Along the boards: Blackhawks strike early and often, down Islanders 5–2


The Blackhawks couldn’t get to the NHL Christmas break fast enough on Monday night after they were completely embarrassed by the New Jersey Devils. There was nothing good to talk about in that game, and fellow The-Rink writer Mario Tirabassi perfectly defined the embarrassing performance.

However, the holidays went too quickly. The Brent Seabrook/Calvin de Haan/Brandon Saad news on Thursday put a bit of a damper on Friday’s contest. The lines made the feeling no better:

Adam Boqvist was also sitting out Friday’s tilt, so Slater Koekkoek drew in for the young Swede. Robin Lehner also took the net against his former team.

Lehner's fans are loyal

Plenty of love for Lehner on the Island. Islanders fans lined up to show love for their former goaltender on Friday night. Photo: Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Despite how it looked before the game, the Hawks came out as the better team, pressuring the Islanders up and down the ice.

Although the visitors opened the game’s scoring, the home team was the dominant team in the opening frame. Three first period goals from Dennis Gilbert, Dominik Kubalik and Alex DeBrincat gave the Hawks a two goal cushion at the end of the opening frame.

Gilbert’s first career goal was a product of great cycling by the Strome line. Gilbert found himself in the low slot when Dylan Strome found him for the home team’s first goal.

Kubalik’s marker was an impressive play between Kubalik and Kane, who was the first member of the Carpenter line on the ice during a change. Kubalik gave the puck to Kane, who quickly returned the puck to the Czech winger for a one-time opportunity. Although he didn’t get everything on it, Kubalik’s changeup found the twine behind Thomas Greiss.

DeBrincat’s tally was the “prettiest” of the opening period goals. Strome once again set up his favorite teammate for an excellent opportunity in the high slot. DeBrincat wired a perfect shot, top shelf, to beat Greiss and ultimately chase him from the game.

The Dach-Strome-DeBrincat line was the best line in the first period. Although the Toews line was solid in the opening frame, the Strome line consistently dominated puck possession. They were continually able to cycle the puck and provided two of the three goals in the first. 

Despite the quiet middle frame for both teams, the third period yielded some excitement. In the first minute of the final frame, Jonathan Toews scored to give the Hawks a three goal lead. Not too long after, Matthew Highmore scored his first of the season to extend the Hawks’ lead to four goals. 

Toews looked like his classic self on the opening tally in the third period. While skating down the right wing boards, Toews slightly changed his angle on Seymon Varlamov and beat him over the goalie’s right pad. 

Highmore made the “smart play” and threw the puck toward the net from the corner with Zack Smith out in front. The puck bounced off an Islanders defender and found the back of the net. Smith knew it right away, as he pointed at Highmore when the puck trickled into the net behind Varlamov.

Although the Islanders scored late, it didn’t matter as the Hawks captured the 5–2 win over the Islanders. 

Along the boards

The kid shines

One of the best players on the ice in this game, based on the eye test, was Dennis Gilbert. He was all over the ice, making his presence felt in the physical game, as well as blocking shots. He was excellent, even gaining a little high five and pat on the butt from Robin Lehner after arguably Gilbert’s most important block of the game.

Watching Gilbert step up was refreshing. With all the injuries this Blackhawks team is facing right now, seeing Gilbert be able to play a big role is a positive sign for this team going forward. Perhaps in the future Gilbert cements himself as a bottom pairing defenseman who can kill penalties. That type of defenseman will be critical down the road when the offensive minded Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell are roaming the ice.

All hail King Lehner

Another day, another sensational performance from the Hawks’ net-minder. He has continually been the best player for the Blackhawks all season and, if every team had an MVP award for the first half of the season, Lehner would take the cake. Against his former team, who let him walk in favor of Semyon Varlamov, Lehner stepped up and ensured the Blackhawks beat the organization that Lehner helped lead to the playoffs last season. Lehner admitted in his always colorful interviews that he respected the guys on the other side of the ice, but enjoyed beating his former team.

The big deadline for the Blackhawks is the turn of the new year. Once we ring in 2020 in about five days, the Blackhawks can extend Robin Lehner. The Blackhawks’ new year’s resolution should be to establish a long-term plan in net, and they can do just that by extending Lehner in about a week. Be smart Stan, do something right and extend Lehner.

Captain Dach?

Kirby Dach had a very nice game playing alongside Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat on what was tabbed the “third line” on Friday night. Playing the wing allowed Dach to play a little more freely, and it benefitted the young center, despite not registering a point on the score sheet.

One notable play Dach made was on the Gilbert goal. He was able to take the puck behind the net, and dish to Duncan Keith at the point. Keith then set up Strome for the pass to Gilbert. The play was impressive because it looked so effortless. He did a lot of little things right; crashed the net on transition plays, led transitions into the offensive zone, and helped orchestrate the second power play unit.

On top of all those things, he had the presence of mind to pick up Gilbert’s puck after he scored his first career goal, which is the second time he’s done that this season (see Boqvist’s first goal). Maybe he’s the next captain?

The Blackhawks return to action on Sunday for a late afternoon matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus, Ohio. Puck drop is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. CST.

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