Five Thoughts on Chicago Blackhawks’ loss to Boston Bruins in Winter Classic

SOUTH BEND, IN - JANUARY 01: Brandon Saad #20 and Dylan Strome #17 of the Chicago Blackhawks talk in the third period against the Boston Bruins during the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium on January 1, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, IN - JANUARY 01: Brandon Saad #20 and Dylan Strome #17 of the Chicago Blackhawks talk in the third period against the Boston Bruins during the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium on January 1, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images) /

After ending 2018 on an upbeat note with a win, the Chicago Blackhawks started off the new year on a sour note, losing their fourth Winter Classic game.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins battled it out on New Year’s Day in the 2019 Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium. With all the hype surrounding the event and recent improvement in their play, the Blackhawks had a chance to earn their first Winter Classic win. Unfortunately, Chicago couldn’t take down one of the best defensive teams in the league. Here are my five thoughts on the 4-2 loss.

1 – Special teams handcuff the ‘Hawks

Poor special teams are basically the only reason the Chicago Blackhawks lost the game today. In a matchup where the league’s worst penalty kill is facing a top-five power play, it’s no surprise the Bruins prevailed. The Blackhawks didn’t help themselves by earning four power plays of their own and not converting on any of them.

While all of Chicago’s goals came at 5-on-5 play, two of Boston’s three goals (because empty netters barely count) were scored on the power play. The ‘Hawks were way out of position on the Bruins’ first PPG with everyone watching the puck and no one covering noted goal-scorer David Pastrnak, who put himself directly in front of the net.

On the second power-play goal against, Patrice Bergeron made an incredible defensive play on a David Kampf shorthanded breakaway. Roughly 30 seconds later, he backhanded the puck past Cam Ward after it went off Brent Seabrook and directly to him. None of the Blackhawks on that unit could figure out where it was going and they left one of the best two-way centers in the game wide open.

And even though they had a couple of good looks on the power play, none of the Blackhawks’ shots were high-danger scoring chances. We watched a completely different power play this game compared to the last few when the team was red hot on the man advantage.

The team’s continued special-team struggles were on full display this game, and the Bruins took advantage. Jeremy Colliton needs to figure out why they’re so weak in this area of their play if they want any chance at future success.

2 – Perlini beginning to pan out

With a goal and four shots on net, Brendan Perlini arguably had his best game since being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. He got stuck on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Andreas Martinsen, so he didn’t play as much as he probably should’ve considering the first period he had.

In his last eight games, Perlini has four points (3 goals, 1 assist). We’ve seen his game improve in that stretch and it seems that he’s grown more comfortable with Colliton’s system. He won’t ever be in a top-six role consistently, but Perlini finally looks like a good depth player. He’s someone the Blackhawks desperately need to continue improving and keep up their good play.

3 – Ward stands tall

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Fans gave Jeremy Colliton a lot of criticism for choosing to start Cam Ward over Collin Delia, who is 3-0-0 with a .957 save percentage. He deserved the pushback, considering the fact that Ward has an .886 save percentage.

Despite all of the odds being against him, Ward was pretty good for the Blackhawks in this game. He made several spectacular saves to keep the team in the game when they were down a man. He stopped 32 out of 35 shots on goal. Ward wasn’t as all over the place as he usually is and managed the puck well.

While his overall stats look terrible, part of that could be the Blackhawks’ defense giving him absolutely nothing when he’s in net. Most of us know what to expect from Cam Ward. He has some really good games and some really bad ones. He’ll let in the occasional stinker just like any other goaltender. Colliton didn’t want to put the pressure on Delia with a start in the Winter Classic, and I think he ended up making the right decision. Ward had a good game.

4 – Alex DeBrincat needs more ice time

The third line of Alex DeBrincat, David Kampf, and Dylan Sikura has been great the last couple of games. In this game, they only allowed one scoring chance and didn’t allow a single high-danger scoring chance. The three forwards combined for six shots on goal, with DeBrincat collecting half of those shots.

But ever since he was moved off the second line, Alex DeBrincat’s ice time has decreased. Today, he only had 16:22 TOI. He’s third on the team in points and second in goals. He gets power play time that his linemates don’t, but he’s been red-hot as of late and deserves to be on the ice more when the play is 5-on-5.

A guy that’s on pace for 35 goals on an offensively-depleted team shouldn’t be on the third line in general. A player of DeBrincat’s caliber deserves to play with guys like Dylan Strome and Patrick Kane, who he has great chemistry with. But if Colliton is going to spread the wealth, he needs to spread out the ice time, too. DeBrincat deserves to play more.

5 – Is Gustav Forsling an NHL defenseman?

I don’t typically like ending on a negative note, but this thought was the last one to pop into my head. Gustav Forsling was way too noticeable in this game, which typically indicates bad play. I had to look at the stats to see if my eye test was supported by analytics.

Forsling had the best 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage (63.33) of all defensemen in this game. He was on the ice for more scoring chances for (13) than against (7). However, he and Brent Seabrook were the only Blackhawks defensemen on the ice for a goal against at 5-on-5. The Bruins has just as many high-danger scoring chances when he was on the ice (5) as the ‘Hawks.

And even though he had a good game today, his total 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage on the season is 47.99. Anything below 50% indicates poor play, and that’s reflective of how Forsling has played so far. He can provide offense, but his defense is nowhere near good enough. He doesn’t have good gap control and is often chasing players instead of defending them properly. His hockey IQ isn’t at the level of other defenders in terms of quick, effective decision making.

In conclusion, I don’t think Forsling is an NHL defenseman. I have a feeling most Blackhawks’ fans would agree with me. The only reason he’s in the lineup regularly right now is because Henri Jokiharju is at World Juniors. Once he’s back, you’d have to assume Forsling is the one that comes out of the lineup.

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The Chicago Blackhawks head to Long Island for Thursday’s night tilt against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. The Isles are currently on a four-game winning streak and are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, so this won’t exactly be an easy matchup. We’ll see if the Blackhawks can put up a fight against a red-hot team and stifle young star Mathew Barzal.

Let’s hope they leave this tough loss behind them and continue to improve their play. 2019 is a new year and while they didn’t start off on the right note, the Blackhawks have a chance to turn things around.