If you were confused about the direction of the Chicago Blackhawks, the first three games of the season set the record straight for you. The franchise that won three Stanley Cup between 2010 and 2015 is no longer a competitive NHL franchise, but instead is a team tanking for a high draft pick.
Blackhawks outclassed against Tampa Bay Lightning
To start off their 2021 campaign, the Blackhawks had the unfortunate pleasure of playing the defending Stanley Cup Champions on the road in Tampa Bay. With a healthy Steven Stamkos, the Lightning overwhelmed the Blackhawks to the tune of a 5–1 outcome on opening night. Stamkos recorded one goal and two assists in the victory.
The lone Blackhawks goal was on a pass attempt from Dylan Strome that deflected in off of two Lightning players to beat goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Despite the loss, there were some positives for the Blackhawks. Pius Suter looks to be a promising NHL player and Ian Mitchell looked like an NHL defenseman. Mitchell is among the most notable prospects to watch with Kirby Dach being out of the lineup.
In their second meeting, the Vasilevskiy stole the show by making 35 saves to seal a 5–2 victory for the defending champs. The Bolts’ line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow combined for six points, while Stamkos chipped in another goal and assist.
The Blackhawks’ goals were scored by Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, and Collin Delia made 32 saves in the loss. Even though Chicago lost, it was an improvement over their first game of the season. The team showed some resilience cutting the lead to 3–2 in the second period, but talent won the day in this matchup. Of note, Philipp Kurashev had a solid NHL debut in the losing effort.
Joel Quenneville revenge game
In their final game of the week, the Blackhawks squared off against the Florida Panthers. It is the third meeting between the Blackhawks and Panthers since Joel Quenneville took his coaching talents to Florida.
Early in the game, Quenneville challenged a Patrick Kane goal assisted by Suter. Suter set up Kane with a spin-o-rama pass for the goal. However, the challenge revealed that Kane was offside, negating the highlight-reel tally and what would have been Suter’s first NHL point.
Despite playing their best game of the season, the Blackhawks still allowed five goals for the third straight game and fell to the Panthers 5–2. The Panthers got goals from Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Eetu Luostarinen, Patric Hornqvist and Jonathan Huberdeau.
The Blackhawks got goals from Connor Murphy and DeBrincat in the loss. In addition, the Blackhawks got promising play from Suter and Kurshaev again. Kurashev looks to be on the brink of recording his first NHL point, while Suter continues to bring energy and skill to the Blackhawks.
Chicago’s major issues through three games
After three games this season, the Blackhawks are faced with some tough decisions about Adam Boqvist. Boqvist appears to be showing little to no improvement defensively from last season and looks to perhaps even be regressing. His play has gotten so bad that in the game against Florida, Boqvist was replaced by Duncan Keith on the power play and saw reduced ice time as a whole, playing just 13:36 in the loss. If Boqvist cannot be used on the power play, his current value greatly diminishes. In a season where development for the future is one of the primary goals, Boqvist regressing is not promising.
Another issue facing the Blackhawks is Dominik Kubalik’s lack of ice time. After having a breakout rookie season in 2019–20, Kubalik has been reduced to playing bottom-six minutes. He is currently averaging a full minute less of ice time this season compared to last season.
Head Coach Jeremy Colliton said after the first game that Kubalik needed to play better and he will play better. When his ice time did not significantly change after the third game of the season, Colliton stated the ice times were out of whack on the stat sheet and that’s why Kubalik’s line was so low. This is something to watch in future games.
The last major issue plaguing the Blackhawks is their lack of quality goaltending. Everyone knew goaltending would be an issue this season. After three games, two starts by Delia and one by Malcolm Subban, the Blackhawks’ current save percentage is .848 and the goals against average is 5.00. The Blackhawks have to find some consistent goaltending to not get embarrassed in every game this season.
The Blackhawks will resume action Tuesday against the Panthers in Florida before returning home to face the Detroit Red Wings on Friday in Chicago’s home opener at the United Center.