Coming into this season, hopes are high for the Chicago Blackhawks. The defense improved on paper. The team got bigger. Goaltending should be better. The albatross that was the Seabrook contract fell from the collective neck of the team. And, oh yeah, Captain Jonathan Toews returned.
The 2021-2022 campaign began tonight for the Chicago Blackhawks as they faced off against the Colorado Avalanche.
On the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks tonight were:
Did this group fare any better than the teams of recent memory? Well, certainly not in the win column. The Blackhawks lose to the Avalanche 4-2. But of course that’s not the whole story.
In small sample size, both the powerplay (PP) and penalty kill (PK) look to be improved. Last year, the Blackhawks scored 21.7% of the time on 38/175 shooting on the PP. That was good for 11th in the NHL. While that certainly isn’t terrible, it’s nowhere near the 28% efficiency put up by the Edmonton Oilers.
And, for those who watched every game, the PP could be infuriating. Many times, the Hawks failed to set up cleanly in the zone, let alone get off shots on goal. Tonight, the PP looked crisp. The boys set up quickly and had lots of side to side passing and attempts to get the puck to the middle of the ice. They no longer seem content to pass around the outside waiting for something to open up. They scored on one of three chances, but controlled the puck and put consistent pressure throughout both PPs.
The penalty kill last year was very poor. The Blackhawks ranked 28th in the NHL with a 76.8 kill percentage. That poor PK leaked into the preseason this year. In meaningless games, the Hawks looked lost on the PK. They were poorly positioned and gave up too many powerplay goals. Tonight, the PK was aggressive, rarely letting the Avalanche set up in their offensive zone. The Hawks held the Aves to no goals on four chances.
In the offseason, Stan Bowman made some intentional moves to shore up the defense. The addition of Seth Jones and Jake McCabe made no difference in the first game. The Blackhawks continue to turn the puck over and they frequently are in poor position during transition and defending an opposing rush. During the first period, the Hawks chased most of the time giving up three goals and being outshot 18-8.
Over the course of the next two periods, the Blackhawks did tighten up a bit and certainly closed the shots on goal gap; however, they continue to give up high danger scoring chances at an alarming rate. For all of the size and grit they added, they were still unable to keep Colorado out of the center of the ice with the puck. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Avalanche had 33 scoring chances to the Blackhawks 15 in 5V5 action. A reality that cannot continue if the Blackhawks are to turn the ship around.
As silly as it sounds coming off a decisive loss like this, Blackhawks fans need to be patient. Colorado is a Western Conference favorite to be in the Stanley Cup Finals. Losing the opener to them isn’t cause for alarm. If one or two of Dach’s or Jones’s one on one chances hits the back of the net, this game looks very different.
Finally, this team must be given time to gel. New players. New lines. Toews is back and finding his legs. Dach is back full strength and regaining the form he had before injury. The team that got outplayed in the first ten minutes of the game is not the team that finished the game or the one we will see in ten games.
Honorable Mention: The Blackhawks won the faceoff battle tonight winning 56% of draws, something that rarely happened last year.