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Will 2019 be a happy new year for the Chicago Blackhawks?

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DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 21: Goaltender Collin Delia #60 of the Chicago Blackhawks stands in goal against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on December 21, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 21: Goaltender Collin Delia #60 of the Chicago Blackhawks stands in goal against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on December 21, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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UNIONDALE, NEW YORK – JANUARY 03: Gustav Forsling #42 of the Chicago Blackhawks defends against Joshua Ho-Sang #26 of the New York Islandersduring their game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on January 03, 2019 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK – JANUARY 03: Gustav Forsling #42 of the Chicago Blackhawks defends against Joshua Ho-Sang #26 of the New York Islandersduring their game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on January 03, 2019 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

Defensive woes continue

The Chicago Blackhawks have been utilizing a new shutdown pairing of Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom.  They have been noticeably more physical in their play, but they aren’t the fastest skaters on the ice.  They have also been logging some big minutes while living on the positive side of plus/minus over the last five games.

Duncan Keith has been paired with Erik Gustafsson while Henri Jokiharju has been on loan to Team Finland for the World Juniors tournament.  Together, they’ve posted negative plus/minus over the last five games, as their defensive breakdowns have been costly.

Gustav Forsling and Brent Seabrook have struggled together.  This is a pairing that didn’t work well last year and still doesn’t look good this year.

What happens when Jokiharju returns? This and many more questions about the defense linger.  What isn’t a question is how bad the ‘Hawks are with unblocked shots against.  The ‘Hawks only look better recently results-wise because of the stellar play from goalie Collin Delia.

Bad chemistry experiments

In contrast to the 50 shots surrendered against the Islanders, the Chicago Blackhawks generated only 21 shots on the Islanders’ net.  As Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  The team continues to look for the perfect shot instead of creating chaos by pumping shots toward the net.  Part of the problem is the team’s overall inability to traverse through the neutral zone.  Poor passing is reaching an epidemic proportion, as we see numerous passes hitting skates instead of stick blades, passes into double coverage, passes to the opposition, and soft passes that are easily intercepted.

However, the top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Dominik Kahun are making things happen by carrying the puck into the offensive zone and creating possession time with short, quick passes and by winning board battles.  Saad and Toews are playing a more straight-ahead game, with Kahun using his speed to chase down loose pucks.  The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus highlighted this disturbing stat about this line’s Corsi rating in the Islanders game:

After the top line, the other three lines are getting killed in possession time.  While Dylan Strome and Patrick Kane are beginning to develop chemistry, long cross-ice passes are getting picked off for turnovers.  Artem Anisimov at left wing is a questionable move.  While the dual big forward combination of Strome and Anisimov helps with board battles, Kane needs a forward to cycle with a la the departed Nick Schmaltz and Artemi Panarin.  Kane has been on a scoring hot streak, but it seems his best chemistry is being formed with defenseman Erik Gustafsson.  Both Strome and Gustafsson have problems with defensive coverage, so that second line tends to chase the puck at times.

The latest third line with Alex DeBrincat, David Kampf, and Dylan Sikura had their moments.  They possess both speed and skill, but only Kampf brings size.  There have been questions about the Cat’s deployment on the third line, but I feel this is where he belongs for now.  His scoring ability is undeniable, but his penchant for turning over the puck high in the offensive zone and through the neutral zone must improve.  He is destined to be a top-six forward, but for now, his turnovers aren’t as costly against a lower quality of competition.  Sikura just isn’t physically ready for the NHL, despite his elite skating, and was sent back to Rockford for more seasoning.  He was losing board battles and just can’t fight through checks.

I continue to like Kampf and his work ethic.  He uses his size and speed to win battles and create opportunities.  The newly acquired Drake Caggiula might find himself on this third line.  He has at least proven to be an NHL caliber player.

What happens on the fourth line is anyone’s guess, as players rotate in and out.

A very telling statistic about offensive chemistry comes from the team’s conversion rate on scoring chances.  They sit at the bottom of the NHL in this category.

Again, the chemistry of the forward lines is in doubt, as they get pounded in scoring chances for versus scoring chances against.  Their inability to sustain puck possession in the offensive zone results in their chasing the play in their own end.

We can talk about chemistry, but it’s difficult to build chemistry when the elements to build with are lacking.  The Chicago Blackhawks have retooled their roster on the fly, and the result is the dwindling core surrounded by a bunch of developing or not ready players.  Their overall Corsica star rating is dead last, meaning that they aren’t doing much of anything special.

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