NHL

Blackhawks Weekly Report: When is it no longer “early” in the season?

Blackhawks Weekly Report: When is it no longer “early” in the season?

Luke Richardson thought about the question for maybe a second, his eyes rolling up briefly and his head shaking from side to side before finding the perfect answer.

The question was simple, if somewhat outrageous: When is it no longer “early?” When do you know what you really have?

“April,” Richardson said, before breaking into a smile.

Almost a month into the season, the Blackhawks find themselves in a playoff spot, a pretty remarkable accomplishment for a team designed to fail. A group of discarded veterans and AHL tweeners had won or won 10 straight games before Saturday’s 4-0 shutout of Winnipeg.

The old NHL axiom is that the playoffs are pretty much set by Thanksgiving, which is less than three weeks away. But Richardson doesn’t buy into that old trope. Twenty-nine seasons in the NHL have taught him better. After all, right now teams like Minnesota, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Florida and the Rangers are on the outer fringes of the playoff picture, and no one can reasonably expect them, and the Blackhawks, to regress to the mean with the weather.

“I don’t really believe in it, because I’ve been on both sides of it,” he said of the Thanksgiving rule. “As soon as you take your foot off the pedal, you’re in trouble. Good teams don’t. There are some teams that you think are really strong teams in the league that have a rough start, and you don’t know when it’s going to end, because it’s hard to get out of that momentum shift. And there are other teams like New Jersey that might surprise people. They have started flying. Boston isn’t surprising, but those are crazy numbers. They pick up pace and they have great leaders and they are driven and they are not satisfied with 10-1, they want to go 20-1 or 20-2. That’s the mindset we need to have. We had a very good first month”.

Given the talent gap, the Blackhawks need to play better than “very good” to stay in the picture, especially with injuries to the top three goaltenders. But with four days off this week after a busy stretch, Richardson hopes to strengthen the areas the Blackhawks need work on: puck management, avoiding stick penalties and special teams.

Richardson knows better than to dangle the playoffs in front of his players as a motivator. It’s too far, and let’s face it, too unrealistic. So keep your goals smaller, closer and more attainable.

“You set little goals and you achieve them, but then you’re not satisfied and you go for that next little goal,” Richardson said. “Whether it’s five games (or a lot), I think individuals should do it for themselves. For us as a team, we haven’t really talked about it yet, but we should. Put another little goal in front ours. As for the month of November, can we beat October? It’s a big challenge because we’ll have a lot of games after rest, road trips and strong teams.”

Then a short break.

“All (opponents) seem to be strong today.”

Yes, even the Blackhawks.


Arvid Soderblom is not expected to miss much time after his injury on Saturday. (Jamie Sabau / USA Today)

The good

As good as Arvid Soderblom was with the Blackhawks when he got a chance in the NHL this season, he probably wouldn’t stick. This was not the plan.

Despite that, Soderblom’s success should be confidence-building for him and reassuring for the organization. Through four games, he is sixth in the league with a 5.36 goals-against average in five-on-five play and 18th with a reported 2.55 GSAA in all situations. Natural Stats Trick.

Soderblom left Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury, but it is not believed to be serious, according to a team source.

the bad guy

Penalties have become a major problem for the Blackhawks. They are the fifth worst with 5.02 penalties every 60 minutes. For comparison, they were six best last season at 3.27.

The penalties have been adding up and it has taken its toll on his penalty. The Blackhawks allowed three goals on four power plays against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday and are now 28th in the league with a 71.4 penalty kill percentage.

Even with the Blackhawks scoring four shorthanded goals, that doesn’t come close to helping their overall penalty picture. They are still sixth worst with a goal difference of less than 10.

Penalties have been spread fairly evenly throughout the team. Caleb Jones, Max Domi and Jarred Tinordi each have five minor penalties and Andreas Athanasiou, Jujhar Khaira, Connor Murphy and Jonathan Toews each.

tank-o-meter

The Blackhawks are still nowhere near being on track for the top pick in the 2023 draft. The Arizona Coyotes have also had a better than expected outing. Right now, the Columbus Blue Jackets are the worst team in the league. The question will be if the Blue Jackets make some changes to try to improve it or will they accept their start and ride it out.

