The Blackhawks skidded to their fourth loss in a row by being shutout 2-0 by the Avalanche in Denver Monday night.
The first period was scoreless, but the Blackhawks held their own against a powerhouse Avalanche team, a stretch of play that included, maybe, their best penalty kill sequence of the season. Maybe the Blackhawks will be able to do that all game?
Spoiler: No, the Blackhawks would not.
The second period was the exact opposite of the first as the Avalanche dominated, especially on their lone power play where they went up 1-0 near the middle of the period. After several good chances from seemingly everyone on the power play, Nazem Kadri fired a shot from the slot that just squeaked through Marc-Andre Fleury.
The only reason the Blackhawks were only down one goal in the second period was the many saves by Fleury. For some reason, there aren’t any videos or gifs of those saves so here is a pretty realistic re-enactment:
One save in particular — the toe save while standing up against Jack Johnson — was jaw-droppingly good. The Blackhawks Twitter was all of us that period:
FLOWER HAVE MERCY— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) January 25, 2022
Unfortunately, the weak defensive game by the Blackhawks was always going to lead to more goals against, no matter how spectacular Fleury was in net. And sure enough, the Avalanche went up 2-0 at 6:41 into the third period.
For some inexplicable reason, the Blackhawks decided to leave Mikko Rantanen — a player on pace for almost 50 goals this season — so completely alone in the lower slot that he had several seconds to wait Fleury out before placing a beautiful backhand into the net. The pass from Gabriel Landeskog from the boards was amazing, too.
Unfortunately, the Blackhawks didn’t muster much of a potential comeback in the final 13:19 of the game — even when pulling the goalie with over four minutes left — and thus were defeated 2-0 by the Avalanche.
- The Blackhawks’ first period was a solid effort. At 5-on-5, the Avs had the edge in shot attempts (19-17) and scoring chances (12-7), but the Blackhawks were favored in shots on goal (10-7) and high-danger scoring chances (5-3). And best of all, the Blackhawks did not allow a goal against.
- The second period, though, was the opposite of the first in practically every way as the Avalanche asserted their dominance at both 5-on-5 and on the power play. At one point, the Avalanche had the Blackhawks so pinned in their own zone that S. Jones and McCabe had to stay on the ice for almost three minutes.
- The Blackhawks penalty kill was like Jekyll and Hyde tonight: absolutely excellent in the first period and then a scrambly mess in the second. Luckily, they were disciplined enough to only take the two penalties.
- After a mostly lukewarm season, it was nice to see Caleb Jones have some good moments in the game tonight, though his ice time was extremely limited. In particular, the play where he stripped Tyson Jost at the blue line and then reversed for a scoring chance himself was impressive.
- Speaking of defensemen, one of the major issues with the Blackhawks is the lack of a strong neutral zone play from the blueliners, and this game highlighted that issue. Seth Jones is the only one who can pass to setup a breakout, for example, which is a huge problem. Gustafsson and Stillman both have had moments, but the former is also not good defensively and the latter is up and down this season. It might be a good time to see what Wyatt Kalynuk — who is on the taxi squad currently — or Ian Mitchell could do instead.
- That Rantanen goal was one of the worst instances of blown coverage in the Derek King era. Both S. Jones was along the board while McCabe was by the right faceoff dot, so neither defender was close to the net or left side of the ice, and every forward was facing away from Rantanen. The sheer amount of time he had for the extra deke and then waiting for Fleury to be prone just illustrated how fucked up the Blackhawks defense was on that play.
- Shoutout to Connor Murphy though — he was easily the best defender on the ice for the Blackhawks. Despite not being the fleetest of foot, Murphy did well defending the blue line and getting into passing lanes to disrupt the Avalanche’s cycle all night. This is a great example of when stats and eye test meet up too — he was statistically the best defender at suppressing shots as well.
- However, despite all the defensive breakdowns and the lopsided second period, the game wasn’t as much of a statistical imbalance as expected, especially at 5-on-5. At 5-on-5, the Blackhawks were within five or fewer in all shot categories except high danger chances (they tied in that category at 11 apiece). The Avalanche probably did what the Blackhawks did during the successful years — just enough to win against lower quality opponents — but I’ll give some credit to the Blackhawks for hanging around. So at least they did, in fact, keep their dignity.
- Fleury had a great bounce-back game from when he was pulled against Minnesota. The team in front owes him big for keeping it close in the second period. Not a lot else to say about him at this point — it’s almost always the main reason the Blackhawks are ever in a game.
- On the bright side, there were several shots of a very good dog during the broadcast:
- Mikko Rantanen (COL) — 1 goal
- Nazem Kadri (COL) — 1 goal
- Marc-Andre Fleury (CHI) — 27 saves on 29 shots for .931 save-percentage
The Blackhawks face off with the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m.