The Blackhawks have finally had a lead this season but are still searching for their first win. They’ll hope to achieve that feat as they faceoff against the Carolina Hurricanes Friday night in Raleigh, a now familiar opponent as the two teams played eight times last season thanks to the COVID-induced divisional realignment.
Last season, the Blackhawks went 3-2-3 against the Hurricanes, a fairly respectable feat considering the Hurricanes were one of the best teams in the division. Hopefully, the better performance can carry over to this season because the Blackhawks desperately could use something positive to happen.
The Hurricanes are currently one of three undefeated teams in the NHL, having gone 6-0-0 to start the season and outscoring their opponents 31-13 in that span. In their most recent win, the Hurricanes defeated the Boston Bruins 3-0 in a decisive manner, including keeping the Bruins off the score sheet despite five power play opportunities. It’s only six games, but the Hurricanes looked as poised to be a contender this season as they were in the last one.
As for several years now, the Hurricanes are led by their top forward trio of Andrei Svechnikov (6 G, 4 A), Sebastian Aho (4 G, 4 A), and Teuvo Teravainen (2 G, 7 A), all of whom are over a point-per-game so far. Center Vincent Trocheck also had six points (2 G, 4 A) in six games, Nino Niederreiter and Jesper Fast have chipped in with three goals each, and the always steady Jordan Staal rounds out the top-six with respectable four points (1 G, 3 A).
The Hurricanes defense continues to be one of the most impressive. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are both off to a great start with five and four assists, respectively, while playing top pair minutes — albeit on different pairings. Brady Skjei has been dependable in his role rounding out the top-three. Newly acquired Ethan Bear and Tony DeAngelo are settling in nicely: the former has been solid playing alongside Slavin against higher quality of competition while the latter is contributing to a 0.83 point-per-game pace in an offensive role on the third pairing. Ian Cole’s solid performance caps a deep defensive group.
Coming into the season, the only question mark was in net, as the Hurricanes lost their tandem from last season, including Alex Nedeljkovic who had posted a league-high .932 save percentage last season. However, Frederik Andersen — who signed with the Hurricanes as a free agent — has been outstanding in net with a league-leading .956 save percentage.
The Blackhawks are essentially the Bizarro Hurricanes at this point in the season as they are winless after seven games and have been outscored 30- to 14 in that span. The team managed to pick up a point in their most recent game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but still failed to secure a win in overtime despite leading until the final half of their third period. Only the Arizona Coyotes have performed worse so far this season.
The Blackhawks are also led by the usual forwards in Patrick Kane (1 G, 4 A) and Alex DeBrincat (3 G, 1 A). Unfortunately, the former is still in COVID Protocol and DeBrincat’s production has been almost exclusively on the power play. Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik have been strong in their early season performance with three goals so far, including Dach scoring the Blackhawks first leading goal of the season last game against the Leafs. Seth Jones is the only Blackhawks defenseman with multiple points to his name with six (all assists). Otherwise, the Blackhawks have been fairly devoid of production throughout the lineup.
Offense isn’t the only issue with the Blackhawks though: they’re still bottom-10 in the league in shot attempts and shots on goal against and bottom-half in the league in scoring chances and expected goals against. Defensively, they’ve improved in terms of limiting quality shots against, but they’ve also only done so against teams that don’t generate much anyway. It’ll be good to see if they can continue to progress defensively against higher quality opponents, like the Hurricanes.
The good news is still that the special teams have been exceptional: currently, the Blackhawks power play is eighth in the league at 26.9 percent and the PK is third at 92 percent.
Some roster notes: the Blackhawks are still without forwards Henrik Borgstrom and Jujhar Khaira and defenseman Riley Stillman as they are still in COVID Protocol while defenseman Isaak Phillips was recalled from and Ian Mitchell assigned to the Rockford IceHogs. Phillips is expected to make his NHL debut.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Hurricanes (numbers from last season)
45.85% (30th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 53.94% (4th)
43.96% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 53.92% (5th)
2.84 (16th) — Goals per game — 3.13 (11th)
3.29 (24th) — Goals against per game — 2.39 (5th)
46.9% (27th) — Faceoffs — 53.9% (3rd)
21.7% (11th) — Power play — 25.6% (2nd)
76.8% (28th) — Penalty kill — 85.2% (3rd)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Hagel — Toews — Carpenter
Kubalik — Dach — Johnson
Debrincat— Kurashev — Hardman
Gaudette — R. Johnson — Entwistle
de Haan — Jones
McCabe — Murphy
Gustafsson — Phillips
Svechnikov — Aho — Teravainen
Kotkaniemi — Trocheck — Necas
Niederreiter — Staal — Fast
Martinook — Stephan — Lorentz
Slavin — Bear
Skjei — Pesce
Cole — DeAngelo
How to watch
When: 6 p.m. CT
Where: PNC Arena, Raliegh
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Live stream: ESPN+