The Chicago Blackhawks collected their second preseason win Tuesday, and this one was also in blowout fashion
After opening the preseason with 2-0 and 1-0 losses to the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the Chicago Blackhawks have been on bit of a rout run. They blasted the St. Louis Blues 4-0 before losing to the Detroit Red Wings 6-3.
Then, in a rematch Tuesday against those Wings, the Blackhawks pulled out a 6-1 win. With teams using so many different lineup combos in the preseason, it’s no surprise results like this happen so close together. Plus, play is typically a lot more sloppy in the preseason than in the regular season or postseason.
But we’re here to talk about the Blackhawks, who iced quite a few regulars Tuesday. The Red Wings iced a few of their projected starters, though not as many as Chicago. However, the Wings may have used their starting goaltender for the full 60 minutes, though if Jimmy Howard has more clunkers like this, it may be Petr Mrazek’s job to lose.
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Anyway, I attended Tuesday’s game in the 300 level. Overall, it was a fine performance put on by the Blackhawks. Guys who are fighting for jobs played hard and played well. Almost no one looked bad or invisible in the Indian Head. And the crowd was very much into the “Detroit sucks!” chant, as it should have been.
With all of that said, here are some of my takeaways from witnessing Tuesday’s game in person.
Alexandre Fortin rolls again
So let’s talk about the first star. I wrote up a post yesterday about youngsters Gustav Forsling and Alexandre Fortin. Both looked very solid once again Tuesday, but it was Fortin who earned first-star honors.
Now, grain of salt: Fortin was and has been playing against more AHL competition than NHL competition this preseason. Still, Fortin’s highest level of hockey prior to this training camp was the QMJHL, quite a step off both the AHL and NHL. And he’s absolutely owning the preseason stage.
Fortin is quick and composed, and he’s capable of playing both north-south and east-west games. His setup on Richard Panik’s second-period goal was really pretty, and his tenacity in potting a late goal was a great extra layer to see.
Really, the Blackhawks are getting hard-pressed to find reasons to keep Fortin down. He provides a crucial element — speed — the Blackhawks never replaced with Brandon Saad’s departure. And he’s showing good hands, good instincts and no fear playing alongside all kinds of linemates (he was with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov throughout this game).
Forsling is still strong as well
Again, it is against lesser competition. But also again, Forsling hasn’t played at the AHL or NHL level before, and he’s making the game look really easy this preseason.
I was honestly concerned that, when he took a tripping penalty in the first period, Forsling might be stapled to the bench the rest of the night, even in a preseason game. Joel Quenneville’s lessons never stop, after all.
But he wasn’t, and Forsling was solid after that miscue (as well as before it). He’s able to skate his way out of trouble and win board battles despite being undersized, and he was constantly playing with his head up, looking for an offense-creating pass or a shot from the point.
Like Fortin, the Blackhawks are getting to a point with Forsling where they’d need an excuse to keep him off the opening night roster. He offers far more than what his immediate competition for 6/7D can boast. Why not give him a shot?
Other defensemen are iffy
Duncan Keith’s return to the lineup from his knee rehab was solid, as he showed no trouble on either side of the ice. He finished with two assists and wasn’t really on the wrong end of any major defensive miscues that I could see.
But even in a 6-1 win, not everything is roses and unicorns. Let’s talk about the other three Blackhawks defensemen.
Trevor van Riemsdyk … this man is playing himself out of a job. And it’s not like it’s necessarily his fault — this is just the way he plays the game. But it’s not that good.
Multiple times he was noticeably out of position, including one moment in the third period that saw him try to cut off Detroit’s offense in the neutral zone, only to be passed around and leave playing partner Keith defending a 2-on-1.
This is a consistent issue with him, as is winning board battles and knowing where to be when the puck gets close to his goalkeeper. All of these issues were on display Tuesday.
Now, the partnership of Brent Seabrook and Michal Kempny. If that’s something that was being considered for the regular season, Q and Co. may want to toss it out the nearest window. Those two did not look very good together against primarily AHL competition.
Sure, it’s just one game. But this was the defensive pairing that was constantly getting pushed back into its own zone and turning the puck over to the Wings. Separately, the two honestly looked fine. But together, they just don’t click right now. Maybe more time together will help, but it looked like a pretty rough experiment Tuesday.
I don’t really have anything to say about Brian Campbell. He had a solid game and looks to be a good partner for Forsling.
Vincent Hinostroza guns for a job
Hinostroza is about as one the fence as one can be for making the opening night roster. He made a solid push Tuesday for more consideration, though. In addition to his goal, scored by being a solid net-front presence (more on that later), Hinostroza was flying up and down the ice and breaking through opposing defenders with relative ease.
As was mentioned with Fortin, speed is a valuable asset for the Blackhawks right now. If Hinostroza can show more of those wheels and offensive-zone instincts, it’s more likely he gets a shot at the opening night roster.
Net-front presence is far from dead
Some Blackhawks fans might have worried Andrew Shaw’s departure would mean the end of net-front presence for the Blackhawks. If Tuesday was any indication, the Blackhawks still have plenty of guys who are willing to go to the dirty areas.
For the umpteenth time, it was against a lot of AHL talent, so getting to the net was bound to be a little easier. However, the Blackhawks created four of their goals by going to the net to clean up loose change or offer a screen/deflection.
Ryan Hartman and Hinostroza each tallied in the first as a result of getting below the circles and swatting at a loose puck in front of Howard. Nick Schmaltz collected his first preseason goal by screening Howard on a wicked Artemi Panarin slapper and ultimately getting a piece of the puck. And Fortin cruised to the side of the net to take a feed from Marcus Kruger and bank it off Howard.
On top of this, Jordin Tootoo was actually getting to the front of the net in the third period, when he started seeing more shifts in the blowout. If he’s going to be forced into the lineup, this is the least Tootoo can do to contribute positively.
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This is great stuff to see for a Blackhawks team that is searching for scoring any way it can get it.
Faceoff performances generally solid
The Blackhawks went with Anisimov, Schmaltz, Kruger and Andrew Desjardins at the dot. Desjardins walked away with an 82 percent success rate, while Kruger was at 69. Anisimov finished at 47, though he honestly looked better than that. Regardless, it’s better than the 42 percent clip he was working at last season.
Schmaltz finished at 36 percent in his first preseason action at center. Despite that figure, I though trying Schmaltz off the wing was a solid experiment. He was all over the puck in the offensive zone, and he was an aggressive forechecker and backchecker in the center role.