Worst points percentages (as of Sunday)

32. Columbus blue jackets .250

31. San Jose Sharks .321

30 St. Louis Blues .333

29. Ottawa Senators .364

28. Anaheim Ducks .375

27. Vancouver Canucks .375

26. Coyotes of Arizona .409

19. Chicago Blackhawks .500

Teuvo Teravainen corner (old blackhawks updates)

Alex DeBrincatOttawa Senators: Who would have guessed that DeBrincat would have the same amount of goals for the Senators as Tyler Motte through 11 games? They both have two, by the way. DeBrincat hasn’t been completely awful this season, he has nine points in 11 games, but he hasn’t been what he was with the Blackhawks. For example, he is 15th among senators Hockey in evolutiongoals above replacement (GAR), which is a statistic used to show a player’s overall impact on the game. It was a category that led the Blackhawks last season.

Dylan Strome, Washington Capitals: The Capitals have had an underwhelming start to the season, but it’s hard to blame Strome for that. He is second on the team in points (two goals and seven assists) ahead of Alex Ovechkin in 13 games. Strome also plays 18:06 of ice time a game and has solid underlying numbers. He is seventh in GAR on the Capitals at 1.3 and has an expected field goal percentage of 53.11, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Kirby Roof, Montreal Canadiens: Dach continues to be awful at the point, his 37.5 faceoff winning percentage is seventh worst in the league among players with as many draws (48) as him. So the Canadiens moved him to the wing and are seeing good results. With three primary assists Saturday night, Dach now has two goals and eight assists in 12 games. He has the best xGF percentage on the Montreal roster at 57.39.

Dominic Cuban, Detroit Red Wings: Kubalik has one more point in the same number of games as Sidney Crosby. And Crosby is playing well. Kubalik had a goal and an assist in Detroit’s 3-0 win over the Islanders on Saturday, then won in overtime on Sunday rangers, giving him six goals and nine assists in 12 games. Kubalik’s underlying numbers are actually pretty awful, with a 39.48 xGF percentage at five-on-five, but he already has seven power points.

It’s been more than six years since arguably Stan Bowman’s most ill-advised trade, sending promising young center Phillip Danault to Montreal for Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise, neither of whom did anything to keep the Blackhawks from losing in the first round against St. Louis that spring. In those six years, Danault has developed into one of the best two-way centers in the league, a perennial Selke Trophy candidate and a top-six center in both Montreal and Los Angeles.

But he still has a place in his heart for Chicago, even keeping a giant duffel bag full of his old jerseys and jerseys and practice gear. He especially likes the Stadium Series jersey from the outdoor game played in Minnesota during his final season with the Blackhawks.

“It was an honor to play here, to be selected here,” he said from the visitors’ locker room at the United Center. “The first team I liked.”

Danault was a Black Ace for the 2015 Stanley Cup run, but the 2011 first-round pick only played 32 games in a Blackhawks uniform. Those 32 games had a lasting impact on him, though.

“I wasn’t the player I am today,” he said. “Toews, Hossa, Kane, Crawford, all those guys. They won cups, but they’re all beautiful, they’re all human and good. They showed me how to be a pro. I got a lot of experience here even though it was only (32) games.” .

After scoring 27 goals last season, his first with the Kings, Danault has four goals and four assists in 14 games this season.

Prospectus updates submitted by Max Shalunov

Dominic Basse, goalkeeper, St. Cloud State (NCAA): Basse has probably received the least attention of the Blackhawks’ goaltending prospects. He had a couple of up-and-down seasons at Colorado College before transferring to St. Cloud State for his junior season. So far, he seems pretty comfortable with his new team. In five games, he has stopped 113 of 121 shots for a .934 save percentage. He was named the Hockey Commissioners Association’s National Hockey Goaltender of the Month. He is someone to keep an eye on going forward.

Colton Dach, forward, Kelowna Rockets (WHL): Dach returned to the Rockets’ lineup Saturday for the first time since taking a hard hit to the head and being placed in concussion protocol on Oct. 14. Dach had also been in concussion protocol while in training camp with the Blackhawks. In his return, Dach had one assist, two shots on goal and won the matchups by 8-17.

Sam Rinzel, defenseman, Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL): Rinzel scored his first goal of the season on Saturday. He has one goal and six assists in 11 games so far with Waterloo after being drafted in the first round by the Blackhawks in July. He is tied for a league-best 38 shots on net among defensemen.

(Top photo: David Banks / USA Today)





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