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Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks’ Report Card Through First Four Games

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MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 10: Goaltender Corey Crawford
MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 10: Goaltender Corey Crawford /
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Though Chicago Blackhawks have several new faces in the lineup, the team still has managed to get off to an excellent start, accumulating seven points in the first four games.

It is too early for a complete analysis of what the Chicago Blackhawks have done in the first four games of the 2017-18 season. But after their 3-0-1 start, with the third of those victories coming in a 3-1 result at Montreal on Tuesday, I have put together an abbreviated report card of the better performers to date.

A+

Blackhawks’ first line

With four solid games under its collective belt, the hope that Brandan Saad’s acquisition would revitalize Jonathon Toews’ game is coming to light, and Richard Panik has shown that he and Saad are on the same page.

The first line has consistently outplayed whatever line was thrown out against it. To date, the trio is a collective plus-22. Though early in the season, it should be in the conversation as the best line in hockey.

Brandon Saad

Arguably, Saad has been the best Blackhawk in all four games. I don’t think even the most optimistic expected him to be this effective right out of the gate.

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All indications are that he has taken his game to a new level, and his numbers reflect that. Saad is second in the league scoring race with five goals and two assists. Only Alex Ovechkin has more goals, and he already has two hat tricks (Saad has one).

A

Jonathan Toews

Toews vowed to change his offseason training regimen, and it seems it has paid dividends. Toews has his quickness back and has been a large presence early in this season. His plus-8 rating leads the NHL.

Richard Panik

Panik has continued where he left off last season. He brings physicality and a sold north-south game to Chicago’s top line.

Jan Rutta

The coveted Czech rookie rearguard has continued to surprise. With all the questions surrounding Blackhawks’ defensive corps, Rutta’s steady play is most welcome. He is sneaky offensively, has picked his spots well to join the attack and has two goals to show for it. His plus-7 rating leads all NHL defensemen.

Corey Crawford

As is usual with the Blackhawks netminder, Crawford has quietly put up some stellar numbers. He leads NHL goaltenders with three wins. His .971 save percentage has him tied for third in the league.

Nick Schmaltz

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The sophomore forward began the season flying. Before going down to injury early in the second game, Schmaltz looked to have taken his game to a new level.

If there was any question of the value of Schmaltz to this club, it was probably answered in the two away games in Canada.  His regular linemates, Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman, had a rather miserable time without the Wisconsin native at second-line center.

B+

The Blackhawks’ second line

The trio was flying high in the season opener and again in game two before Schmaltz was injured. Winger Hartman looked like he had played on the line for years, not minutes, and with Kane on the other side, the trio gave the Penguins nightmares in that 10 -1 thrashing.

At last report,  Schmaltz is due back Thursday. I look for that line to be reunited and continue right where it left off.

Chicago’s penalty kill

The group is much improved so far. Ulf Samuelsson, the new assistant coach, has the team playing an aggressive system. The passive box system we saw in Chicago for years seems long gone, and good riddance to it.

There are more than several honorable mentions at this early stage, and the positives certainly outweigh the negatives, but there is also definite room for improvement. I’ll leave it at that for now, however. As I said, it’s too early to make a full assessment.

Chicago is back at home Thursday against division rival Minnesota. Let’s hope they can keep piling up the points early in the season. Go ’Hawks!

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