The Chicago Blackhawks finished a tough start to the season by facing eight teams that averaged 102 points last season. The Blackhawks’ record: 4-2-2.
The Chicago Blackhawks have not gotten off to a bad start this season, record-wise, considering the concerns of not knowing how the defense would perform discussed prior to the start of the season.
But what have we learned so far, and how good are the Blackhawks based on this early record? Let’s take a look at some observations.
The Blackhawks are allowing 36.75 shots per game
The Blackhawks last year gave up 31.4 shots per game. It was their worst effort dating back to the 1982-83 season. They have not done well controlling the puck.
In a game in Montreal, they had 29 turnovers. It was the play of goaltender Corey Crawford that pulled out a victory, as he stopped 41 shots.
Crawford, minus a horrific game by the entire team in St. Louis, has been stellar in net. His partner in crime, Anton Forsberg, has had strong numbers as well. If it were not for this goalie tandem, the Blackhawks’ record could definitely be near the bottom of the league.
The Blackhawks are already leaning on their goalies way too much.
The Blackhawks are averaging over four powerplays against per game
For a team that struggled fiercely on the penalty kill last year, the Blackhawks have given opposing teams an awful lot of powerplays early on this season. The good news is that they are ranked seventh in the league with an 85.7 percent penalty-kill rate.
The addition of new assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson has brought a new look to the penalty-kill unit. Aggressiveness is something that Samuelsson has stressed early on, and it has shown.
We can blame some of those 36 shots per game against on the fact they are constantly on the penalty kill, but what does that say about the fact that they keep getting called for these infractions?
Crazy Eights Line (38-8-88) is fun to watch, when healthy
A lot was riding on how Nick Schmaltz would take to becoming the center of the second scoring line between wingers Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane. In the first game of the year, that line erupted for 12 points against the two-time defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins in a 10-1 rout.
In the next game, against Columbus, Schmaltz may have been playing injured and left early. He then did not play for the next three games. From the time he was out, the Blackhawks had a center rotation of Artem Anisimov, Tanner Kero and Tommy Wingels to go with Jonathan Toews.
Kane and Hartman were not the same without Schmaltz. It’s clear Schmaltz will be a big factor as the season goes along to provide a solid second scoring line.
Forsling and Rutta shine on “D”
The Blackhawks’ defense was a big question mark entering the season. The play of Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta have given the Blackhawks comfort so far, as they have proven worthy of being the second-pairing duo on defense.
Forsling has four assists with a plus-4 rating. Rutta, in his first season in the NHL after coming from the Czech League, has five points and a plus-5 rating.
Unfortunately, the duo of Connor Murphy and Michal Kempny has been average at best. They haven’t been bad, but they have not stood out either. Murphy has been a healthy scratch twice already, and Kempny was out for last night’s loss.
Brandon Saad is exactly what the Blackhawks needed
Saad was brought back to do two things: score goals and awaken the scoring touch of Toews. He has done both. He has scored six goals, but it is the way he has scored them that matters.
Last year, the Blackhawks were afraid to touch the blue paint in front of the opposing goalie. More than half of Saad’s goals this year have been scored by crashing the net.
Others such as Hartman, Richard Panik and John Hayden have started to be more aggressive and go to the net. If the Blackhawks want any chance of advancing in the playoffs this year, they will have to start doing that.
As for Toews, who annually tends to have a slow start, he already has six points evenly split between goals and assists.
There is still a lot to learn about this new team this year. But its first major test was launched right out of the box against eight very strong teams, and the Blackhawks managed to get points in all but two of those games.
As the season goes on, we will find out more about some of these players and how they fit on this team. Until then, I would say they’ve passed their first test. Some of those games were not pretty, but they managed points.
You just need enough points to make the playoffs. From then on, that’s where the fun begins.