Brandon Saad

Chicago Blackhawks: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Putrid power play spoils special teams

Yes, the Blackhawks aren’t the dynastic team they once were. Their defense, in particular, just can’t keep up like it used to.

But there’s still some serious scoring skill on this roster, and it’s not just the obvious in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks clearly nabbed a steal in Alex DeBrincat, while Dylan Strome, Brandon Saad, Dominik Kubalik and others give Chicago strong four-forward options on the PP.

Yet, for whatever reason, the Blackhawks’ power play simply didn’t click in 2019-20.

The Blackhawks received 217 power-play opportunities, the eighth-highest total in the NHL. Chicago squandered far too many of those chances, managing 33 PPG (tied for 23rd in NHL) and 15.2 success rate (28th). The Blackhawks also gave up eight shorthanded goals, tied for seventh-most in the league.

Chicago sits at a -6 goal differential this season, and can chalk that up to its punchless power play, as their PK was pretty effective. (It just wasn’t good enough to make up for a poor power play.)

Blackhawks goaltending was both a pleasant surprise and an indirect disappointment

Ever since the Blackhawks collapsed from contention, the modified strategy turned to “outscoring their problems.”

Failing on the power play was disappointing in that regard, and it also feels like it contributed to the Blackhawks squandering strong goaltending in 2019-20.

After his surprising free agent departure from the Islanders, Robin Lehner barely missed a beat for Chicago. He managed a .918 save percentage in 33 games before being shipped to the Golden Knights. Considering Chicago’s defense, a .918 mark with the Blackhawks is almost as impressive as his .930 in Barry Trotz’s nurturing defensive system.

Interestingly, Corey Crawford nearly matched Lehner.

Such strong play slipped under the radar, and it’s easy to understand why. Since Jan. 1, Crawford managed merely a 10-9-1 record in 20 games … while generating a fantastic .928 save percentage. Overall, Crawford sits at .917 for 2019-20, just a stride behind Lehner.

The Blackhawks receiving such strong goaltending from one of Lehner or Crawford wouldn’t have been surprising, but both? Yeah, that should count among the surprises for the Blackhawks. At the same time, failing to take advantage of that goaltending edge ranks among their biggest disappointments.

(Deciding to trade Robin Lehner opens up a whole other discussion.)

Kubalik among positive surprises, DeBrincat among disappointments for Blackhawks

Predictably enough, Kane (84 points) and Toews (60) topped Chicago’s scorers in 2019-20. I’m not sure even Dominik Kubalik expected to rank third for the Blackhawks, though.

With 30 goals and 46 points in 68 games, the 24-year-old made a stunning jump from the Swiss league. While Kubalik did not go undrafted, he only barely avoided such a fate .(Los Angeles chose Kubalik 191st overall in 2013.)

Yes, expect Kubalik to cool off next season. Puck luck certainly aided Kubalik on his way to 30 goals, as his shooting percentage was at 19.1.

All of those caveats aside, Kubalik managed strong production out of nowhere, especially considering limited ice time overall. (Kubalik averaged 14:22 per game, although Chicago wisely bumped his deployment up as 2019-20 progressed).

DeBrincat’s regression (45 points, fourth on team) ranks as one of the Blackhawks’ biggest disappointments, however. Blackhawks fans should still look at his extension as a likely bargain, but this was a tough year. At minimum, expect DeBrincat to enjoy more luck, as his shooting percentage was at a meager 8.7 this season.

MORE BLACKHAWKS:
2019-20 season summary

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.

The Buzzer: Hats off to Ryan, Kubalik; Granlund’s late-game heroics

Mikael Granlund #64 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his game tying last second goal
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators

He struggled to fight off the tears as Senators fans chanted his name at Canadian Tire Centre late in the third period after Ryan completed his fifth career hat trick to seal Ottawa’s 5-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks. It was Ryan’s second, and first at home, since returning from an extended absence in order to deal with an alcohol addiction problem. Ryan scored in a variety of ways including a slick redirection, a short-side snipe and an empty-net tally as Ottawa snapped a four-game losing streak.

2) Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks

The Czech rookie starred in a five-goal third period for the Blackhawks as they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2. The 24-year-old collected goals 27, 28, 29 for his first NHL hat trick while Chicago snapped a two-game losing streak. Kubalik knotted the game at 2-2 shortly after Brandon Saad opened the scoring for Chicago. The Blackhawks’ rising star relentlessly followed the puck and finally lit the lamp on his third chance of the sequence. Chicago took a two-goal advantage when Kubalik fired a blistering one-timer past Curtis McElhinney. He would complete the hat trick with an empty netter in the final minutes of the third. The playoffs are out of reach for Chicago this season, but Kubalik’s emergence will help the Blackhawks return to the postseason in the coming years.

3) Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators

The saying “every second counts” applied to the Predators as Granlund score with one-tenth of a second remaining to force overtime against the Calgary Flames. The Predators didn’t give up during the final moments of a hectic finish and Filip Forsberg slid a puck to Granlund’s stick before the equalizer. Granlund wasn’t finished until he notched the overtime winner to send Bridgestone Arena into a frenzy. A loss would have had costly ramifications on the Predators’ playoff pursuit, but Granlund’s heroics allowed Nashville to slide into the second wild card spot for the time being.

Highlights of the Night

Charlie Coyle batted the puck out of mid-air to even the game at 1-1 late in the first period.

Evander Kane kicked the puck to himself and then fed Logan Couture, who netted the game-winning goal in his second game back from an ankle injury.

Colton Parayko finished off the Islanders with this wraparound in overtime to lead the Blues to a 3-2 victory.

Tomas Tatar stickhandled back and forth until an opening presented itself.

Auston Matthews‘ 44th of the season helped Toronto capture an important 5-3 victory against the Florida Panthers.

Mathew Dumba scored twice including this one-timer as the Wild scored seven in their victory against the Red Wings.

Alexandar Georgiev turned the puck over but recovered with this spectacular save.

Stats of the Night

Scores

New York Rangers 5, Montreal Canadiens 2

Chicago Blackhawks 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 2

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Florida Panthers 3

Boston Bruins 4, Dallas Stars 3

Ottawa Senators 5, Vancouver Canucks 2

Minnesota Wild 7, Detroit Red Wings 1

St. Louis Blues 3, New York Islanders 2 (OT)

Nashville Predators 4, Calgary Flames 3 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 3, Washington Capitals 0

San Jose Sharks 3, New Jersey Devils 2 (OT)


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Blues beat Blackhawks in a 6-5 barn burner

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What’s the best way to summarize the Blues finding a way to beat the Blackhawks 6-5 on Tuesday? Maybe we should just make the “fanning self” hand motion and call it a night?

This was a wild one from the start, with Brayden Schenn scoring 33 seconds in. Maybe that opening goal implied that this would be an easy one for the Blues, but that was far from the truth. Regardless, St. Louis has won all three of its games against Chicago this season. This marks five straight wins for the Blues overall.

The mark of a good — and versatile — team is to win in multiple ways. Even so, Craig Berube’s facial expression in the moment captured by Getty Images probably captured his mood for much of the night:

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Blackhawks roared back after falling behind early, flipping a 1-0 deficit to a 3-1 lead. Jonathan Toews found ways to make subtle picks during those first goals, setting the stage for Duncan Keith to break a 40-game goalless streak, and reach 100 for his career.

Wild get games wildest during the third period

Chicago scored two power-play goals during that stretch, and three overall on Tuesday.

Maybe it was just that kind of night, really, as the Blackhawks went 3-for-4 while St. Louis managed two on four power-play chances.

The seesaw really wobbled during the third period, in particular. Ryan O’Reilly made it 3-3, then Zach Sanford continued his blazing streak to make it 4-3 16 seconds later. That Blues lead only lasted for 1:13 before Matthew Highmore tied it up.

Brandon Saad regained Chicago’s lead three minutes later only for (catches breath for a moment) Justin Faulk to tie it up again 1:12 later.

The above two paragraphs describe a span of five goals during less than six minutes of game time.

A bit more than four minutes after Faulk tied it up, Sanford scored the game-winner for St. Louis on the power play. Phew.

The end result is that the Blues strengthened their Central Division lead, while the Blackhawks saw their playoff hopes fade even more with a regulation loss. Many likely expected the two teams to reach this sort of destination on Tuesday, but the journey was quite unexpected.

Jordan Binnington, Corey Crawford, and Berube certainly don’t want to navigate such a bumpy road most nights, that’s for sure.

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.

Patrick Kane hits 1,000 points, and Blackhawks are red-hot

People might really start to ask: “Can the Chicago Blackhawks actually make the playoffs?” They won’t have to ask when Patrick Kane will reach 1,000 points.

Kane managed the feat on Sunday. As you can see in the video above, Kane scored point 1,000 on a beautiful secondary assist. He set up Ryan Carpenter, who fed Brandon Saad for that milestone helper. The Blackhawks realized what happened very quickly, mobbing number 88 to celebrate his 1,000th point.

The atmosphere became extra festive as Chicago beat Winnipeg 5-2, giving the Blackhawks five wins in a row.

