Saturday, November 23, 2019

Will Result of Crucial 5-game Stretch Be End For Colliton?

By Randy Holndoner: @bhawkschatter

The Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in the beginning of a crucial five game stretch, where they play the Dallas Stars twice, Colorado Avalanche twice, and the Stanley Cup Champion, St. Louis Blues.

They are 6 points behind both, Dallas, and Colorado.  Definitely a chance to gain some ground on the top 3 teams in the division.  Now if only they could be led to do so.

After a horrid 3-6-1 start, being capped with a pathetic 3-0, loss to the Nashville Predators, they have since bounced back with a 6-1-2 stretch, prior to their last two home games, which they have lost.

Needless to say, inconsistency still is a factor for a team trying to find themselves under the sleepwalking guidance of Jeremy Colliton.  

The slow start in which Colliton stated that a more 'defensive-minded approach' was trying to be established, obviously did not work, by giving up nearly 40 shots a game during that stretch.  That 'approach', ended in a 3-0 loss, to the Predators, which was arguably the worst game the Blackhawks played in 20 years, and the best game Robin Lehner has played in his career.

Since then, Colliton has allowed the run-and-gun offense to take over, which sparked the latest stretch of wins.  It took a month for Colliton to put stars Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome together on a line, but according to Colliton, "...it's not about the combos".  Yeah, okay.

The latest head-scratcher was dressing seven defensemen against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, a team that won 62 games last year.  Dressing seven defensemen rarely turns out to be a good thing, and it wasn't Thursday as the Hawks lost, 4-2.

Was Colliton giving bench-warmer, Slater Koekkoek a chance to 'shine' against his old team?  If so, that failed miserably as Koekkoek played just 11 shifts, 8:14, with two giveaways.  Take THAT, Tampa!  Koekkoek has been a healthy scratch for nearly half the games this year.

Even when asked, Captain Jonathan Toews was puzzled as to why they would dress seven defensemen, when the lines that were playing were starting to gel.

Depending on what shenanigans Colliton brings in the next five games, one would think, or HOPE, SOMEONE from the upper brass of the Blachawks would say enough is enough.

Many thought Colliton would have been gone after the opening 7-game homestand, which they went 2-3-2.  One would want to get off to a good start, right?  Nah.

Maybe when it was during that stretch when they scored three goals in five games?  Nah.  The season is still young!

The last two home games were not stellar by any means.  Top it off with Toews telling the press to speak to the coaches as to why they dressed seven defensemen, you have to wonder when Colliton lost this team.  Because he clearly has.

How many lives is Colliton allowed to have?  Or for Stan Bowman for that matter for not axing Colliton sooner?  Blackhawks President, John McDonough, or Blackhawks owner, Rocky Wirtz, need to step in if this is allowed to continue,  

The motto, "One Goal" is failing to capture what this team is about anymore.

It's not the team that is bad.  This team's roster consists of ten, first round draft picks.  the talent is there.

This team missed the playoffs by a mere 6 points, or 3 games.  One could argue that the first MONTH, was wasted already, along with the reasoning to dress seven defensemen.  There are no games to waste.

Enough is enough.  Colliton should have been gone, LONG ago, especially with Marc Crawford, a 16-year NHL Head Coach, with 556 wins, and a Stanley Cup under his coaching belt, standing 5 feet away.

Was he not brought in to give Colliton notice that a fast start was important this year?  Maybe not, but Blackhawk fans are growing very impatient for this delay in turning this team around that has not made the playoffs since 2015.

This five game stretch may finally tell the tale, if things go bad.

LET'S GO HAWKS!!!! 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Dach's Debut, Not Special, Future Plans?

By Randy Holndoner - @Bhawkschatter

Kirby Dach had his NHL debut Sunday night against the Washington Capitals.  It wasn't a flashy effort, and the Blackhawks lost, 5-3.

The Blackhawks' centers are: Jonathan Toews, Dylan Strome, David Kampf, and Ryan Carpenter.  If you wanted to, you could add Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith to the mix. A strong group of centers.  One would question, is it really necessary to have the 18-year old, up with the NHL club, at this time, as he learns the system.

Yes, it is good experience for him.  Yes, it was a feel good moment in which his parents and sister were present at the game.  It wasn't good that the Hawks lost a game in which they had gathered 5 points out of their last 6.  

They had built momentum over those last few games.  Lines were starting to gel and play with consistency.  Then Dach is thrusted into centering a line between Strome and Kane.

