After an 0–3 start and giving up five goals per game in the process, the Chicago Blackhawks entered the second week of the season looking for any sign of hope. Since then, the Blackhawks have gone 2–0–1 in three games against the Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings.
In the first three games of the year, the Hawks averaged 30 shots on goal per game, while allowing 36 per game. This past week, those numbers have improved slightly to 34 shots for and 32 against per game.
But, it is important to note: two of the first three games of the year were against defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and two of the second week’s games were against lowly Detroit. So, the results the Blackhawks have achieved in each slate of games have to be weighted for quality of opponent. Net judgement: At 2–3–1 after 6 games, the Hawks are better than the worst team in the league, but far from being among the best.
Tuesday, Jan. 19: Point taken
The Blackhawks took the ice in Sunrise, Florida, hoping to reverse their early misfortunes. And they almost got there, losing 5–4 in overtime against the Panthers. Up until the end of the second period, the Hawks and Panthers slugged it out to a 2–2 tie, paced by two goals from last year’s scoring phenom and this year’s coaching doghouse resident, Dominik Kubalik.
Patrick Kane (19:10 of the second) and rookie Philipp Kurashev (6:06 of the third period) pushed the Hawks out to a 4–3 lead. Kane’s goal came on an end-to-end rush and one of his patented physics-defying backhands over a hapless Sergei Bobrovsky.
Friday, Jan. 22: At last, a win
Lankinen took the net again against Detroit in the Blackhawks’ home opener, signaling that Chicago wants to give the Finnish goalie a hard look—and why not, since neither Malcolm Subban nor Collin Delia had given them reason not to in the first three games. Lankinen got better results this time, saving 30 shots in a 4–1 victory for the first victory in his young NHL career.
The game was never really close, with Kane, Calvin de Haan, Shaw and Mattias Janmark tallying for Chicago. Although rookie Ian Mitchell was -6 for the year at this point, and has looked a bit overwhelmed by the pace of NHL play, he showed his offensive zone instincts, gaining the second assist on de Haan’s blast, with nice, nifty pinch and pass for the newcomer’s first NHL point.
Sunday, Jan. 24: A bit of a roll
What became clearly evident in today’s game (and Friday’s) is that as much as the Blackhawks are a “rebuilding” team, Detroit is a worse team. The Blackhawks humiliated the Wings in the matinee rematch at the UC, 6–2, behind a hat trick from rookie Pius Suter, and individual tallies from Mattias Janmark, Connor Murphy and Kurashev. Detroit’s two goals were scored by Tyler “Don’t call me ‘Todd,’ Pat Foley” Bertuzzi.
Takeaways from this game: Suter’s game is different from that of Kubalik, last year’s “Euro Import of the Year,” but Suter has the earmarks to possibly earn the crown this year. Suter’s game is quieter and greasier than Kubalik’s, but also effective in perhaps more ways than just scoring; he looks like another nice find for the Hawk scouting staff. Lankinen was again solid in net, albeit facing a season-low 27 shots against.
The Hawks did a very effective job taking away transition through the neutral zone and jamming up their own blue line.
After two weeks: What do we have here?
It would seem a very good way to evaluate this team is breaking their performances down into the three back-to-backs against Tampa Bay (0–2–0), Florida (0–1–1) and Detroit (2–0–0). The Hawks were dominated by arguably the league’s best team, were, meh, not-good-to-okay against a middling team in Florida and looked strong versus a bad Detroit team—a team that simply does not have a Kane, a Kubalik, a Keith, etc. The truth is, the Blackhawks are playing about as you would expect for a team that will finish about 12th through 14th in its conference, which is fine. After all, no one with a shred of sanity expects much better.
But, the rebuilding comparisons with Detroit are telling. After all, the Red Wings’ long, slow slide into a mediocrity and now 6-7 years’ long rebuild has been so arduous and painful precisely because they chose to rebuild, at first, the way the Hawks have: By retooling around the edges while holding on to highly paid, aging veterans.
Hawk fans can only hope—as Adam Boqvist struggles to find his footing in the NHL and alleged pillars of the rebuild, Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome, have looked pretty pedestrian for over a year now—that they were not facing today what they will be a handful of years from now, after Kane and Keith at minimum are no longer top players or even Blackhawks at all.
Still, nothing creates success like success. The new Hawks have had a little taste of it this week. Comment below.