One of the most confounding things about this Blackhawks team is its inconsistency. And tonight, that showed itself in them not repeating their woeful Saturday night performance and instead playing like a functional hockey team for most of the game. I know, crazy, right? Not that I’m complaining—let’s be honest, having to watch back-to-back games as bad as the one against the Kings might have caused me to have a stroke, so I’m OK with THIS inconsistent play. It’s been a long weekend so let’s just get to the bullets:
–The first period tonight really couldn’t have been more different from that which took place 24 hours earlier. Whereas against the Kings they gave up two goals in less than five minutes and couldn’t stop tripping over their own dicks, in the first period tonight the Hawks SCORED two goals, and led in shots 15-12, and also led in possession with a 58 CF% at evens. They were playing, well, competent hockey. That really shouldn’t be so remarkable, but after some of the garbage we’ve seen, including such recent garbage, it is.
–One thing I’d like to think played a role in the reduction of garbage play is the lineups. Tonight DeBrincat-Strome-Kane was finally rolled out as the second line, which I among many other people have been clamoring for loudly for weeks. Saad-Toews-Nylander was your top line, and wouldn’t ‘ya know it, those lines finished with 60 CF% and 54 CF%. Who could have forseen that those guys would play well together? Obviously not Colliton. Kirby Dach moved to wing with Dominik Kubalik and David Kampf centering them, which actually makes perfect sense given Kubalik’s skill and Kampf’s defensive abilities. On that note Kampf completely bounced back from a shitty performance Saturday. Kubalik also looked promising but he kept trying to pass instead of shoot. So it’s nice that he and Dach are trying to develop some “chemistry” or whatever (I don’t like that term, but it’s a good catch-all), but Kubalik needs to trust himself a little more and just take the shot. Playing wing should also make life a little easier for Dach as he adjusts to what his life is now, which has been deemed to be up with the top club all year.
–Speaking of youngsters, A New Hope Adam Boqvist scored his first NHL goal. It came just a power play expired, when the unit was Boqvist, Kubalik, Toews, Dach and Nylander. And I’ve gotta tell you I am excited about that unit (and you know my skepticism about Fetch Nylander). But, Fetch has been playing better lately, there’s no denying that. More importantly, if this really is the next generation they’ve got to be a functional power play unit, so it was quite a relief to see that it’s possible. No, they’re not going to play great every night, but there IS potential. The Hawks also scored on a 5-on-3 where Alex DeBrincat had a great tap-in on an open net, and while that again shouldn’t be big news, at this point any scoring, and particularly any special teams scoring, is absolutely big news.
–Jonathan Toews got hosed on two penalties, the second of which resulted in the tying goal in the third. I firmly believe that bad calls get worked out karmically with calls that randomly go your way, so what will be will be. However, as I said on Twitter, that was pretty much bullshit that let the Ducks tie it up.
–Which brings us to the latter part of the game, where the possession tanked and the Ducks passed the Hawks in shots (and tied the game, of course). Again, the penalties were not the entire story so I’m not suggesting the refs stole the game—the Hawks had plenty of opportunity to play better in their own zone in the third and on power plays where they gave up shorthanded chances with alarming regularity. So things are still clearly a work in progress, and one improved game does not a good hockey team make.
–And the reason that defensive breakdowns didn’t result in the Hawks being embarrassed was…wait for it…goaltending. I said it before and I’ll say it again—duh, of course it was. Robin Lehner was outstanding, with a .947 SV% and enough highlight reel saves to count on two hands. Beyond the flashy shit, though, he was generally excellent with positioning and rebounds, as the Hawks need from anyone who has to play in net behind the likes of Brent Seabrook and Olli Maatta.
The fact that the Hawks got three points out of this weekend is kind of insane given how terrible they were for half of it, but whatever, maybe that Southern California environment is what they need. Onward and upward…