5 Takeaways​ from the Blackhawks first 5 games

Through the first two weeks of the season, the Blackhawks stars have shown up. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Alex DeBrincat have 26 points through five games this season. Impressive stuff. They have earned 8 of the possible 10 points in the standings and Corey Crawford is scheduled to start Thursday vs. Arizona at the United Center. It’s been a great start and if the Blackhawks can tighten up their defense and Crawford returns to form, who knows what this team could be.

Thomas Gibbons writes 5 takeaways from the Blackhawks first five games. 

Henri Jokiharju continues to prove he is the real deal. At age 19, you have to be really special to compete in the NHL. Very few are able to do it and so far Jokiharju has been nothing short of impressive. Coach Quenneville has praised the rookie’s efforts on multiple occasions. After the season opener, Q said: “it looks like he’s been playing at this level for a long time.”

 

 

It’s hard to get Q’s stamp of approval. Look at Dylan Sikura. A fast, offensive threat who would be a nice piece in this lineup got sent down to Rockford to start the season. After being signed last season, many had him penciled in to start. But Quenneville did not see enough to keep him in Chicago.

The Finnish rookie’s best game came on the home opener vs. Toronto which he had three assists and five shots on goal. Overall, he’s been active in the offensive zone and does all the little things right. He’s added his share of takeaways and compliments Duncan Keith pretty well. Another thing to look at is his ice time has increased every game and has been added to the power play unit. He saw 24:04 total ice time Saturday night in the OT win over the Blues,

Jokiharju was either going to make the starting pairings or be sent down to Rockford. Being the seventh defenseman would be a waste of time. He impressed early in camp and Q even said he was “outstanding” after a preseason tilt. And now he’s playing alongside Keith, one of the best defenseman of the decade, and is playing his game and drawing major attention. If Jokiharju keeps the pace and becomes a star he is projected to be along with Gustav Forsling, Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, and Nicolas Beaudin, the Blackhawks defense could take shape for the future in the next few years.

Cam Ward has done a pretty good job holding down the fort until Crawford’s return. His 4.07 goals against average is not a nice number, but he’s made some great saves and most importantly has kept the Blackhawks in games.

Ward highlighted the Blackhawks free agent class on the opening day of free agency along with Chris Kunitz and Daniel Manning. He signed a 1 year, $3.3 million deal, a premium price for a backup goalie. The Blackhawks could have saved some money and rolled with Anton Forsberg as the backup goalie but signing a veteran was the right move. He’s a proven player and Forsberg is still unproven.

I do not think Crawford is going to start every game right away. He is going to get eased into it meaning more time for Ward. I’m not worried if Ward gets more starts because he has been pretty darn good. Goals allowed aside, he has taken them to five overtime games and won three of them.

Toews and Kane are playing like three-time Stanley Cup Champions and it is very exciting to watch. Kane has not slowed down, his All-Star appearance last season proved that. Toews, on the other hand, dipped in production and some wondered if he would be able to rebound.

The faces of the franchise have responded to missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. Both players changed their offseason workout plans in an attempt to rejuvenate and get back to stardom. The Blackhawks are going to need big years out of 19 and 88 in order to get back to the postseason. So far so good.

Toews stat line: 5 goals, 4 assists, 6 +/-, winning 58.8% of his faceoffs

Kane stat line: 5 goals, 3 assists, 3 +/-

Impressive starts. They are being leaders on and off the ice and the players are responding.

Alex DeBrincat is becoming one of the bright young stars, joining an elite group of up and coming players in the NHL. It’s a great time to be a hockey fan with all the talent entering the league.

DeBrincat, 20, has six goals already on the year, including the game-winner vs. St Louis in OT on Saturday. His knack for the net and breakaway speed is a great compliment to Toews on the top line. And if Dominik Kahun takes off, the Blackhawks top line can be well, scary.

It would be so nice to have Brandon Saad on the top line but that’s a whole different story.

The Blackhawks window for another championship may be closed with this core, or close to it, but their future looks bright with their young prospects. DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz, Jokiharju lead the way with Boqvist, Mitchell, Sikura, Jake Wise and others not far behind. It will be enjoyable watching the young talent move up in the ranks and hit the United Center ice in the near future.

Lastly, and maybe the biggest takeaway, is Brandon Saad’s lack of production. After being acquired from Columbus prior to last season for Artemi Panarin, the two time Cup champion has underperformed.

When I heard that the Blackhawks got Saad back, I was ecstatic. He was a big part of the 2013 and 2015 championships and being linemates with Toews and Marian Hossa made that top line one of the best in the league. Of course, I, along with the rest of the fanbase, was upset trading away a dominant offensive player in Panarin, but Saad had a team friendly contract where Panarin is going to command $10 million a year plus this offseason. Saad is the better two way forward and has the ability to match the offensive production of the Breadman. So, far it has not worked out.

At practice on Monday, Saad came to the MB Ice Arena and found a white jersey in his locker. “I don’t think anyone wants to be wearing white around here, Saad told reporters. “But it is what it is and there’s nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It’s their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games.” Players wearing white are injured or healthy scratches. A $6 million player benched? It’s not unheard of but can happen.

Good quote here from the Captain: 

Is this a spark for Saad? Does he wake up after this? One can only hope. Despite the lack of offensive production, the 25-year-old winger has been solid in the defensive zone. A younger Hossa is what I’ve and others have called him. There is no denying his speed and skill with the puck but he just can not seem to find the back of the net right now. A line of Saad-Schmaltz-Kane has so much potential but no results yet. Alexandre Fortin skated with Schmaltz and Kane on Monday and could likely be a forward line on Thursday vs. Phoneix.

We need the old Saad back!

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