The Chicago Blackhawks faced a struggling New York Islanders Sunday night for the first time this season in the newly built UBS Arena.
Derek King returned as Interim Head Coach against the Islanders, a team which he played 11 of 14 NHL seasons with. Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews continued their goalless droughts and are clearly cursed with the amount of offensive opportunities they were given. Dylan Strome capitalized in the third period with his second goal of the season. It was an intense final two minutes in the third period, when Islanders defensemen Noah Dobson capitalized on a wide open net to tie the game 2-2 with two seconds left. Patrick Kane did his usual stickhandling magic during the shootout. Many careless penalties were drawn, which resulted in a powerplay goal by the Islanders. Fleury got the start and was dominant in tonight’s 3-2 shootout win.
Here are my three takeaways from tonight’s win.
Despite still struggling offensively, with a 2.13 goals per game average, the Blackhawks were able to capitalize on 1 of 2 powerplay opportunities. Brandon Hagel scored the lone powerplay goal in the first period on a tip from Alex DeBrincat’s shot. In the past few games, there have been some noticeable differences including passing, creating lanes and getting shots on net. Brandon Hagel, Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Seth Jones should be priority on the #1 powerplay unit going forward as their chemistry is working. Hagel provides net front presence, Seth Jones creates plays and Alex DeBrincat can provide goals with his booming slapshot. As Eddie Olczyk always says, shoot the puck towards the goal and good things happen. Since King took over, the Blackhawks have scored 4 goals on the man advantage. Though it’s not a dominant looking powerplay league wide, it was somewhat noticeable in tonight’s game.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury Dominance in Goal
Since the coaching change, Fleury has been dominant in goal. Going into tonight’s game, Fleury had a 1.69 goals against average and a .947 save percentage, including 1 shutout and improves to 6-2-0 on the season. Fleury played like the vintage soon to be Hall of Fame goalie that he is. Fleury made many notable saves during the game including a diving poke check away from the crease, which he has done various times during his stints with the Penguins and Golden Knights. Fleury was dialed in tonight as he sensed plays, followed the puck, played with confidence and bailed out the Blackhawks defense several times with his post to post movement. Despite allowing a tip-in powerplay goal during the second period, Fleury stood tall on the next three Islanders powerplay opportunities. Against New York Islanders forwards Oliver Wahlstrom and Mathew Barzal, Fleury was basically a brick wall. Fleury stood his ground and with many low scoring/overtime games this seasons, Fleury should be relied on in overtime/shootouts going forward. During the first 9 games under Colliton, it was questionable to whether Fleury would find his game again and it is clear in the past 7 starts that he has regained his original form. With tonights win, Fleury is one win away from 500 career wins, which is 3rd all time behind fellow French Canadian Hall of Famers Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy.
3. Seth Jones
Seth Jones is currently 2nd in the NHL in points among defensemen with 22, behind New York Rangers defenseman Adam Fox. Since King took over, Seth Jones has been a passing machine, especially on the powerplay, where he currently has 7 power play points and currently leads the team with 19 assists. Jones currently leads the team with 22 points, on a team with limited and struggling scoring potential. Jones has been an incredibly useful quarterback on the powerplay keeping pucks in the offensive zone, making passes and occasionally getting shots on net and it’s clear that he will be on the #1 powerplay unit going forward. Jones is also essential for 3 on 3 overtime and pairs well with DeBrincat, Kane or Hagel with his puck possession. Jones was signed to an 8 year, 76 million dollar extension by former disgraced GM Stan Bowman over the summer. So far offensively, Jones is living up to his potential, averaging almost a point per game. Defensively, he still has some defensive improvements to make in order to be established as the #1 defensemen for the Blackhawks going forward, as he currently has a -8 rating so far and has been responsible for some shaky goals in the past few games.