Playing in their second preseason game, the Chicago Blackhawks renewed their rivalry with the St. Louis Blues on Friday night at the United Center. After spending the pandemic-shortened season in different divisions, the long-time rivals played each other for the first time since March 8, 2020.
The game was an opportunity for fans to see offseason acquisitions goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, defensemen Seth Jones and Jake McCabe and forward Tyler Johnson make their debut wearing a Hawks sweater. In addition, the Blackhawks’ two leading scorers from last season, Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, both named alternate captains for the 2021–22 season earlier this week, made their first preseason appearances. After signing his entry-level deal just two months after he was selected 30th overall in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Blackhawks, defensemen Nolan Allan received his first taste of NHL action against the arch-rival Blues.
For the Blues, Friday was already their fourth preseason game following a 5–2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Wednesday night.
The Blues controlled the play for most of the first period, as they spent the majority of time in the Blackhawks’ zone, capped by a two-man advantage for nearly a minute, which the Hawks killed off. While shorthanded, Blackhawks fans had a chance to see two of their newest stars handle a sticky situation, as a Blues shot squirted through Fleury’s pads only to be cleared out by Jones.
The Blues took a 1–0 lead at the 10:54 mark after Kane turned it over along the half boards to the Blues’ Tanner Kaspick, who skated the puck into the slot and dropped it to Nathan Todd, who snapped a quick wrister past the blocker of Fleury.
The Blackhawks found their legs over the final seven minutes, as they generated multiple scoring chances, including a few from Ryan Carpenter, who was their best forward of the period. After one, the Blues held an 11–10 shots on goal advantage and a 1–0 lead on the scoreboard.
It took about half the period for the offensive flood gates to open.
At 10:14, while the Hawks were on the man advantage, Pavel Buchnevich cleared the puck right to Fleury, who swatted it to his right. Brayden Schenn forechecked Jones, who lost his stick in the corner and Schenn found a wide open Buchnevich, who buried a one-timer from the left dot past Fleury to extend the St. Louis lead to 2–0.
On the same power play, just 39 seconds later, the Blackhawks cut the lead in half to 2–1, as Kane, while skating along the left half wall, found Johnson in the left circle and he went cross ice to DeBrincat, who one-timed a shot from the right circle at 10:53 of the middle frame.
After Collin Delia relieved Fleury in net, a move that was announced before the game, Robert Thomas regained a two-goal lead for the Blues after another offensive zone turnover by Kane. Justin Faulk led a Blues rush the other way and Jake Neighbors found Thomas, who had a step on Jones, and went high glove side on Delia to give the Blues a 3–1 advantage.
With just over a minute left in the second, DeBrincat found a loose puck and dished it to a pinching Caleb Jones, who buried it on a nearly wide-open cage to cut the Hawks’ deficit to 3–2.
After two periods, the Blues led the Hawks 3–2 and had a 24–20 advantage in shots on goal.
Early in the third, after the Hawks’ Dmitri Osipov took an undisciplined cross-checking penality, Ivan Barbashev capitalized on a loose puck in front of Delia to give the Blues a 4–2 lead at the 5:17 mark.
At 14:35, Vladimir Tarasenko, making his preseason debut, executed a beautiful give-and-go with Neighbors, ending with Tarasenko finishing from the right hash marks to extend the Blues’ lead to 5–2.
With 4:02 left, Carpenter was rewarded for his effort in this exhibition game. Dylan Strome started the play behind the net when he pursued the puck and the Blues’ defensemen lost his stick. The puck found Calvin de Haan in the slot and he backhanded the puck to Carpenter on the doorstep, who chipped it in to cut the St. Louis lead to 5–3.
With the Hawks’ net empty for the extra attacker, Tarasenko won a board battle in his own zone and sent the puck the other way on the rush, which ended with Neighbors capping a three-point night with a goal to extend the Blues’ lead to 6–3, which was the final.
The third period was nearly all St. Louis, as they outshot the Hawks 16–7 in the frame and 40–27 for the game.
Analysis: The good, the bad and the ugly
The good: Carpenter had a strong game in all three zones. The puck seemed to find him, as he generated multiple scoring chances in the first and was rewarded for his effort in the third with a goal.
Caleb Jones had a strong game, as he made a smart pinch in the offensive zone for a goal in the second and was mostly responsible defensively.
For the second straight game, Lukas Reichel played well alongside Brandon Hagel and Jonathan Toews. Reichel demonstrated tremendous skill and a “want to” attitude on the forecheck. While I predicted he will not make the team out of camp, if he keeps playing this way or better, Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton may not have a choice but to find a spot for him.
The bad: Turnovers, turnovers and turnovers. Have we seen this movie before? The Blackhawks continue to turn the puck over at an alarming rate in their own zone. By my count, Kane had two which led directly to goals.
Seth Jones. I contemplated whether to put him in the “bad” column or “ugly” column because he definitely was not good. He was on the ice for three goals by my count and had his pocket picked multiple times, however, his first exhibition game in a new city, with a new team, in a new system, is NOT the time to panic and call him a failed move by General Manager Stan Bowman.
The ugly: 40 shots on goal with most of their regulars playing? Yikes! Again, it is very early and not the time to panic, however, I do want to see how Colliton evolves as a head coach. He has been given the most talent to work with since he became the bench boss, however, I am still not seeing any semblance of a defensive structure within Colliton’s “system.”
The Blackhawks and Blues will meet again tomorrow night at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence, Missouri, at 7 p.m. Unfortunately, there is no television or radio broadcast for this game.
Dach, Dach, deuce!
Earlier in the day, the Blackhawks agreed to terms with forward Colton Dach on a three-year entry-level contract that runs through the 2023–24 season with an $870,000 annual salary cap hit. A second-round selection (62nd overall) by the Blackhawks in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the 18-year-old Dach joins his older brother, Blackhawks center Kirby Dach, in the organization. Colton has been with the Blackhawks for training camp, but will very likely play for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League this season after he was traded there earlier this week from the Saskatoon Blades. During the 2020–21 season, Colton registered a team-leading 11 goals and 20 points for the Blades.