Time for the good, the bad, and the slightly compelling in the world of the Blackhawks…
The Dizzying Highs
Kirby Dach: Six points in his last four games. Two goals last night against the Sabres. Completely manhandling Jack Eichel. And not only can Dach finish, his passing has been exceptional, as his assist to Dominik Kubalik Saturday night showed. His ability to control the play and hold onto the puck are already beyond his mere 18 years of age. It’s amazing what can happen when a coach and organization have faith in a young talent and encourage it at the NHL level, isn’t it? Now put him on a line with Kampf and Kubalik, damn it.
DeBrincat-Strome-Kane line: In news that surprises nobody, 12-17-88 is an offensive juggernaut. Among them, three total points Saturday night, seven points against the Knights, eight against the Leafs a week ago, and that level of production means that even having a quiet night last night isn’t that big of a deal. Going into Sunday’s game against the Sabres, Patrick Kane had 12 points in his previous five games and he added a goal to that Sunday. He’s on a nine-game point streak, and four of his goals this week came with assists from one or both of Strome and Top Cat. DeBrincat’s pass to Kane for the fifth goal against the Predators was particularly pants-tightening. Saying this line is good is the equivalent of declaring that water is wet, but the mundaneness of the statement doesn’t make it any less true.
The Terrifying Lows
The entire team’s basic defensive abilities except goaltending: This inelegant phrase is my way of saying the Hawks are not better defensively and are giving up way too many shots, chances, what have you. Going into Sunday’s game they were dead-ass last in shots against per game, averaging 37.3, which, as anyone who has watched recently can tell you, feels way too low of a number. Scoring chances against? Ranked 27th in the league with 446. High-danger chances against? Ranked 29th with 193. Now to be fair, those are aggregate numbers and over the last week they gave up only (haha) 75 scoring chances, putting them solidly in the middle of the league in that regard. However, their shots against are still dead-ass last over this past week (going into last night’s game), and after the 57-shot insanity against the Leafs, we’re just amazed that in Sunday’s game they gave up less than 40. So sure, against the Sabres it wasn’t as horrific as earlier in the week, but that’s a very, very low bar.
This is not sustainable. We talked about this on last week’s podcast and while the goaltending has been other-worldly, it’s too much to ask of even this caliber of goalies over the course of an 82-game season. Maybe having Connor Murphy back will help—if he can stay healthy for more than a week, that is. Much has been made of moving the weak-side winger to open up their offense, and that’s been all well and good, obviously. But clearly, whether they have three, four, or 25 guys down low, the Hawks just aren’t doing what needs to be done defensively. They were shitty before the “system change” and haven’t solved the underlying issue, just papered over it with offense.
The Creamy Middles
Erik Gustafsson: He had two goals this week and is generally not terrible to watch right now. The fancy stats won’t wow you (39.4 CF%, 38.5 xGF% and so on), but there are a lot of dumb GMs out there and if Gus can continue not failing the eye test he’ll be a tradeable asset before the deadline. His tough guy routine last night will also appeal to that demographic and improve his trade value even more. And that’s all I really want from him.