Kane makes history with point 1,000

The Blackhawks winger wiped a tear or three away after realizing his accomplishment. Kane indeed made some history by reaching 1,000 points in 953 career regular-season games:

  • NHL PR notes that Kane became the youngest U.S.-born player to reach 1,000 points, doing so at age 31 (and 61 days). Jeremy Roenick reached that mark at age 32 (and 13 days).
  • Kane scored his 1,000th point as the second-youngest of any Blackhawk, in general, according to Sportsnet stats. Denis Savard ranks as the only one who hit 1,000 at a younger age, doing so at 29 and 35 days.
  • NHL PR tweeted out a few other tidbits. Kane is the 10th player of U.S. nationality to reach 1,000 points, and ranks among only five who did so in fewer than 1,000 games. Again, Kane got there in game 953.

Impressive stuff. Sunday’s assist extended Kane’s current point streak to 10 games (four goals, 11 assists for 15 points). He’s on a similar hot streak to Jonathan Toews, his partner in crime.

Blackhawks heat up

Speaking of hot streaks, the Blackhawks are indeed gaining steam. This marks their fifth win in a row, and things look good when you zoom out. They’ve also won nine times in their last 12 games (9-3-0) and 11 in their last 15 (11-4-0).

This surge didn’t push Chicago into the top eight. Instead, they now have the same 54 standings points as the ninth-place Jets, although Winnipeg holds a game in hand. Both teams trail an assortment of Pacific Division teams for the two wild-card spots at 57 points, and the Dallas Stars for the third Central spot at 58.

Such gaps sometimes appear closer than they really are — have you met our frenemy, the “charity point?” — but it’s still promising.

Staying in fighting distance of a playoff spot also makes Kane reaching 1,000 feel sweeter, without the bitterness of Chicago’s recent struggles.

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.

Blackhawks moving on without Seabrook, de Haan

CHICAGO — Reality set in for Jonathan Toews when he got to the Chicago Blackhawks’ locker room Friday morning.

Brent Seabrook‘s stall was empty.

”Day 1, pretty much. He’s not around,” Toews said, ”and you notice it right away.”

Seabrook has been ruled out for the rest of the season after years of physical play finally caught up to the steady defenseman, who had right shoulder surgery on Friday. The 34-year-old Seabrook then will have surgery on his right hip in January and left hip in February.

The Blackhawks also will be without Calvin de Haan for the rest of the year. The 28-year-old defenseman had his own right shoulder surgery on Friday.

Seabrook and de Haan were placed on long-term injured reserve, creating significant salary-cap space, but leaving Chicago with a huge void on the back end.

”From the (coaching) perspective, we’re focused on the players we have and find a way to get it done,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. ”But of course those guys are really big parts of the group, both on and off the ice. A lot of leadership and solid, dependable-type players, which, of course, we’re going to miss.”

De Haan was acquired in a June trade with Carolina. He had surgery on the same shoulder last offseason.

Colliton said both defensemen are expected to be ready for training camp next year. But in the meantime, a run of injuries is making it more difficult for last-place Chicago (16-17-6) to work its way into the the playoff race.

Brandon Saad is expected to miss another three weeks after he hurt his right ankle during Chicago’s 4-1 victory at Winnipeg on Dec. 19. Fellow forwards Andrew Shaw and Drake Caggiula are on LTIR due to concussions, though Caggiula has been skating and could return soon. Rookie defenseman Adam Boqvist missed Friday night’s 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders because of a right shoulder injury.

”I don’t manage expectations,” Colliton said. ”We expect to win. We expect to compete, give ourselves a chance with how to we play.”

The 6-foot-3 Seabrook has been a key player and leader for Chicago for more than a decade. He has 103 goals and 361 assists in 1,114 games since his NHL debut in 2005, plus 20 goals and 39 assists in 123 playoff appearances.

He helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

”Such a huge part of our room,” forward Patrick Kane said. ”So hopefully he gets his injuries fixed and comes back better than ever.”

Seabrook was a healthy scratch for the third time this season when Chicago lost 4-1 to Colorado on Dec. 18. The Blackhawks then announced the next day he was undergoing further medical evaluation.

Seabrook, who is under contract through the 2023-24 season at an average annual value of $6,875,000, missed a total of nine games over the previous six seasons.

”He’s battled through these injuries for a long time,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. ”Anybody else, they probably would have been missing a lot more time than that over the course of the last several seasons. It shows the kind of mentality and the type of person that he is.”

Keith and Seabrook have been connected since they entered the league together. Keith, a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the league’s best defenseman, said he has played his best hockey alongside his longtime pal.

”We sit beside each other in every locker room,” Keith said, ”so it’s different, you know, not having him on the bus and things like that. He’s definitely missed, but like I just said, nothing we can do about it now.”