Reflecting on a too-small sample of the Blackhawks' season
Playing around with small sample sizes is a rather fruitless activity, but two games through the Blackhawks' season, let's offer up some observations anyways.
It would be easy to overreact to the first couple games of the Chicago Blackhawks' season, searching for any hint of a trend that might continue for the next six-plus months. After such a long break without hockey, it's tempting to overanalyze every strategy, lineup and in-game adjustment in a misguided search for meaning.
The reality, of course, is that little can be gleaned from 120-plus minutes of action. The NHL season is a long climb, not a quick leap, and things can change significantly as the calendar rolls through winter and into the spring. There might be tape to watch, stats to study and decisions to second-guess, but our sample size is woefully insufficient for making serious insights.
With that said, you weren't expecting us to just sit around and fiddle with our fingers until the end of November right? While I can't stress enough that these observations should be taken with a grain of salt, here are some of the notable things to come out of the first two Hawks games of the season.
Mixed results from young d-men
The Blackhawks have seen both good and bad from their young corps of defensemen thus far. On the bright side we've had Trevor van Riemsdyk, who's looked pretty solid while partnering with Niklas Hjalmarsson. Even if he's not a particularly explosive player on either end, the former New Hampshire star knows where to be and has avoided the kinds of mistakes that'll send a young player to the bench.
David Rundblad, on the other hand, may be destined for a trip to Rockford soon if he can't get his game together. The former Coyote looked abysmal against Buffalo, making multiple major turnovers, and will have a hard time keeping that spot next to Johnny Oduya if he can't polish things up. Eventually, someone like Klas Dahlbeck or Adam Clendening will deserve a shot, or maybe a healthy Michal Rozsival will just take the gig.
Solid start, Corey
We can keep debating about whether Corey Crawford is above-average or near elite or good enough to win a Cup or what have you, but the first two games of the season offered some optimism. Think what you'd like about Crawford and his skill level, it would still be hard to criticize how he looked against Dallas and Buffalo. Two games, two wins, a save percentage of 93.0, a solid shootout showing against the Stars ... this was the Crawford we were hoping to see early this season, and we got it.
Brad Richards, still finding his way
Given the circumstances, it probably shouldn't be surprising that Richards has been quiet thus far. He spent most of camp working with a different line before being switched near the start of the season, and is still working to develop chemistry with his new teammates.
However, it's still not a great sign that he's failed to record a point in a Hawks uniform through two contests, and is currently the only player on the team with a negative plus-minus. Richards made a couple key miscues against the Stars, and was partially responsible for one of the goals Buffalo scored in the first period on Saturday. Those mistakes are worrisome, although his possessions numbers have been fine thus far and more reps with his new linemates should help. We need to see more soon, but I'm not quite concerned with Richards yet.
Duncan Keith is gonna play mad minutes
After seeing a dip in his playing time during the previous two seasons, it looks like the Blackhawks' star defenseman won't be getting that extra rest from the coaching staff this season. Keith averaged 28:33 of playing time during Chicago's first two games, after averaging fewer than 25 minutes a night last season.
A few years back, when Keith wasn't in his early 30s, we were seeing nearly 27 minutes a game from the talented d-man. With no more Nick Leddy, an aging Rozsival and several young guys still finding their way, it wouldn't be surprising if Keith settles back into that kind of playing time.
Sharp's had that sniper's eye so far
The Blackhawks are often at their best when playing aggressively offensively and forcing teams into their own end, and Patrick Sharp has been a big part of that effort so far. He's accumulated 13 shots in just two games, and leads the team with a pair of goals. While nobody is expecting him to maintain a pace of 533 shots and 82 goals, it's hard to imagine Sharp falling short of the 30-goal barrier this season. If things come together right, we might even see his first 40-goal campaign.
Okay, Carcillo, not shabby
We're not ready to champion Daniel Carcillo as a quality addition to the Blackhawks or anything of the sort, but it's undeniable that he's been a pleasant surprise thus far. Against the Sabres, Carcillo drew multiple penalties and scored his first goal of the season, making actual contributions that went well beyond things like "intimidation" and "defending the stars." We've seen decent stretches from Carcillo before only to see him make major miscues, but for now, he's saying the right things, playing hard and not being totally terrible. If the Hawks insist upon having a guy like this on the roster, Carcillo is doing a decent job of making it easy to tolerate.