After tallying five of a possible six points in the second week of action, the Chicago Blackhawks looked to climb in the standings in the third week of the shortened season. However, it was not meant to be. Despite battling in two road games against the Nashville Predators, where they earned two points in an overtime and a shootout loss, the Hawks could not find the net on Friday, suffering another loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, 2–1 at the United Center. The Hawks finished the week 0–1–2 and took two of a possible six points on the week.
Ahead of Tuesday, the Hawks would learn that they would be without defenseman Adam Boqvist and forward Alex DeBrincat for at least two weeks, as both players were added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. In Nashville, the offense sputtered, and they were generally outplayed by the Predators. The Hawks were outshot 81–50 in the two-game set.
Tuesday, Jan. 26: Subban steals a point
On Tuesday night, the Hawks jumped out to a 1–0 lead when Dylan Strome scored on the power play at 2:59 of the first period. The tally marked the Hawks seventh straight game in which they scored a power play goal. Hawks netminder Malcolm Subban was brilliant in the first frame, turning aside all 17 shots he faced.
After the Predators tied the game early in the second period, gritty forward Mattias Janmark sprinted in on a breakaway and fired a wrist short past Pekka Rinne to make it 2–1 Chicago at 11:43 of the second period.
The Predators tied it in the third period, and in overtime, a defensive miscue from the often-inconsistent Dylan Strome led to the overtime winner by Roman Josi. Subban registered 36 saves in the 3–2 overtime loss.
Wednesday, Jan 27: Strong in net, lacking in offense…again
Wednesday night appeared to be a carbon copy of the previous game. The Hawks played with more purpose and better tenacity, but created little in terms of offense. The Hawks’ lone marker came at 9:24 of the third when fourth-line grinder Ryan Carpenter banged home his own rebound off a Brandon Hagel feed. The helper marked Hagel’s first career NHL point.
Kevin Lankinen took the shootout loss, but earned his stripes yet again with 41 saves on the night.
Friday, Jan 29: Chances but no finish
The return to the United Center did not start well for the Hawks. After a failed man advantage of their own early in the first period, the Hawks surrendered the first goal of the game while a man down. Oliver Bjorkstrand drilled a one-timer from the left circle gave the Blue Jackets a 1–0 lead at 8:53 of the first period.
The Blue Jackets doubled their money in the second period making it 2–0, but the Hawks generated a lot of the action early in the period. On the power play, Strome was able to cash in from the front of the net off a great feed from Patrick Kane at 10:47 of the period to cut the margin to 2–1. The Hawks were outshooting the Jackets 23–15 at the end of the second.
The Hawks pressed late in the third period and both Kane and Carl Soderberg had grade-A chances as the game wound down, but neither could not find the equalizer. The game would end 2–1 in favor of the visitors. Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo was spectacular, stopping 31 of 32 shots faced on the night, many of which robbing surefire tallies for the Blackhawks.
Here we are: State of affairs
In the absence of DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach and to a certain extent Alexander Nylander, it is no surprise that the Hawks are having difficulty finding consistent offense. Four goals over the last three games is certainly not a recipe for winning hockey. Kane can only do so much, Strome brought it on Friday, but is not dependable on a nightly basis, Dominik Kubalik is learning about life in the NHL without Toews and Brandon Saad and the rest of the group is either young and inexperienced or stylistically better suited in checking roles.
To date, the fourth line has done their job. Hagel, Carpenter, David Kampf and Matthew Highmore (when on that line) understand their roles and provide much-needed stability considering the deck will often be shuffled on the first three lines.
And in a somewhat unexpected twist, the defense and goaltending has been a positive for the team in the last few games. Since their tough start, the Hawks have given eight goals in regulation time over their last five games. Love him or hate him, this is the best Connor Murphy has played in a Blackhawk uniform and Calvin de Haan has also been solid. Nicolas Beaudin and Lucas Carlsson have factored into the lineup the last two games and have not been overly noticeable, but that is a good sign. They have been steady and that is what they need to be. Ian Mitchell is still learning on the fly, and while you can still expect mistakes from him in his young career, he will continue to get better. While Boqvist has this time to get healthy and reflect, hopefully it will also give the coaching staff time to evaluate what they have and do not have on their blue line. Ultimately, if this means some much-needed time in Rockford for Boqvist to work on his game, then so be it.
All signs are pointing towards Lankinen being the No. 1 goalie this season, and thus far he has earned it. With a .931 save percentage heading into the Columbus game and points in his first four starts, he has certainly earned it. Time will tell if the rookie can maintain his hot start, but thus far, he has been nothing short of impressive, despite the loss to the Jackets.
The Hawks are what they are. They will be rebuilding for the foreseeable future. As the season wears on and the schedule continues to get tougher and more competitive, one should forecast for the Hawks to be outside the playoff picture. How far outside is anyone’s guess right now, but a lottery pick is still a possibility. That said, while you should limit your expectations for a “successful” season from this group, it is okay to enjoy and follow the growth of some of their young players. Hopefully they will get back in the win column on Sunday.