The lines prior to Sunday night, seemed to be set.  Other than the argument that could be Kane should be with Toews, and DeBrincat should be with Strome, why introduce Dach at this point?

Many teams give 10 games to potential rookies to get some experience with the big team and that is fine and good.  The problem with that, is that it can wind up hurting a team that hasn't made the playoffs for a number of years.  Those ten games, are nearly 10% of the season, with a potential of 20 points.

After one game, you can't jump to conclusions, but the Blackkhawks, and the upper brass, are hungry to get back to the playoffs.  Toews and Patrick Kane are in their prime.  Time is running out on aging stars, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford.

Does Stan Bowman have the time to allow another season to slip by without another playoff appearance?  Keep this in mind.  Last year, the Blackhawks missed the playoffs by six points.  


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Lehner, Blackhawks, Need OT To Beat Blue Jackets, 3-2

By Randy Holndoner - @Bhawkschatter 

Robin Lehner made 37 saves, and Jonathan Toews scored his first goal of the year, in OT, as the Chicago Blackhawks took down the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2.

The Blackhawks looked sluggish after having five days off between games, but Lehner played well to keep Columbus off the board in the first. Drake Caggiula scored for the Hawks, late in the first on a wrist shot, to tip the ice and momentum back into Chicago's favor.

Both teams played and even second period, but it was Pierre-Luc Dubois muscling his way around Connor Murphy in the second period to tie the game early in the second.  Markus Nutivaara gave the Jackets the lead early in the third on a rebound attempt that Lehner couldn't find.

It was mid-way through the third, when in this case, fourth time was a charm, for the Blackhawks power play unit.  Very similar to the goal scored in Prague against the Philadelphia Flyers, Patrick Kane fed a cross-ice pass to a waiting Alex DeBrincat, who slammed a one-timer passed Columbus goaltender, Elvis Merzlikins

In overtime, it was Captain, Jonathan Toews, who was in the right place at the right time.  A shot made by Kane, was kicked away by Merzlikins, but right into, and off of Toews, and into the back of the net.

The Blackhawks penalty kill was four for four, after coming into the game ranked 30th in the league with a sickening 61.5% efficiency.  Credit goes strongly to Ryan Carpenter, who was on the ice for over half of the 8 minutes of penalty kill time.

For the Blackhawks, they have gotten five out of their last possible six points.  After only playing four games within the first three weeks of the season, Friday night started a grueling schedule of seven games in thirteen days.  

Notable Mentions
Lehner picked up his first win as a Chicago Blackhawk, Friday night.  Calvin deHaan picked up his first point of the season, and first as a Blackhkawk.  It's no coincidence that the Hawks started winning once de Haan joined the lineup.  He also recorded 6 hits and 2 blocked shots.  

Three Stars Of The Game
1st Star: Jonathan Toews - GWG
2nd Star: Alex DeBrincat - 1G, 1A
3rd Star: Robin Lehner - W, 37 saves, .949 SV%

Next Up?
Sunday, October 20, vs. Washington Capitals (5-2-2), 6pm CT

Let's Go Hawks!!





Sunday, September 15, 2019

Subtle Predictions Bring Big Results For Blackhawks Season

By Randy Holndoner - @Bhawkschatter
The 2019-2020 hockey season is around the corner, so let's look at some subtle predictions that will lead to what we haven't seen in Chicago for the last five years.

Stan Bowman, loved and hated by many, made a lot of deals over the summer that didn't seem to be very eye-catching, but let's look a bit deeper as to how these new acquisitions will affect the following areas of improvement.



Acquisitions include: Calvin deHaan, Zack Smith, Andrew Shaw, Ryan Carpenter, Olli Maatta, Robin Lehner.

None of these players you will see as a first ballot All-Star, but touching the worst areas that needed improvement on this Blackhawks team, this team has improved greatly. 

Penalty Killing

Last season, the Blackhawks were the worst team in the league in the PK with a dismal 72.7%.  This stat has nowhere to go, but up.  Literally.  Zack Smith, 31, an 11-year veteran, has logged quality minutes in Ottawa as a PK-Specialist.  He puts in as much time as Marcus Kruger did, but he is an upgrade, and logs six minutes more per game, than Kruger.

Ryan Carpenter, 28, was a blip that barely made headlines, but he is your true replacement for Marcus Kruger.  Overall, a similar build, but more gritty than Kruger, he will log many minutes on the PK as well, and will be the fourth line Center, most likely.

The additions of Calvin de Haan, 28, and Olli Maata, 25, will be a HUGE upgrade. Both logged heavy minutes, which will make both, Duncan Keith, 36, and Brent Seabrook, 34, more effective, as they won't have to log as many minutes, with the amount of miles both players have put on over the years.  de Haan, is a reliable, stay-at-home, defenseman, with good puck-handling skills.  He will play a major role on the PK.  

Goals Against - Shots Against / Per Game - Faceoffs
With the improvement mentioned in the PK, these stats should also rise this year.  The best way to keep other teams from scoring is winning face-offs and controlling pucks.  With the departure of Marcus Kruger (50.6%), and Artem Anisimov (45.9%), the additions of Carpenter (50.6%), Shaw (48.1%), and Smith (50.7%), will improve these stats.  More bodies to throw on the PK, more obides to win faceoffs, in general.  Smith, by the way, has taken nearly 6500 faceoffs in his career, so don't let the label of Winger, fool you.


Then there is Robin Lehner, who was among the Vezina Trophy Finalists last year, and won the William M. Jennings Trophy, for being part of the goalie tandem of the New York Islanders, who gave up the least amount of goals last year.  Lehner also won the Bill Masterton Trophy last year.


A surprise signing, the Blackhawks have arguably the best 1-2 punch in the NHL for goalies.  If Corey Crawford can stay healthy, these two are going to a real force to be reckoned with.

Grit
Something that this team has been lacking in previous years, and was on all of the championship teams, has been grit.  Gone are the days of Bryan Bickell, Dan Carcillo, Adam Burish, Dave Bolland, and Ben Eager.

Enter the well-known, and loved, Andrew Shaw.  We need say nothing more of him.  Zack Smith on the other hand, has been in Siberia, a.k.a. Ottawa, his entire career, so Blackhawk fans don't see much of him.

Smith will become a loved player once the season starts.  Grit, and a physical game, are two things that he has excelled at over the years.  Seabrook led the team in hits last year with 124.  In his 11 year career, Smith has averaged 110, while having 136 last year.  Take into account that he is a forward, he will bring a physical presence, as will Shaw, 128 hits last year.  More importantly, both with win board battles, which this team has lost a lot of over the years.

Yes, the "Hits" column can be overrated. The argument can be made that, if you are hitting someone, you don't have the puck, and you risk being out of position to give that hit.  I would agree with that.  But, when you hit people, you also "chirp".  Chirping is an underrated stat that there is no column for that can make a huge difference in a game or playoff series.



Getting into someone's head to take them off their game can be very beneficial.  It could lead to stupid penalties, and as previously mentioned, cause them to be out of position to give a hit.  Think back, what could Dave Bolland have possibly said to Joe Thornton in the 2010 Western Conference Finals to where Thornton slashed Bolland's stick at a faceoff, causing a penalty?  Look back at pictures of the 2013 NHL Finals of Bryan Bickell and Zdeno Chara.  Those faces do not look like conversations that would appear on the Disney Channel.  The combo of Bickell and Shaw, kept Chara frustrated the entire series.  Just to note, Chara was on the ice for the final eight goals that the Blackhawks scored in that series.  You tell me, if he was distracted by something...or someone.

With that said, look for the rivalry of the Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche to pick up this year.  Colorado picked up, known agitator, and five-time suspended, three-time fined, Center, Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs.  He and Zack Smith know each other very well from divisional rival games between Toronto and Ottawa.

Depth
For all of the reasons above, all of the players acquired this year are an improvement to those that they have replaced.  The Blackhawks will have a solid set of four lines to throw at an opponent every night.  All lines, with the capability to score, which the Blackhawks did not have a problem doing last year.  They ranked eighth in the league in Goals For last year (267).

The biggest impact of these signings are on the back end of the ice.  de Haan, Maata, and Lehner.  All will play a major role in how this year turns out.  Depending on the health of Crawford, along with his contract status, this could be a changing of the guards at the goaltender position.

Playoffs
Which leads to the prediction that we, Blackhawk fans have been without for the last five years...PLAYOFFS.  By missing the playoffs last year by six points, and going through a dreadful stretch of games where they went 4-17-4, they WILL make the playoffs this season.

Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat, both enter the last years of their contracts, and will be having huge years.  We won't get into the mess that will occur after next off-season.  Focusing on this year, having them on a line, and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on a line should tell you what kind of offensive numbers the Blackhawks will put up this year.



This year is ramping up to be something special.  Strap in boys and and girls, HERE COME THE HAWKS!!

Pictures courtesy of NHL.com, NBCSprots.com

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Does Bowman's Busy Off-season Have Another Firework Left?

By Randy Holndoner - @Bhawkschatter

Stan Bowman has never been one to sit idle during an off-season, especially when he actually HAS money to spend.  Bowman addressed the two biggest problems that plagued the team last year, defense, and depth.

The Chicago Blackhawks ended last year giving up the second most goals in the entire league, 292 goals.  Bowman didn't look to free agency to fill those needs.  Instead, he went via the trade market. 

He brought defensemen, Olli Maatta, from the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Calvin de Haan, from the Carolina Hurricanes.  Both bring a defensive-minded game to a team that desperately needs it.  They play a similar game to that of Connor Murphy  Both average nearly 19 minutes of ice time a game, and both are six-year veterans in the league.


Having over 360+ games to each of their names is a huge benefit for the Blackhawks that have relied on numerous young players to develop quicker than anticipated and expected to produce.

Another hidden gem in all of this, is that each player is still under contract for the next three years.  No contract negotiations to bicker about.  Just go play hockey.

A familiar face came back via the trade route, which many fans on twitter seemed to dislike.  Andrew Shaw, 27, a gritty forward, who can win half of his face-offs, battle in the corners, and brings net presence for juicy rebounds.

There is instantly a concern for a player gone, only to come back and not produce (Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya).  The difference with Shaw coming back, is that he is not expected to be anything more than a 3rd line center/winger.  Although he can play on any line, the expectations are not that of him being a Messiah that will bring home the Stanley Cup, which he was a part of with this team twice ('13, '15).

And again, as with Maatta and de Haan, Shaw is still signed for the next three years.  Some worry that it could be a negative, rather than a bonus with years remaining on a contract, not knowing what to expect.

But with the addition of Shaw, Ryan Carpenter, who did come in as a free agent, helps give depth to the bottom six forward slot, and also strengthens the penalty kill unit, and someone who can win face-offs.

Then, which seemed to come out of nowhere, Bowman signed Vezina Trophy Candidate, and Masterson Trophy winner, Robin Lehner, to a one-year, $5mil contract.  This signing caused a hailstorm of thoughts as to why.  Is Corey Crawford still injured?  Will he be traded?  Will they put him in long-term IR, as they did with Marian Hossa, and use his $6mil for one last free agent splash?  Why sign Lehner, when Collin Delia, who arguably could use another year in the minors, was signed to a three-year extension at the end of last year?

Regardless, with a healthy Crawford and Lehner, a much updated defense, and depth at forward, the Blackhawks could make a run for the playoffs.  They missed the playoffs by only six points last year.

So the circulating question now is, does Bowman have yet another trick up his sleeve?  trade rumors of Artem Anisimov and Brandon Saad are still being tossed around.  As to who they would get, some say that he will trade for more depth and possibly picks.  

Ryan Dzingel is an attractive free agent that could replace Anisimov's contract.  A local player, 27, Dzingel would be another depth player that could land him a three-four year deal.

Bowman says that there are minor things left to do with the roster, but his phone is always open.  Time will tell if there is more to come, but the Blackhawks have made some very solid moves to put them into contention to make their way back to the playoffs.

Let's Go Hawks!

Pictures courtesy of nhl.com

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Blackhawks, Slowly Finding Bearings Midway Through Roller Coaster Season

By Randy Holndoner - follow at @Blackhawkschatter

It's safe to say that this year's Chicago Blackhawks have taken fans from the kiddie coaster to the Kingda Ka coaster with the peaks and lows of this season that still has 35 games remaining.  Still, that is plenty of time for a team that is only 6 points out of a playoff spot to make a move.

And as subtle as it may seem, this team is making that move.  Whether or not there is enough time to make that happen, that is yet to be seen.  But, let's take a look what has happened leading to this point.

First, there was the wound that still hasn't healed of long-time coach, Joel Quenneville, being relieved of his head coaching duties.  Should it have been done?  Probably.  Ten years is a long tenure for a head coach in any league before stagnation occurs and his words fall upon deaf ears as they do from parent to child.  

Should it have been done 15 games into the season?  No.  Quenneville has more than earned respect in the league where it should have either been done at the beginning of the season, or the end of the season to make that move.  My guess, is that the quarrels between Quenneville and the now hated, Stan Bowman, had come to a bursting point, and it was time to make that change.  It was a marriage that had it's 'moments' and now it was time to move on.

Yes, Bowman should and probably is on the hot seat after the season ends for his job, but as we will see, he hasn't been sitting on his hands since firing Quenneville.

When Quenneville was fired, the Blackhawks went through a stretch where they went 3-16-3.  You can go back and check.  I did it three times to be sure.  What a mess.  Since then, they have gone 7-4-4.  In those last fifteen games, all but one, was against a current playoff team.

Some of those games, if a couple of things had gone differently, they could have gone 10-3-2.  Not a bad turn around if you think about it.  Under first-time NHL head coach, Jeremy Colliton, who turns 34 today (Happy Birthday, Jeremy), they have gone 10-16-6.  Nothing to write home about, really.

Hell, they started 3-12-2, under him.  One has to take into account a coaching change of a totally different system, but still.  But let's take a look at a stat that has puzzled Blackhawks fans for years up until a few weeks ago.  The power play.

The season started with the Blackhawks dead last in the league (11.4%) in the first 35 games of the season.  Since then, they have been the hottest power play on ice (36.4%).  So why the change?  The team is the same...or is it?

On November 25th, Stan Bowman became more unliked when he traded fan-favorite, Nick Schmaltz to the Arizona Coyotes, for forwards Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome.

Perlini, has been barely noticeable, if not for a goal in the Winter Classic, (21 GP, 2G, 1A, -13).  He will probably split time with the recent arrival of Drake Caggiula.  The real reason for the trade was Strome.  A line-mate of Alex DeBrincat, while playing for the Erie Otters, in the OHL.


Since his arrival, Strome has brought net presence.  Something this team has battled to obtain for over ten years (noticeable exceptions over that time, Artem Anisimov Jonathan Toews, Dustin Byfuglien).

He's also shown up on the score-sheet.  In 23 games with the Blackhawks, he has 14 points (7G, 7A).  In 48 games in Arizona, he had just 16 points (6G, 9A).  Did I mention he is under contract through the end of next year at a cap hit of $863k, while Schmaltz is up for a new contract and out for the season with an injury?  Trade advantage - Chicago (Thanks, Stan).

Another reason for the power play surge, is the play of Erik Gustafsson.  Yes, his defense is lackluster.  Yet, he leads the defensive corp. with 29 points (8G, 21A).  Keith is next with 20 (1G, 19A).  

He has found his nitch and finding Kane on the power play, and in general.  Did I mention 'Gus' spent time in Rockford with Colliton as coach?  It looks like he may actually finish a full season up with the NHL squad.

Speaking of defense, it has been absolutely horrible.  Giving up 34.8 shots a game, and 171 goals allowed (both second worst in the league), the tandem of Corey Crawford and Cam Ward, don't stand a chance.  Every game, whether win or lose, one of them is always the player of the game for the Blackhawks.

Crawford though, may be done for his career, since suffering yet another concussion.  Enter Collin Delia.  Delia has been nothing but brilliant, minus a few rookie mistakes.  His stats (3-1-3, 2.70 .GAA, .932 SV%) are best on the team in all categories.  

He becomes a restricted free agent at the end of this year, but he can also become the future of the Blackhawks.  At just 24 years old, he can be the cog that can replace Crawford if he can't come back from this latest injury.  The future is bright in goal for the Blackhawks.

As far as that defense is concerned, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith are not the defensemen they used to be.  Nor should they be, being #2 (1050 GP) and #3 (1042 GP) respectfully on the All-Time games played list for the Blackhawks, passing Bobby Hull earlier in the year (1036 GP).

The future lies possibly in the upcoming players in Carl Dahlstrom, Brandon Davidson, Henri Jokiharju, and Connor Murphy

Or Stan Bowman, being who he is, may go find one, if not two solid defensemen in free agency to come in to split top four responsibilities with Keith and Seabrook.  They have played decent, but their lack of speed shows.  They both have no-trade clauses, so they are not going anywhere.  Keep them, just reduce their minutes to where they are more effective.

This team is finding their groove under Colliton, especially on the power play.  Alex DeBrincat (5G in last 4GP) and Patrick Kane (3G, 7A, last 5GP), have led the way for a team getting more confident in their play.

They are not in the best of places in the standings, but we all know six points is a sneeze away when there are 35 games remaining in a season that seems to have felt like two seasons already.

There may be some leg room now as some band-wagon fans may have left the building, but that just makes more room for the rest of us.  Let's see what our boys can do the rest of the way and see how far it takes us.

LETS GO HAWKS!!!

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