The Blackhawks’ exhibition game against the Blues on Wednesday may not have mattered in the record books — hell, in a week, you may not remember who won. It was an exhibition game, so the winner and loser doesn’t hold omens, but the Blackhawks did win 4-0 behind two power-play goals from Dominik Kubalik and a combined 21-save shutout from Corey Crawford and Malcolm Subban.
What matter more than the final score though are the questions the game settled, ahead of the Blackhawks’ qualifier series against the Oilers.
Five major questions heading into this game:
- What Crawford’s role would look like?
- How Crawford and Connor Murphy would bounce back from injuries, as well as Calvin de Haan?
- How would young guys like Alex Nylander, Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist would turn great training camps into game performances?
- How a 13th forward (Dylan Sikura) and seventh defenseman (Lucas Carlsson) would be used?
- What adjustments coach Jeremy Colliton would make?
All of these questions were answered. Some right away — Sikura didn’t see a lot of time, just 6:12, but Carlsson did, with 13:15, taking shifts with almost all other defensemen. Colliton mixed up lines but eventually settled on some excellent looking ones, including the return of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Kubalik as the first-line trio.
The defensive pairs were much more concrete and aligned early, as the predicted parings of Duncan Keith-Boqvist and Olli Maatta-Slater Koekkoek played almost all shifts together — to the point Koekkoek was on the penalty kill with Maatta.
Crawford made 11 saves in 30:06 before he was pulled for Malcolm Subban as Colliton wanted to get both goalies into the game. Subban stepped in and made 10 saves, including eight at even strength, in the remaining 29:04.
To start the third period, the Blues did the same, pulling Jordan Binnington in favor of Jake Allen, who allowed also allowed two goals.
Murphy looked excellent, although he had his time limited (16:11), playing mostly with de Haan, and managing a 62.5-percent shot share.
Dach made an impression, adding two assists, both on the power play, and played the most time among Chicago forwards with 17:35 in the game. Boqvist and Nylander didn’t add any points.
The only real adjustments made from the training camp lines was Dach and Toews switching left wings, with Kubalik returning to the first line and Drake Caggiula playing with Dach and DeBrincat.
Saad started the scoring at 7:40 of the second, after an explosive offensive shift from himself, Kubalik and Toews. After several chances, Toews recovered the puck, made a near-blind pass to Saad, who tucked it past Binnington:
It was at least the second time Toews had made a similar play in the game, as he made a pass to Kubalik along the same lines during a first period power play, although Binnington saved that shot.
Dylan Strome then deflected a pass from Patrick Kane into the net for a 2-0 lead at 9:12.
The Nylander-Strome-Kane line impressed all training camp and were able to score against the Blues, the top seed in the Western Conference. That’s why you leave your stick on the ice if you’re able to drive the net, especially when on a line with Kane.
Even the Blackhawks’ power play scored, converting on their second opportunity due to a play by Dach. Dach caught a pass from Kane and threw it right to Kubalik, who scored for a 3-0 lead at 5:04 of the third. It was a great play by Dach, who could end up a reliable power-play net front presence in the future.
And then Kubalik did it again at 12:04, scoring on the Blackhawks’ fourth power play after a mishandle by Toews got him the puck and the Czech forward made it 4-0.
That’s all Kubalik, because it’s a pretty clear mistake by Toews, but it doesn’t matter when you’re as good of a goal scorer as the Calder nominee is.
- Dominik Kubalik (CHI) — 2 goals, 1 assist, 4 shots
- Corey Crawford/Malcolm Subban (CHI) — 21 combined saves, 1.77 expected goals against
- Kirby Dach (CHI) — 2 assists, 2 shots, 17:35
The Blackhawks play Game 1 of their qualifier series against the Oilers at 2 p.m. Saturday.