The Chicago Blackhawks have started to piece things together over their last few games. So what is different? One aspect of note has been the play of the youth core.
Over the last few weeks, the Chicago Blackhawks were in a rut during a six-game homestand that made their work of getting into the playoffs that much harder. During the stretch, several writers with Blackhawk Up talked among ourselves about the need for the young core to take control of this team. With the season slowly slipping away, a surge by the young guys seemed to be the best way to get the team back on track.
Three games later, the Blackhawks have taken five out of six points, and those youth players have come alive. Instead of looking for the superstar staples on the ice with them, these young players are being decisive, aggressive and giving the ‘Hawks an edge they were missing in their rough mid-January slump.
Taking a look at the last three games, the Blackhawks have scored seven goals. Only one of those seven goals came from a player over the age of 23 (Brent Seabrook).
Nick Schmaltz scored three games ago against the Maple Leafs. Alex DeBrincat recorded his second career hat trick in Detroit before the break, a game in which Anthony Duclair tallied his first Blackhawks goal (in an all-around fantastic game, as documented by The Athletic’s Scott Powers).
Vinnie Hinostroza scored and had more than 16 minutes of ice time in that Red Wings game. Last night, the two goals scored to beat the division-rival Nashville Predators came from Hinostroza (on a great feed from Schmaltz) and David Kampf, with assists to Hinostroza and Tomas Jurco.
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In a game in which the Blackhawks were outshot by the Predators 43-31, the only players for the ‘Hawks to have more shots on goal for than against while on the ice were Hinostroza, Kampf, Jurco, Ryan Hartman and Jordan Oesterle.
This may have only been one game, but outside of those Corsi numbers, the eye test didn’t lie either. The Hinostroza-Kampf-Jurco line dominated all night, especially in the first period, when the three young players were able to create chances and keep the dangerous Predators on their heels, setting the tone for the game.
Coach Joel Quenneville sat Patrick Sharp after the ‘Hawks had a four-game break. Is resting Sharp in a game where the ‘Hawks already had plenty of rest a sign of things to come, or just a decision due to the Predators’ speed? That is something we will have to wait and see about. But it sure didn’t feel like the lineup was missing No. 10.
Unlike in that horrific playoff series last year, the ‘Hawks were skating with the Preds the entire game. Anton Forsberg, other than one blunder, was great in net. The young players were finding loose pucks and outhustling Nashville defensemen. For at least one night, it felt like the ‘Hawks were molding together into a more complete team.
All of this is not to say that the Blackhawks will certainly see the playoffs now; the young players have played well in three games, but they will need to keep this success up moving forward. Nor is any of this to say the top-paid guys like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad don’t need to contribute every night.
Very simply, the Blackhawks looked like a much more balanced team over the last few games than they did almost the entire January homestand. The young players stepping up and using speed and aggressive play has made the Blackhawks a much harder team to compete against.
Whether this surge continues or is enough to put the Blackhawks into the postseason is pretty vague right now. But what is exciting is that players like Hinostroza, Duclair, Kampf and DeBrincat seem to be gaining confidence. They are not defaulting to giving the puck to Kane or Toews when they are on the ice. They are making strong, decisive decisions that force defenses to respect all five skaters on the ice.
Perhaps the hole the Blackhawks are in is still too steep to climb out of; it may be too little, too late for the 2017-18 campaign. But every game the youth core comes out and plays with confidence and aggression makes it feel like this retooling period will have the ‘Hawks back in contention sooner rather than much later.