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The Blackhawks Week That Was and Will Be, 3/18: Cheers, mate

Back at it after a one-week hiatus.

Chicago Blackhawks v Seattle Kraken Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

Greetings from across the pond.

Those who frequent the SCH comment sections may have picked up on my affinity for the Premier League and Southampton FC in particular.

After years of promising myself I was going to do it, well:

Google says it’s 3,915 miles from Chicago to Southampton and that’s how far I traveled to watch the club I’ve been supporting for nearly a decade lose to freaking Watford at home, giving the Hornets a ray of hope that they won’t be relegated.

On Wednesday, I headed to the Emirates Stadium in London to watch Arsenal host Liverpool, a venue double the size of St. Mary’s Stadium (pictured above), which was an adequate host for two of the top four teams in the Premier League:

Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Here’s a list of things that were completely different at those venues compared to attending sports in the States:

  • No alcohol allowed in the seating area, a law that’s been in effect since 1985. Fans make up for that by drinking on the concourse (and at nearby pubs) pregame, heading to the seats moments before kickoff and then making a mad dash for the concession stands at halftime.
  • Digital entry points, at least in the sense that there isn’t a human being standing there and scanning each ticket. Each gate had 3 or 4 entry points where you presented your ticket to a barcode. At Arsenal’s stadium, the entire process was digital because my ticket was loaded to my phone via GPay. Feels like we’ll end up with some version of that in America, eventually.
  • Visiting fans separated from home fans, with those sections entirely ringed by security to keep altercations to a minimum. Veteran footy fans will know this but it was my first time(s) seeing it in person. And it makes for a great atmosphere because having those collective fans sitting together adds a punch to their collective voice. Those dueling chants between home and away fans is what makes the atmosphere for all of European football so special.

It’s something that has always sounded incredible to me on television but hearing it in person is something entirely different. I realize this is a hockey blog and the majority of people reading this gives precisely zero fucks about this sport. For the others, I close with the most fervent encouragement to go overseas at some point and take in a Premier League match in person. It’s unlike anything we get with most American sports — the American Outlaws make the USMNT/USWNT games pretty great and a few MLS rivalries are fostering similar atmospheres, too — and is something that can’t be explained with words.

So go check one out.

The Week(s) That Was/Were

Thursday, March 3: Blackhawks 4, Oilers 3

Having Niklas Hjalmarsson’s night combine with Duncan Keith’s return before three games in the following week that were in the same building and against the same opponents that resulted in Cups for Chicago made it impossible to avoid nostalgia trips in the first half of March.

Saturday, March 5: Flyers 4, Blackhawks 3

Death, taxes and the Blackhawks losing regular-season games in Philadelphia.

Sunday, March 6: Lightning 6, Blackhawks 3

The Lightning are starting to look like the type of team in a local beer league that gets broken up by the owner of the rink due to a lack of competition. The salary cap may be the only thing that stops them.

Tuesday, March 8: Blackhawks 8, Ducks 3

Don’t think there’s too much recency bias in calling this the most enjoyable Blackhawks game of the season.

Thursday, March 10: Bruins 4, Blackhawks 3

Yeah, fine, whatever. Boston still firmly in the category of “good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to do anything seriously upon arrival.”

Saturday, March 12: Blackhawks 6, Senators 3

It’s still pleasant to see Jonathan Toews doing hockey things. The reservations about him fighting are understandable but that ornery nature is a central part of what made Toews so good in his prime. And a glimpse of that again was pleasant — even against a dreadful team like Ottawa.

Tuesday, March 15: Bruins 2, Blackhawks 1

Marc-Andre Fleury rules.

Whistleblower

Speaking of Fleury ... I’ve been saying for weeks that my personal hunch is that Fleury stays put in Chicago at the deadline, that he doesn’t seem like he wants to uproot his family once again. If Fleury is moved, we can analyze the return then. But if Fleury stays for the rest of this season, that raises other questions about the future and I keep coming back to this idea:

I’m of the mind that the Blackhawks are better off with Marc-Andre Fleury around next season.

This spins off the belief that the Blackhawks are unable to do a complete teardown due to a few unmovable contracts (primarily Seth Jones and Jonathan Toews). And despite all the moves made last offseason, the Blackhawks were in a pseudo-rebuild for several seasons, so prospects like Lukas Reichel and Ian Mitchell and Wyatt Kalynuk and Jakub Galvas and more are knocking on the door of the NHL, not two or three seasons away.

Assuming several of those players make the NHL leap next season, it’ll be crucial for their development if they, ya know, win some games. And Fleury gives them the best chance to do that because Kevin Lankinen hasn’t quite displayed the consistency necessary for a No. 1 NHL goalie. Sure, give Lankinen a higher share of the net next season, but keeping Fleury around means the young players might enjoy a hint of success. That team isn’t going to win the Cup but, at some point, this team and its players need to learn how to win some damn games.

So, yeah, if Fleury doesn’t wish to be traded, bring him back next season and see what happens. If the team’s just as bad or worse again next season, then we can talk about tearing this whole damn thing down to the studs (when it’ll be much more feasible).

The Week That Will Be

Saturday, March 19 at Minnesota Wild

Still not ready for a world where the Wild have a genuinely entertaining hockey player like Kirill Kaprizov on the team.

Sunday, March 20 vs. Winnipeg Jets

At the opposite end of the spectrum: I feel like I’ve never had any level of emotional response to anything the Jets have done since returning to Winnipeg.

Kitty chases Fiddy

WE’RE BACK!

Last Week: 7 games, 5 goals

Season Totals: 61 games, 34 goals

Current Pace: (34 goals / 61 games played) * 82 games = 45.70 goals

A five-game goal streak helped raise the overall pace by over 1.5 goals. He’s going to need a serious scoring binge soon to catch 50 but it’s certainly not out of his grasp. DeBrincat has had stretches of nine goals in nine games and seven in seven earlier this season.