Back to the future
All in all, what the Chicago Blackhawks have is a wide gap of older former Stanley Cup champions in decline, with a non-stellar 25-29 group, and a bunch of under-25’ers who show promise. Former coach Joel Quenneville is no longer the scape goat to blame for the whole under-29 group’s effectiveness or lack thereof.
This brings us to new coach Jeremy Colliton.
It is now upon him to round this lop-sided roster into a competitive group. After his first 6 games as head coach, the ‘Hawks have posted a 2-2-2 record (this not including the Washington Capitals game on Wed. 21st). The first 2 games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers were forgettable losses.
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In the last 4 games against Carolina, the St Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild, the team has started to show a different look with the defensemen activating in the offensive zone to create more possession time.
New lines and defensive pairings are starting to take hold, but inconsistencies still exist. Even with the latest effort in a victory against Minnesota, the ‘Hawks surrendered multiple prime scoring chances against Corey Crawford. The defensive breakdowns and offensive turnovers still haunt this team.
The key is for Colliton to work with the under-25 group to nurture their development, and to get more out of the 25-to-29 group. His past successful work with young talent makes him an intriguing choice to get the most out of these two groups.
Since taking over, Brandon Saad is playing the style of hockey we would expect to see. His elevation to the top line with Toews and Kane has made the new configuration a potent one. With his elevated play, the first line are now creating scoring chances with greater frequency.
He has correctly separated Nick Schmaltz from Patrick Kane, as Schmaltz was passing to Kane too often. In the Minnesota game, Schmaltz was taking more shots as a winger on the 2nd line. His aggressive play was a huge step in the right direction. Teamed with a pure shooter in Alex DeBrincat and set up man Anisimov, the second line becomes a threat as well.
Dropping Dominik Kahun to the 3rd line with Alexandre Fortin and David Kampf was also the correct move. This trio of young players will have the opportunity to utilize and develop their speed and skill without going up against a higher quality of competition. I saw some encouraging play from them and want to see more.
Colliton will get a break from the fans and the media as he starts to mold this team into his version of the Chicago Blackhawks. He won’t receive any mercy in the next 9 days from the schedule, though.
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He will be facing the acid test, as the schedule pits the team against Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, cup contending Tampa Bay Lightning, the up and coming Florida Panthers, cup contending Vegas Golden Knights and the powerful Winnipeg Jets.
It’s definitely a trial by fire. We’ll see what type of new fire the Chicago Blackhawks have in their belly and if the kids are getting closer to prime time in the coming days.