Here are some takeaways from the Chicago Blackhawks’ preseason game against the Boston Bruins and things to watch for going forward.
Over the past couple of seasons, roster depth and a nonexistent defense plagued the Blackhawks and held them out of the playoffs. It has been a different story so far during the 2019 preseason. Roster depth has become a strength for the Blackhawks and the defense is looking new and improved. Of course, it is preseason, but I like what I have seen.
The Chicago Blackhawks sent out what seemed to be their 2019-20 opening night roster against the Bruins and played pretty well. Here are some things that I noticed and some things to watch for going forward.
The Chicago Blackhawks Have 4 Competitive Lines Again
No team is going to win without having four lines they can run out there at any time. The Blackhawks haven’t had this luxury in a very long time. The 2019 offseason additions had strong games and the 4th line of Zack Smith–Ryan Carpenter–Drake Caggiula was very effective.
Carpenter won 7 of 12 faceoffs (58.3%) and Smith won 5 of 6 faceoffs (83.3%). Caggiula ended up with 7 hits, Smith had 2 hits, and Carpenter had 1 hit. I would love to stick with this group as the 4th line to start the season.
The 3rd line also performed really well. This line consisted of Brandon Saad–Anton Wedin–Dominik Kubalik. This line could be a sneaky good one, if Jeremy Colliton decides to stick with it. Kubalik was quiet tonight, after scoring two goals against Detroit on Wednesday.
Saad scored a goal on a perfectly executed give-and-go play with Wedin. Although the beautiful feed from Wedin, to give Saad a wide-open net, was the more impressive part of the play. Kubalik was also around the net for a rebound, which wasn’t necessary here.
The 2nd line of Alex DeBrincat–Dylan Strome–Andrew Shaw didn’t produce much, but they have shown some great balance and chemistry this preseason. This line looks to be set for the season opener in Prague on October 4th. The 2nd line was great at the faceoff dot, with Strome winning 7 of 12 faceoffs (58.3%) and Shaw won 3 of 3 faceoffs (100%).
Strome scored a power-play goal in the 1st period where he scooped up a rebound and was rewarded with a goal. The Blackhawks PP1 unit looks to have picked right up where they left off in the 2018-19 season which is great news! Let’s hope the PP2 unit can see some success as well this season.
The first line of Alexander Nylander–Jonathan Toews–Patrick Kane didn’t have much success against the Bruins until overtime rolled around. Toews was his usual self at the faceoff dot, as he won 7 of 13 faceoffs (53.8%).
Kane also did Kane things and scored the game-winning goal in OT. The puck bounced off Bruins’ goalie, Kyle Keyser, and hit Kane in the chin, but he kept his composure and tapped in the GWG. Talk about Sweet Chin Music. This line could good if Nylander gets it together, but I don’t know if Colliton will give him another shot on the top line. We’ll have to wait and see.
Defense Looks to Be Coming Together
The Blackhawks defense played fairly well, but still allowed the Bruins to get up 41 shots on net. These were the defensive pairings for the game:
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There was only one defenseman with a negative plus/minus rating and that was Gustafsson, as he overcommitted to the puck handler, which opened up a passing lane and led to a goal.
At this point, we really shouldn’t expect Gustafsson’s defense to improve. It’s not a good feeling to always subconsciously hold your breath any time he’s in the middle of a 2-on-1 opportunity, but it is what it is.
Connor Murphy had a strong game and finished with 19:02 TOI and an assist. The Blackhawks will likely count on Murphy to be a shutdown defenseman in key situations. He was out there in OT with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, so there’s a great example right there.
One thing I noticed in this game was blocked shots. The Blackhawks got back to their roots when their defensemen played defense. Murphy and Maatta had two blocked shots each, while Koekkoek and Seabrook blocked one shot each.
I actually liked what I saw out of Seabrook tonight. Yes, he is getting older and slowing down, but he was physical tonight. He also prevented Boston from getting pucks in deep and didn’t allow them to be comfortable around the net. Seabrook finished with 18:13 TOI which is where he should be. Seabrook is still an effective defenseman, as long as his minutes are managed. I think Jeremy Colliton finally realized this, so let’s hope this trend continues for the entire 2019-20 season.
Strong Goalie Play
Robin Lehner looked like a Vezina Trophy finalist against the Bruins. Lehner is worth every penny of that 1 year, $5 mil deal he received this offseason. Stan Bowman should be patting himself on the back right now. Lehner was in the zone and made some key saves when he had to, which was pretty often since the defense allowed 41 shots on net. He saved 39 of 41 shots for a .951 Sv% which is great.
Lehner’s strong performance earned him the 1st Star of the Game and it was well deserved. I can definitely get used to seeing this and I’m sure you all would agree. The Chicago Blackhawks are in good hands, literally.
Last season when the Blackhawks’ goalies were facing 40+ shots every game, they got burnt out. Maybe Lehner can handle the pressure, but it is still a lot to ask of your goalie on a daily basis. The defense will need to tighten up. Calvin de Haan‘s return is going to be huge for this defense and he will help solidify these defensive pairings.
Overall, I love what I have seen from the Chicago Blackhawks this preseason and I am thinking playoffs this season. As the 2019 postseason proved, anything can happen once you get in. The St. Louis Blues went from being one of the worst teams in the league for half of the 2018-19 season to winning the Stanley Cup. With that being said, let’s take it day by day and game by game. If things continue to progress as they have been lately, I like the Blackhawks’ chances in 2019-20.