Hello hockey fans, it's time for another round of Blackhawks talk with the IMO hockey insider, John Markiewicz. Today John shares with us his thoughts on defense, special teams, the young 'uns, and the glue holding this team together right now, the goalies.
In My Opinion: Hello John. The Hawks have been on a nice little run this month going 6-2-2. Does this mean they've figured things out?
John Markiewicz: This latest run has been good, but not great, hockey. They are still getting outshot by an average of 7 shots per game for the season, which doesn't seem like a lot, but if it stays at that rate, you're talking about nearly 450 more shots given up than taken. Yikes!
IMO: What else has you troubled?
JM: Special teams are still a worry. The Power Play is 28th and the Penalty Kill is 18th. If you are going to be average at something at least they picked the PK. The main reason they are doing better with the PK is they are preventing anyone from screening the goalies, which is a good thing, but it opens up the gate for a lot of scrambling around.
On the PP it's a drop pass to Kane exiting the zone, then its a drop pass to Kane inside the offensive zone, then a drop pass to Kane at the top of the circle, do you see a trend here? Just get the damn puck in the zone and get set-up. They have forgotten how to dump and chase and they are incapable of breaking the blue line press. Many other teams are able to figure this out with much less skilled players.
IMO: What gives you some hope?
JM: The youngsters are injecting some life into a team that may have finally found a scheme to play that takes advantage of the ability of their highly skilled players, while hiding some of their flaws. Patrick Kane's line is loving playing together, and in fact, he, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome are currently 1-2-3 in scoring for them.
Jonathon Toews, Brandon Saad, and Alex Nylander are also showing some chemistry as they are 5-4-and 8 respectively in scoring. So five of the top six scorers are on the top two lines which you would expect, but it hasn't always been the case for the Hawks.
Meanwhile the bottom six players are really having fun playing a defense first game and getting some fast breaks and odd man rushes which is leading to some scoring. Kirby Dach has 5 goals as does Dominik Kubalik, David Kampf has four and even Andrew Shaw has three, so plenty of scoring for these guys which is wonderful to see.
IMO: Thank goodness for the goalies so far this year right?
JM: It was nice to see Corey Crawford have a couple of good games recently, and it looks like he may have found his mojo again. Meanwhile, Robin Lehner is third in the league in save percentage at .934 and for me he is still the guy for this team going forward.
IMO: Any other thoughts?
JM: Yeah. Special congrats to Coach Q for his 900th win the other night.
With the Bears stinking up the town, I've been watching more hockey lately and luckily the Blackhawks have been on national TV a few times for me to see. I have to say, while I loved the three Stanley Cups coach Q brought us with his defensive game play, this wide open offense Jeremy Colliton has been letting them play is really fun to watch.
The Toronto Maple Leafs game a week or so ago was like a track meet. I was exhausted just watching them. I am concerned, as John so brilliantly pointed out above, about all the shots on goal they are giving up. That Toronto game they gave up 57 shots! The next game against the Las Vegas Golden Knights, they gave up another 42.
In 21 games so far this season they have given up 50+ shots 2 times, 40 - 49 shots 3 times, and 30 - 39 shots 14 times. Only twice have they held the other team to under 30 shots a game. This really needs to be addressed or the two goalies will be checking into a clinic for PTSD treatment.
I also agree with John regarding the effect the young 'uns have had so far this season. Toews, Kane, and even Keith and Seabrook look refreshed, quicker, and just having more fun on the ice than I've seen in a couple of years. Playing with joy instead of dread keeps you playing younger and more focused.
There is still a long way to go but things look much better today than they did three weeks ago.