5 Quick Thoughts From Blackhawks 4-2 Season-Opening Loss To Colorado
Chicago was not able to overcome the 3-0 deficit they dug themselves in the opening 10 minutes of the game.
Finally. Blackhawks hockey is back! After throwing the “rebuild” idea out the window and making major additions to the roster in the offseason, there are now some actual expectations surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks for the first time in quite a while. Seth Jones, Jake McCabe, and Marc-Andre Fleury all should help make the defense be much better than it’s been in the past few years. Tyler Johnson gives the team a bit more depth at center, Jujhar Khaira adds some much-needed size to the bottom-six, and how could I forget Jonathan Toews returning to the lineup to lead the way on the ice AND in the locker room. Glad to have you back, Captain. All in all, this should be a different and more successful Blackhawks’ team than we’ve seen so far in Jeremy Colliton’s tenure as head coach.
However, that’s not what we saw out of the Blackhawks on opening night against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday. In fact, the same issues that have plagued the Hawks’ throughout Colliton’s tenure continued to cost the club yet again.
1. Blackhawks Fall Flat Out of the Gate
Listen. I get bad starts happen. Each and every NHL team has games over the course of the year where they simply do not look ready to play once the puck is dropped. But for the Blackhawks to fall behind 3-0 in the opening 10 minutes, after all the hype in the offseason and during training camp, in the first game of a crucial season, was certainly disappointing, to say the least. This has been a consistent problem with the team since Colliton took over. Does there need to be a change in the mentality heading into the game? I don’t know, and I don’t want to overreact to just one game, but the effort out of the gate on Wednesday was not nearly good enough and is unacceptable with the talent the Blackhawks now possess.
2. Colliton’s System Continues To Be Shaky
Even though Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman went out this offseason and bolstered the team’s blue line, the defensive system that Colliton runs once again looked lackluster against an elite offense. The Hawks’ defensemen had no answer whatsoever for Colorado’s speed in transition and were frequently outnumbered up the ice. In total, the Blackhawks were out-chanced 33-15 at even strength (10-3 in high-danger chances, too), along with a measly 29.43 expected-goals percentage, according to NaturalStatTrick. Last season, the Hawks posted an expected-goals percentage lower than 29.43 just four times in 56 games. With Jones, McCabe, and an overall improved roster, even against a strong team like Colorado (without Nathan MacKinnon, doe), the Blackhawks should not be getting dominated like that anymore.
3. KIRBY DACH IS A FRICKEN STUD
Oh, baby. Wednesday night was a gross performance for essentially the entire team, but 2019 first-round pick Kirby Dach was one of the few Blackhawks’ players that brought their A-game. Dach led the Hawks with 5 shots on goal in his 18:59 time on ice, with two of them coming via breakaway in the 2nd period when the team was trailing 3-1. Neither found the back of the net, unfortunately, which likely cost Kirby some sleep, but he put himself in a position to make an impact and produce. Dach himself knows that eventually, he’ll need to start cashing in on more of those opportunities, but the 20-year-old, future of the franchise is still off to a promising start to his 3rd NHL campaign.
“If I score those it might be a different game,” Dach said in frustration during his post-game interview. “That’s on me. It’s been a problem of mine for the past couple of years, you guys ask me about it quite a lot, so I’ve got to figure something out and maybe start scoring goals.”
Dach failed to record a point in Wednesday’s game, but he did provide a perfect screen on Avs’ goalie Darcy Kuemper to set up Dominik Kubalik’s power-play goal. Notice Dach entering the offensive zone and IMMEDIATELY parking his body in front of the net. The little things.
4. New Guys Struggle
During Wednesday’s opener, the Blackhawks had 6 players (Borgstrom, Fleury, Khaira, Johnson, Jones, & McCabe) make their team debuts. Most of them did not go very well.
Neither Jones nor McCabe performed like top-pairing defensemen against Colorado. Yes, it was just one game, but the same struggles were evident throughout the entirety of preseason as well. Some time may be needed for both players to properly adjust to their new teammates & system, and if that doesn’t happen soon, the Blackhawks could find themselves struggling defensively yet again.
Poor, poor Marc-Andre Fleury. I bet ‘Flower’ wasn’t expecting to face 16 shots in his first 10 minutes as a Blackhawk. Ouch. There wasn’t much that Fleury could do differently on most of Colorado’s goals (aside from Kadri’s tally that made it 4-1), and the 2021 Vezina Trophy still finished with 32 saves on 36 shots faced. Fleury was hung out to dry for most of the night and will need a better effort out of his defensemen in the future.
Johnson, as he did all of training camp and during the preseason, started the game skating on the Blackhawks’ top forward line with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. However, by the end of the game, the two-time Stanley Cup champion found himself down on the 4th line with Khaira & Ryan Carpenter. Johnson failed to record a shot on goal, had four penalty minutes, and finished minus-three in his 13:51 of ice time. I fully expect Colliton to put Johnson back with DeBrincat & Kane for tomorrow’s game vs. New Jersey, but he could be out of that role in a hurry if there are more nights like Wednesday.
5. Special Teams Success
Aside from Dach, one of the few other bright spots for the Blackhawks was their success in the special teams’ department. The top powerplay unit (DeBrincat-Johnson-Toews-Kane-Jones) was unable to convert on Wednesday, but they moved the puck well and created quality scoring opportunities. Kubalik and the second unit (Kurashev-Dach-Borgstrom-Kubalik-Mitchell) came through for the lone power-play goal of the game, and if the Hawks can rely on both groups during the season, then this has the potential to be a top-10 or top-five unit in the entire NHL.
The penalty kill, which had been a nightmare during the preseason, managed to shut down the Avs’ dangerous man advantage on all four of their opportunities. Also, the Blackhawks managed to create three scoring chances of their own while shorthanded. With DeBrincat & Dach both expected to play a larger role on the PK this year, that could be a common trend for this team when they’re down a man.
For more Blackhawks news and updates, be sure to follow the author (@TalkinHawkey) on Twitter. Also, for daily coverage on the Blackhawks, check out the Locked On Blackhawks Podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Twitter (@LO_Blackhawks).