The Chicago Blackhawks earned their first win of 2019, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3.
The Chicago Blackhawks arrived in Pittsburgh with two losses and no wins to begin the new year. Somehow, the Blackhawks managed to overcome 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to defeat the Penguins for the second time this season. The Pens have not won against the ‘Hawks in 10 games. Here are my five thoughts on the win.
1 – Firsts of the season
Much like last year, it looked as if Duncan Keith was never going to score this season. It took 80 games for the defenseman to score his first goal of the season last year. Keith was able to score his first 44 games into this season. He decided he didn’t want to wait as long this time around, finally getting a puck in the net on his 76th shot on goal this year. His shooting percentage has risen from 0% to 0.013%.
Chris Kunitz, who has not played since December 23rd, finally got into the lineup tonight thanks to a classy gesture by the coaching staff. The Pittsburgh Penguins honored their 2009 Stanley Cup Championship team, and Jeremy Colliton wanted to get him on the ice to play against his former team. The ex-Penguin made the most of the opportunity, scoring his first goal of the season as well to tie the game at two after the team was down 2-0. That was a great feel-good moment for Kunitz and the Blackhawks, not so much for the Penguins.
2 – Gustafsson + Kane = major chemistry
You may have noticed Erik Gustafsson‘s offensive improvements lately. After recording only seven points in his first 20 games, he has 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists) in his last 21 games, including an assist tonight. You may not have noticed how well Patrick Kane has been doing because he’s Patrick Kane and we expect that of him. He has 54 points on the season, including 3 assists tonight. One of those assists was on a power-play goal, where Gustafsson sent a pass from the point to Kane who slipped the puck cross-ice to DeBrincat who scored.
Explaining goals is difficult. Instead, just look at this beautiful GIF of the goal.
This has happened a lot recently. The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus wrote an article about Gustafsson a few days ago, in which he mentioned the Gustafsson-Kane chemistry. He notes that in 13 (now 14) games since his scratch on December 2nd, Gustafsson has assisted on five Kane goals while Kane has assisted on three Gustafsson goals. And yet, with all those times they’ve assisted on each other’s goals, this is the first time they’ve both assisted on a goal this season.
Jeremy Colliton sees it, too. They are on the first power-play unit together now and Colliton tries to put whatever defensive pairing Gustafsson is part of on the ice at the same time as the Anisimov-Strome-Kane line. A lot of offensive success has been created with these moves. Expect even more scoring to come of it.
3 – Top line remains effective
In the 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders on Thursday, the top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Dominik Kahun was the only line that had a positive Corsi-for percentage. They weren’t the only ones with positive possession numbers tonight, but they were everywhere.
Brandon Saad hit the post (yikes), Jonathan Toews recorded a goal and assist, and even though it looks like he didn’t do anything, Dominik Kahun played very well. He’s scored two goals in his last three games. All three players had a Corsi-for percentage at 60 or above at 5-on-5 play.
While the offense isn’t always present on the scoresheet for this line, they create a ton of opportunities and defend well, too. There’s no doubt they’re the most complete line the Blackhawks have. It shows almost every night, including in this win. I don’t think there’s a more effective line on the team.
4 – The power play’s success
When NBCSN play-by-play announcer Brendan Burke said the Chicago Blackhawks power play is 24th in the league, I actually had to go and look it up because I thought he made a mistake.
He didn’t make one at the time. He’s wrong now, though. It’s 25th in the league after tonight.
But still. For a team that sat in dead last in the league in power-play percentage for the majority of the season, that’s an incredible feat. Scoring 12 power-play goals in your last 18 games will definitely increase that conversion rate. I just didn’t expect it to be that much.
The power play also looked dangerous tonight, even though they only had two shots on goal in three man-advantage opportunities. Their puck movement was solid and the units looked to be having good chemistry together. Alex DeBrincat converted on the first power play the Chicago Blackhawks had in the game. It didn’t count as a power-play goal, but Duncan Keith scored literally two seconds after the opportunity had expired.
I know I’ve mentioned multiple times how important it is for the Chicago Blackhawks to improve on special teams. They’ve done just that with the power play.
5 – Patrick Kane continues to be…well, Patrick Kane
In a season that feels as if it’s all but lost, Patrick Kane is quietly having a fantastic season. The 30-year-old has 54 points in 43 games, which puts him at a tie for seventh in the league in scoring. He’s the only player in the top 10 that isn’t 25 or younger. His points per game is 1.26. He’s on pace to record approximately 101 points if he plays every game for the rest of the season. That’d total would be the second-most points in a season of his entire career, behind his 2015-2016 MVP year.
Like, seriously. Why aren’t we talking about this more?
Maybe it’s because this is what we expect of him. He’s the one player we know is always going to produce year after year, no matter how good or bad the team is. Maybe it’s because we already know how good he is. He’s consistently one of the top scorers in the league and has led the Blackhawks in scoring for the last four seasons, including this one.
But we should be talking about how despite that fact that he’s only getting older, it seems as if Patrick Kane is playing some of the best hockey of his illustrious career. We need to appreciate the fact that he might surpass 100 points for the second time in his 12-year tenure in the NHL, despite being on one of the worse teams in the league. We have to recognize that he might just be one of the best players the Chicago Blackhawks have ever had in their 93 years of existence. Actually, he might just be the best player in franchise history if he continues to be as good as he’s been since 2007.
There’s no question all Blackhawks fans appreciate Patrick Kane. All I’m saying is we need to treasure him even more than we already do, especially in these dire times. He makes watching this team so much fun every single night. I’m always looking forward to seeing what out-of-this-world move he’s going to make to create a goal or score one himself.
Patrick Kane is special. As fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, we should remind ourselves of that every single day.
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The Chicago Blackhawks will be back in action at the United Center tomorrow night against the Calgary Flames. Collin Delia will start in net and Henri Jokiharju, who is coming off a gold medal win with Finland at World Juniors, may return to the lineup. Let’s hope the Blackhawks carry their aggressive play from tonight into tomorrow’s matchup.