Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks, Connor Murphy, Jeremy Colliton

Blackhawks Fall Short on West Coast Trip

For a while, the Chicago Blackhawks were looking good, and there was talk of a last-minute push for the playoffs. Heck, this was what kept things interesting these last few weeks. But it’s since become clear that the Blackhawks are who we thought they were (two points if you get this Chicago sports reference). They’re a mediocre team that’s not going to make the postseason for the second straight year.

The bottom line is that the Blackhawks were always a team simply trying to sneak into the final wild card spot. They were never a playoff-caliber team. And they proved to us yet again that they can’t get it done when it really matters. The Hawks needed three wins and six points this past week, not the one win and three points they came away with.

Needless to say, this team does have talent, and there is promise for the future. But that future is next October, not later this spring. In their 2018-19 campaign, the Blackhawks have accomplished a lot. More than expected if you really think about it. So without further ado, we revisit last week’s contests, and some achievements made by the team and individuals.

Blackhawks’ Week 26 Matchups

@ Arizona
Coyotes, Tues. 3/26, Loss 1-0

@ San Jose
Sharks, Thurs. 3/28, Win 5-4

@ Los Angeles Kings, Sat. 3/30, Loss 3-2 (OT)

Overall Record: 34-33-11, 79 points (Six points out of the final wild card spot)

Related from Last Week – Blackhawks Playoff Hopes Are a Stretch

The Jekyll Blackhawks team showed up on Tuesday against the Coyotes. This is the relatively newly found squad that is defensively responsible. We’ve seen bits and pieces of Jekyll in the past, but not on a regular basis. The Hawks played a tight game, only allowing 28 shots and one goal, which was on a power play.

Hyde showed up on Thursday and all but squelched Jekyll. Yeah, this is the run-and-gun Blackhawks team that scores a bunch of goals but also gives up a bunch of goals. To their credit, the Blackhawks allowed one goal on a 5-on-4 power play and another on a 5-on-3 power play. But that’s the thing: Hyde (or should we call him Brent Seabrook for this one?) commits too many penalties.

Chicago Blackhawks’ defenseman Brent Seabrook committed three untimely penalties Thursday night against the Sharks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The bad news is the Blackhawks lost Saturday night. But if you think about it, the team was a little bit Jekyll and a little bit Hyde, which is what we’re looking for. Jekyll held the Kings to only 29 shots. But Hyde allowed three goals, and only provided two. One or two more goals would have been nice. And one less penalty in overtime. Oh, the difference between wins and losses is so minuscule this time of the season. Let’s move on to some individual achievements.

DeBrincat Does It

“He’s too
small; he’ll never make it in the NHL”. Well, I’m glad so many people thought
that. The 5-foot-7 Alex DeBrincat was taken 39th overall in the 2016
NHL Draft. The Hawks probably weren’t sure what they were getting, but I’ll bet
they’re more than pleased with the result.

DeBrincat recorded his 39th and 40th goals of the season Thursday night against the Sharks, in only his second season in the NHL. He and the infamous Patrick Kane, who’s been doing this kind of thing for 12 years now, both have 40-plus goals for the Blackhawks for the first time since 1990-91.

As a matter of fact, DeBrincat tallied again in Los Angeles, tying him with Kane’s 41 goals. There are four more contests to go for these two to fight it out to the finish. Who will end up with the most goals? Last season it was DeBrincat, whose 28 goals just edged out Kane’s 27. I’d say 41 and counting is a welcome improvement.

By the way, Kane is five goals shy of his career high. His current 46 assists are already a new career-high. And his 105 points is only one shy of the 106 points he logged in the 2015-16 season.

Why is this
kind of talent being wasted on a non-playoff team?! Well, there’s always next
season.

More Murphy

This past Tuesday, defenseman Connor Murphy celebrated his golden birthday. This momentous occasion seems like a good time to recognize the 26-year-old’s contribution to the Blackhawks.

Murphy started the season with a back injury and didn’t play until Dec. 9. But right away he established himself as one of the more consistent members of the blue line. His main role with the Blackhawks is that of a third-pairing shutdown defenseman. But head coach Jeremy Colliton trusts Murphy throughout the lineup, as well as on the penalty kill.

Murphy’s performance against the Sharks was a special one. He took on some of the toughest assignments and got knocked around by a hard-hitting team. But despite that, in 21:41 minutes of ice time, he recorded four hits and six blocked shots. He also contributed offensively, padding the lead with a goal in the first period. It’s was his fifth goal of the season, to go along with eight assists.

Murphy has recorded 85 blocked shots and 106 hits in 48 games this season. He’s also a plus-14 in plus/minus statistics. If Murphy can continue contributing at this level, the Blackhawks will definitely benefit from having him on the roster once again next season.

Colliton’s Line Changes

In an effort to balance the Jekyll and Hyde of offense and defense, Colliton has once again been tinkering with the forward lines. The lineup against the Coyotes was quite the experiment. It featured DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews, and Kane on a top-heavy forward line. David Kampf centered the second line instead of the fourth line, and Dominik Kahun found himself down on the fourth line. Well, this might have helped defensively, but it didn’t do much to spark offensive production.

So against the Sharks, the Blackhawks went back to a lineup they utilized for a handful of games a few weeks ago. Brandon Saad and Dylan Sikura lined up with Toews, buddies Dylan Strome and DeBrincat were reunited, along with Kahun, and Artem Anisimov and Kane were on the “third” line with Brendan Perlini. But don’t get me wrong, Kane still double-shifted plenty on that first line. And the fourth line was fortified with Chris Kunitz, Kampf, and Marcus Kruger. These three have proven to be the best shutdown line the Hawks have to offer.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, NHL
Patrick Kane has moved up and down in the lineup for the Chicago Blackhawks as Coach Colliton searches for balance. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Things changed once again for the Kings game. Perlini, who didn’t see the ice at all in the third period Thursday, was predictably a healthy scratch. Obviously Colliton is looking for more from him. Drake Caggiula rejoined the lineup after being out 13 games with a concussion. He played with Strome and Kahun on the second line, and these three made up a dominant possession line.

This
allowed DeBrincat and Kane to be on the same line, centered by Anisimov. I
actually suggested this line combination when the two wingers played together
at the World Championships over the summer. And wouldn’t you know it, these
three combined for a goal and 14 shots on goal.

Related – Should Kane & DeBrincat Play Together?

I did find
it interesting that Colliton chose to break up Strome and DeBrincat, who are
known to have some special chemistry. With Caggiula back, it will be
interesting to see what adjustments he will make for the remaining four matchups
of the season.

Blackhawks’ Final Four

The Blackhawks have quite the final week. They host the Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, and Dallas Stars on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, respectively. Then they head to Nashville to take on the Predators for their final contest of the season Saturday night. As of right now, these are the top four teams in the Central Division, meaning they will certainly provide some healthy competition.

That is why the Blackhawks should embrace this challenge. If they can remain competitive against these strong teams, they can use that momentum as a springboard towards a successful 2019-20 campaign.

Let’s see
what the Hawks can do in these final four games!  

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