackhawks swept a back-to-back with a 3-2 overtime win against the Senators on Tuesday in Ottawa then defeated the Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday in Montreal. Chicago (22-20-6) has now won three straight and is four points out of a wild-card spot.

Depth defense elevating their game

Olli Maatta and Slater Koekkoek are turning into an encouraging third pairing. They didn’t allow a single high-danger chance (at even strength) against the Senators and Canadiens, and they continued to be one of the Blackhawks’ best puck-moving units.

Maatta (36 minutes) and Koekkoek (31 minutes) allowed just .16 and .20 expected goals against respectively, and Maatta had a 72.7-percent high-danger share and Koekkoek was at 70 percent. The duo didn’t give up scoring chances, and they were able to drive play out of the defensive zone. Koekkoek also had two assists, and Maatta had one.

They were likely the best pairing for Chicago, although that has perhaps as much to do with who Connor Murphy’s current partner, Erik Gustafsson.

Penalty kill continues to shine

Chicago’s penalty kill didn’t allow a goal against in nearly 10 minutes of action against Ottawa and Montreal. The Blackhawks allowed four shots from the Senators in two opportunities, and they even generated scoring chances against the Canadiens, including Zack Smith’s shorthanded goal.

Between the two games, the shorthanded unit had a 30.8-percent shot share and 40.0-percent high-danger share. They didn’t allow much against and got chances the other way, and their penalty kill has now killed 88.2 percent (15-of-17) power play opportunities against this month.

The penalty kill is the best aspect of the game for the Blackhawks since a rough start, and that continued against the 31st-ranked power play in Ottawa and the 12th in Montreal.

Keep Kubalik-Toews-Kane together

The line of Dominik Kubalik, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane has played 14 minutes of even strength during the past two games. They had a 56.5-percent Corsi, 61.5-percent shot share and 91.3-percent expected goal share. That was with a 54.5-percent offensive zone start percentage, much lower than would be expected.

They also scored two goals, both against Ottawa, with Toews adding the overtime winner. They had a 100 percent high-danger share, and generally improved the game for Chicago. The Blackhawks played better with them as a trio, and with Kubalik becoming the Blackhawks’ designated finisher, they’ve given Kane somebody who can feed off his playmaking instincts, while Kubalik and Toews are able to backcheck effectively together.

This line could last a long time, perhaps even when Brandon Saad returns from his right-ankle injury. There’s certainly no reason to break it up yet, and although the team has tried to substitute Drake Caggiula in Kane’s stead, the line is better with Kane.