The Blackhawks entered action in St, Paul, Minnesota last night, nursing a 3-game win streak and, as a result, some emerging confidence. It’s never easy to play back-to-back on the road as Chicago did last night. However, it’s easier when you’ve basically destroyed the opponent on the front end, as the Hawks did beating Buffalo 7-3 on Friday night.
Blackhawk lines and pairings versus the Wild:
Collin Delia was back in net for the Hawks, facing Alex Stalock for the Wild.
The game was largely boring and unremarkable for the first 8-plus minutes, highlighted by a nice Delia stop on Erik Staal breakaway around the five minute mark. The Wild were first to score. when Mikael Granlund engineered a beautiful fake shot and quick pass to an open Jason Zucker in the slot—which Zucker buried at 8:22. 1-0 Wild.
A few minutes later, Hawk winger Brendan Perlini was dragged down from behind on a breakaway, leading to a penalty shot. However, Stalock was up to the challenge, stopping a Perlini attempt through the five-hole.
Shots for the period were 8-8.
The Hawks tied the game at 7:51 of the second, when Alex DeBrincat tallied his 26th of the season, as he so often does utilizing a Minnesota defender as a screen, and beating Stalock just inside the post, stick side. 1-1
The period basically belonged to Chicago, with Erik Gustafsson giving the Hawks the lead at 14:47 on a point blast. 2-1, Blackhawks.
Shots for the period were 14-11 Chicago.
This period, however, really favored the Wild, with a 12-7 shot advantage and two goals to one for Chicago.
Mikko Koivu beat Delia from the slot at 8:11, as a direct result of the Hawks losing coverage responsibilities. 2-2
But the Hawks jumped out ahead again on the ower play at 15:25, when Jonathan Toews got inside position right on the doorstep and redirected a Patrick Kane slap pass right past Stalock. 3-2 Hawks.
But the Wild tied it yet again at 16:58, when Minnesota’s gigantic Jordan Greenway set up Viktor Rask on a bang-bang play. 3-3.
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter took a delay of game penalty right near the end of regulation, which carried over into OT, giving the Wild a lengthy 4-on-3 power play. That alone put the Hawks in the drivers’ seat, but the fact Suter is the Wild’s best defender and key to their 3-on-3 groupings, really set the Hawks up for success. Sure enough, Gustafsson, after playing catch with DeBrincat near the top of the offensive zone, laid on a mattress pass and beat a screened Stalock, giving Chicago the winner, 4-3.
Here at The-Rink, we don’t hold back on certain inconsistent players or an overall roster that still has several holes. But we’re also fair. Gustafsson is an offensive weapon and showed it again last night. Additionally, the usual suspects (Kane, Toews, Gustafsson, DeBrincat) all contributed. The Hawks still gave up over 30 shots, but Delia was good enough, and the season-long, egregiously bad defensive zone play has somewhat dissipated—vaulting Chicago to arguably their best stretch of play this season.
The Wild are one of the league’s worst offensive teams—and they did all their business basically unmolested, right in front of Delia. Against a better team, the Hawks don’t get that game to overtime or win.
In fact, on this 4-game win streak, the Hawks have given up 37+ shots per game on average. Winning in spite of that poor defensive play is not remotely sustainable.
Can the Hawks make the playoffs? Well, Hawk team media (NBCS-C and WGN) seems to be pushing the “yes” narrative hard. Not surprising. They’re paid to do that. But here’s the harsh reality: the Hawks are 5 points out of the last wild card spot—and, even worse, the 6 teams in their way ALL have games in hand, most of them 2-3 games.
But do the playoffs matter for this team? A surprising number of “Jabroni Zombies” (“JaZombies?” “ZomBronis?”) out there would seem happy with that—as though “making the playoffs” would contradict the huge weight of evidence that a team with $39 million wrapped up in 5 players over the age of 30, all with no-movement clauses, may actually get worse before it gets better.
Following a trend since 2015, the Hawks remain a good 3-on-3 team—last night’s win ties the team for second in the league in OT goals (6). Which is great, if you want to make the first round of the playoffs and get blitzkrieged in 4 games.
Because there’s no 3-on-3 OT in the NHL playoffs. Further, the Hawks are not a good 5-on-5 team—again continuing a 3-year+ trend: they are 48.8% in 5-on-5 Corsi, and 18 goals underwater at even strength.
But, improvement, even if temporary, is improvement, and the Hawks have been visibly better—and a little lucky, as in getting two epic performances out of Cam Ward, for example—the last handful of games.
All we have for now. Please comment below.