Have the Blackhawks evolved? Alex DeBrincat got asked how he would describe this Blackhawks team, “We’re pretty gritty…”. Chicago has been changing the style of game they play over the last few weeks. After one period of play versus the Blues on Black Friday, Chicago was trailing 2-0. Earlier in the season, Chicago would have thrown the towel in and quit. Under King, they have more confidence and more fight, figurately and literally. Although, it didn’t go well for McCabe when he dropped the mitts versus Schenn. King has also changed the d-zone coverage to focus on protecting the slot better, keeping the shots to the outside, leading to a more sound defensive game, allowing Chicago to fight back in games.
King ran new lines when facing off versus the Blues. Strome found himself in the press box as a healthy scratch along with Caleb Jones as Wyatt Kalynuk would slot in the line-up. I would like to see them sit Gustafsson and see how the defensive unit plays. Kane and Toews got reunited on a line with Brandon Hagel. This line was good and generated a lot of offensive zone time. Toews scored his first goal of the season… almost, it was called back on an offside call. Hagel would extend his goal-scoring streak to three games late in the third, tying the game up.
Since returning to the line-up from his shoulder injury, Hagel has brought an infectious work ethic and rubbed off on this Blackhawks team, who just won’t quit now. Seth Jones, who assisted on Hagel’s tying goal, also made a sweet spin-o-rama pass to Kane to create the two on one leading to Alex DeBrincat’s game-winning goal. DeBrincats 44th goal in his last 72 games played. DeBrincat is just scoring at a superstar level.
Jones’s speed up and down the ice is just incredible and may go unnoticed at times. Seth can start at the top of his own goalie’s crease and still jump up in the play to create a three on 2.
Jones’s ability to change directions is a tremendous asset to a Blackhawks blueline that is not offensive-minded. When Jones is playing his best, this Blackhawks team transitions fast and furious.
The new lines gave the Blackhawks a more balanced line-up. Chicago got depth scoring from Jujar Khaira. Khaira has been playing a tremendous north-south game lately and even generated a breakaway vs. the Blues. He’s a perfect fourth-line guy that can get the puck in deep and go get it and get to the front of the net. Jujar has been one of the bigger surprises for the Blackhawks this season. The Borgstrom line also added some depth versus the Blues generating zone time and playing a good solid game, even hitting the crossbar in the first.
Chicago still has areas that need to improve. Dach, for example, has just been horrendous in the faceoff dot, only winning 22.2% of his draws versus the Blues and 30.85% on the season. Dach was doing the right things in the defensive zone and saved a goal late in the game on Friday night.
If Kirby’s struggles continue in the dot, Chicago may have to look to move him to a wing position till he improves. This move is easier to make when Tyler Johnson returns from his neck injury that is still lingering.
Chicago’s power play has been atrocious in the month of November, going 2 for 30. King moved Dach off the first line and replaced him with Hagel. This change has made zero difference to a power play that is struggling even to generate shots on the net. Chicago needs to get simpler and just let the puck rip on the power play rather than stickhandle it on the outside, waiting for the perfect pass. The Blackhawks also need to hit the dang net when they do shoot the puck. Chicago may just be in a funk right now on the power play but will need to snap out of it fast if they want to continue to win games and crawl back into the playoff picture.
Overall, the Blackhawks continue to improve as a team. Kevin Lankinen played one of his better games of the year, and Chicago battled back to beat the Blues. Chicago is a team evolving into a gritty grind-it-out kind of team. That is the type of hockey that will win Chicago games, and if they continue to buy in as a group and fight night in and night out, this team will have an excellent chance to continue its climb up the standings. Next up is the San Jose Sharks on Sunday. Let’s Go, Hawks!