My takeaways from last night’s game, where the Chicago Blackhawks won 2-1 over the Nashville Predators:
It’s a cliche in the hockey world: you need to play a complete game. You need to play for 60 minutes. One of the major criticisms against the Blackhawks this season is their apparent inability to play a full 60 minutes on the ice.
That was not the case last night.
Apart from a turnover that led to Kevin Fiala’s goal in the waning minutes of the first period, the Blackhawks turned in a near-perfect game. I would argue that it was their best game of the season so far. The defense, which has been porous at best, was stingy last night. How stingy, you ask? The Blackhawks held the Predators to under 15 shots on goal per period. The Preds only had seven shots on goal in the second period, as well as holding back the Predators scoreless for a full 40:33. And both goals the Hawks scored last night came from the back end.
Cam Ward can also take credit for the Hawks’ solid performance last night. After a dismal showing in relief against the San Jose Sharks Sunday night, he turned in quite the performance, stopping 30 out of 31 shots that he faced last night.
The offense may not have scored last night but by no means does that mean that they were quiet last night. All four lines were humming along, creating chances, crashing the net and creating second and third opportunities. Preds goalie Pekka Rinne had to stand up on his head last night, as he had to bail his team out multiple times. The top line of Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Dominik Kahun were rolling last night. Saad and Kahun had a lot of high-grade scoring chances, and one of these days, their good play will be rewarded with a nice goal or two.
Special teams win
The Blackhawks currently have the worst power play and worst penalty kill in the league. But last night, they won the special teams game versus the best team in the Central Division. The Hawks converted on the man advantage last night, a Gustav Forsling wrister that got deflected into the back of Rinne’s net by one of his own d-men. They also killed off both Nashville power-plays, this after giving up two power play goals to the Sharks Sunday night.
Strome trending up
It is still too early, in my opinion, to know who really won the trade that sent Nick Schmaltz to the Arizona Coyotes and Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to the Blackhawks. But Strome has been a difference maker for the Hawks lately. In his seven games with Chicago so far, he’s racked up three goals, 14 shots on goal, and has averaged north of 17 minutes of ice time per game. Last night, he was moved to the left wing on Patrick Kane’s line, when Artem Anisimov was activated from IR and slotted into the second line center spot. The line was buzzing all throughout the game, driving possession and creating a number of grade A chances. Strome and Kane also had a sound east-west game. This, along with the time he spent centering the second line with Kane and Alex DeBrincat, is a good indication that Strome may very well be the second-line center that the Blackhawks have been looking for.
A dark mark on last night’s game is Marcus Kruger’s concussion. Kruger was going to hit former Blackhawk Ryan Hartman during the third period, but Hartman braced for the impact, and Kruger awkwardly crashed into Hartman’s elbow. He was bleeding on the ice had to be escorted back to the Blackhawks bench. Head coach Jeremy Colliton confirmed Kruger’s diagnosis after the game. He was placed on injured reserve today, and the Blackhawks recalled forward Luke Johnson from the Rockford Ice Hogs. Johnson has already spent some time with the Hawks, centering the fourth line.
The Blackhawks are currently 11-19-6, good for last in the Central and 30th in the league. With last night’s win, they are now only 11 points out of the last wild card spot in the West, currently held by the Edmonton Oilers. They are back at it Thursday night, when they start a back-to-back against two of the top teams in the Central, the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche.