2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks: What went wrong

2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks: What went wrong
Getty Images
1 Comment

As the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs approach, NHL teams will start getting mathematically eliminated from contention. PHT’s “What Went Wrong” series aims to analyze why each team missed the playoffs. The “What Went Wrong” series continues with the 2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks.

Heading into the 2020-21 regular season, expectations were low for the Blackhawks. Even before Jonathan Toews was out indefinitely with issues that sidelined him for at least 2020-21.

On one hand, it likely still burns people in the Blackhawks organization to see expectations in the cellar. The 2015 Stanley Cup Final did happen a long time ago by hockey standards (and, yeah, a lot happened in the world since then, too). But for some, it might still be jarring that the Blackhawks’ 2020-21 season was more about the future than the present.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks finished 24-25-7 (55 points in 56 games). That’s almost a “.500” record, at least in the … forgiving parlance of NHL standings. And, truly, the Blackhawks made a semi-credible playoff push before running out of gas.

So, what went wrong, right, and in between for the Blackhawks in 2020-21? Let’s mull that question over.

What went wrong before the Blackhawks; 2020-21 season

Again, losing Jonathan Toews was a shock.

With all due respect, even a rebuilding team might not want Pius Suter centering a line with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat.

Speaking of key members of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup era, the team ultimately decided to part ways with Corey Crawford. That mild drama was probably unnecessary, as Crawford would end up retiring anyway.*

Most of the Blackhawks’ offseason moves hinted at lowered expectations heading into 2020-21. Granted, would it have been wiser to aim for picks or prospects in the Brandon Saad trade? Sure, but at least the Blackhawks weren’t mortgaging their future for a flimsy present.

And then they even outlined their rebuild in a letter to fans.

* – Is there any chance Crawford would’ve kept plugging away if he could have stayed with the Blackhawks? The most likely answer seems to be “no.” After all, his late Blackhawks career was a mix of quietly fantastic play and troubling health issues.

What went wrong during the Blackhawks’ 2020-21 season

If you looked only at the standings, you’d say that Chicago exceeded expectations. That maybe they weren’t as bad as people expected.

When you break down the way the Blackhawks actually played in 2020-21, though? That’s where your outlook might not be as sunny.

From Corsi and Fenwick to simple shots, the Blackhawks were out-chanced massively in 2020-21. It wasn’t just about quantity, either. The Blackhawks ranked dead-last in expected goals percentage (43.96-percent) and high-danger chances (42.6-percent). All things considered, they were probably lucky that their goal differential was “only” -25.

To a large extent, Kevin Lankinen kept the Blackhawks afloat … until he couldn’t.

What went right

In January, Lankinen was outstanding, going 3-1-2 with a marvelous .937 save percentage. He was strong in February and March (a .917 save percentage behind that defense remains impressive). Gravity/the Blackhawks defense couldn’t be ignore forever, but his ascent was a nice surprise.

As Charlie Roumeliotis noted for NBC Sports Chicago, the Blackhawks did what a rebuilding team should do: play your young’uns.

1. The Blackhawks had nine rookies make their NHL debuts this season and nine players score their first career goals. In total, the Blackhawks had 311 games played from their rookies, which is the most of any team.

While Patrick Kane might get a bit of a free pass from some for his defensive play

… Kane still scored 66 points in 56 games, one of the best paces of his career. Considering that Alex DeBrincat is only 23, it was probably more important for him to have a huge bounce-back (and then some) year.

While the Blackhawks weren’t bold sellers at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, they ranked among the teams willing to broker trades for contenders in order to stock up on picks.

What’s next?

As you can see from the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery odds, the Blackhawks have the 12th-best chance (2.7-percent) to land the first pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Chicago also has an extra second-rounder, so they could end up making some draft weekend moves. Naturally, the most important steps revolve around continuing to rebuild.

For better or worse, coach Jeremy Colliton received an extension, so he’ll be a part of that rebuild, too.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

“It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

“It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

“Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

“That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

“You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

UP NEXT

Capitals: At Vancouver.

Devils: At the New York Rangers.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.