It’s finally over—the most painful season of Blackhawk hockey in a decade. Last night in Winnipeg, the Hawks played game 82 versus the playoff-bound Jets.
Opting to dress 7 defensemen due to injuries/illness at forward, the Hawks’ lines and pairings were:
Patrick Sharp – Nick Schmaltz – Patrick Kane
Dylan Sikura – Victor Ejdsell – Alex DeBrincat
Brandon Saad – Artem Anisimov – Andreas Martinsen
David Kampf – Vinnie Hinostroza
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Erik Gustafsson – Connor Murphy
Jordan Oesterle – Jan Rutta/Blake Hillman
Midseason legend Jeff Glass returned to the Chicago net, facing off against Jets starter Connor Hellebuyck.
The first 15 minutes of the period were scoreless, although the Jets built a margin in shots on net. After a nice kill of a Jan Rutta holding penalty, featuring two gutsy shot blocks by Brent Seabrook on Patrik Laine, the Hawks number finally came up. With Nick Schmaltz and Andreas Martinsen in the box, you knew the Hawks’ early luck was running out. Sure enough, at 4:46, former Hawk Dustin Byfuglien blasted one past Glass. 1-0 Jets at the end of 1. Shots in the period were 10-6 Winnipeg.
Uh, yeah, the second period.
The Jets scored three goals in the first seven minutes. On the first, not long after the puck dropped, Brent Seabrook caught an edge on the new ice while taking a shot from the point. Kyle Connor gathered it up, swooped in on Glass and—bang—2-0 Jets.
But the fun was just getting started. With most of the Hawks overcommitted in the Jets’ zone (a common theme last night), Andrew Copp broke free and blasted a puck past Glass to make it 3-0.
But then things started to go the Hawks way—the Jets took a penalty and on the ensuing power play . . . the Jets scored! As the Hawks struggled to make a clean entry to the offensive zone, Copp again corralled a loose puck, turned on the speed to beat Duncan Keith, and beat Glass again. 4-0 Jets.
Finally, at 9:08, Seabrook beat a screened Hellebuyck from the point, to make the score 4-1.Shots in the period were 15-11 Winnipeg.
Neither team hit the twine, although this was the one period where the Hawks had a small edge in shots, 14-13.
Kudos to Jeff Glass. In his first game back in the NHL (and likely his last), he faced 39 shots and made some outstanding saves. He also didn’t have much chance on the goals he allowed.
Aside from his second period stumble, I thought Seabrook had a decent game—and overall, he has been pretty solid down the stretch this year, which portends well for next year.
If you dispassionately watched Dylan Sikura and Viktor Ejdsell last night, you’d see proof of what I aways say about the value of gaining pro experience in North America before playing regularly in the NHL.
Yes, Alex Debrincat, like Patrick Kane 11 years ago, has been an exception to that rule. But for most players, even the likes of Brandon Saad, time in the AHL is incredibly worthwhile. Sikura has skill and awareness. He also tried several cross ice passes last night that weren’t timed properly and lacked the necessary zip to make it to the intended target—instead, they got picked off and allowed the Jets odd-man rushes. You can get away with that in college, where players are slower and less gifted. Sikura will need to adjust to the pro game.
Similarly Ejdsell—unlike his stellar Swedish League “youtubes”—he doesn’t get wide, stinking open in the slot and the time to target his shot in the NHL. He doesn’t look egregiously bad in the NHL. He just looks like another guy. And the Hawks need way more than that right now at the center position. Ejdsell was 25% in the dot last night. But, then again, Artem Anisimov was 22%. Mitigating that, Nick Schmaltz was—hey!—58%. But Schmaltz was 40.1% for the year, which is unacceptable for a full time center.
Defense, defense, defense. Yet again. Horrible structure. Clown car positioning in the defensive zone. Not nearly physical enough around their own net.
In addition to the shortcomings of the Erik Gustafssons, Jan Ruttas, Connor Murphys and Jordan Oesterles, the Hawks need to take a hard look at where the 2-time Norris Trophy winning Duncan Keith is at this point of his career. How much of this year’s underachievement was mental/emotional (which is easily correctable) and how much can be traced to a dropoff in physical ability.
For all the grief Seabrook took early in the season, as of last night and the previous several games, he was easily the team’s most reliable defender.
In a lot of ways, this season has been like getting hit by a bus. It hurts real bad and you never saw it coming.
Put another way, when you step back and look at the “narrative” of the last couple of years and where the team stands today, does anyone doubt at this point that the Hawks are in rebuilding mode—or should be?
The argument that “this is a playoff team with Crow” is pretty much laughable. And “Crow” will turn 34 next season, coming off (hopefully) some kind of fairly serious medical issue.
The truth is, although GM Stan Bowman and Head Coach Joel Quenneville will be back next season—last week, and you heard it here first, I heard specifically that John McDonough has begun quietly exploring alternatives to at least one of them. I’ll have some details on this week’s RinkCast.
This team is not a healthy Corey Crawford or Jonathan Toews away from contention. It has gigantic holes on defense, where it’s two remaining proven veterans are both getting long in the tooth. It needs another center, possibly a second line center, since the obviously talented Schmaltz nevertheless can’t win faceoffs and gets marginalized in physical games. And Artem Anisimov never does quite enough to hold down that job either. This team could also use one, maybe two goalies.
Instead of doubling down on his own mistakes as Bowman has been prone to do in the past, this is the summer, possibly with some significant cap space, to prove he can be a builder as a GM, not just a tinkerer and trimmer. And make some hard decisions, think creatively, and see if he can turn this ship around next year.
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