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Gail Kauchak The Hockey Writers

Published on Monday, October 23, 2017





Blackhawks Weekly: Back Down to Earth

We’re three weeks and nine games into the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks played three times this week, losing to the St. Louis Blues 5-2, dropping an overtime contest to the Edmonton Oilers 2-1, and then beating the Arizona Coyotes 4-2. Their record is now 5-2-2, with 12 out of a possible 18 points on the season.

With an outright loss, then an OT “loser” point, and finally a win, one could say things got better as the week progressed. But let’s delve a little deeper.  Here are some observations from this third week.

Winner of the Week: The Fourth Line

It’s hard to pick one single player, so let’s discuss the entire fourth line. Although Tanner Kero and Artem Anisimov split time centering this line for the Oilers game, the other two tilts featured Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels and John Hayden as the ‘energy line’ as Coach Quenneville likes to call them.

Lance Bouma Tommy Wingels Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Lance Bouma and center Tommy Wingels (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

As Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times points out, these guys are all fringe players with a specific role. That role is to be physical and hard to play against. During Chicago’s Cup runs in 2013 and 2015, the Hawks also had strong fourth lines. Ex-Hawk Daniel Carcillo put in his two cents about this kind of play on Twitter:

The latest fourth line trio especially capitalized during the contest against the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night. Bouma scored the game-winning goal, and Wingels added an empty net insurance tally. These were the first goals of the season for both players. And let’s not forget Hayden, whose skill combined with his gritty style of play earned him a spot on the roster. He’s played in every game so far this year. Look for good things from these guys moving forward.

Related: Is Hayden’s Grit & Speed What the Blackhawks Need?

Loser of the Week: Brent Seabrook

Seabrook has definitely been struggling. His lack of speed and mobility has been exposed by the opponent repeatedly since the beginning of the season. He looked especially slow and out of position against St. Louis on Wednesday, where he finished a -4 on the night. Against Edmonton the following night, superstar Connor McDavid made Duncan Keith look silly on a play that resulted in a goal. But if you look at the replay, Seabrook doesn’t do much to cover his man.

Coach Q tried to change things up on defense Saturday, experimenting with Connor Murphy on the top pairing with Keith. Seabs was paired with Jordan Oesterle. But these two didn’t do so well together, and the coaches reunited Seabrook with Keith. Seabrook is a handicap to the team, as he plays his best with Keith, but isn’t especially good enough for the top pairing anymore. The Hawks are going to have to figure out a way to remedy this, or else they will be exposed again and again.

What Went Right

Unlike last week, I’m hard-pressed to find a whole lot of positives this week. The Hawks got killed by St. Louis on Wednesday, and were outplayed by McDavid and company Thursday. They collected a win Saturday, but this was against an Arizona team that has yet to see its first win. Even against a weaker team, the Hawks had a slow start, with the ‘Yotes being the first to score.

We could talk about the emerging fourth line, but that was already covered above.

How about this? Backup goaltender Anton Forsberg put up another strong showing against Edmonton Thursday night in his second start of the season. He stopped 40 of 42 shots, for a .952 save percentage. In his first start last week against Toronto, Forsberg stopped 39 of 43 shots for a .907 save percentage. He’s seeing a high quantity of shots, but is holding his own in relief of Corey Crawford.

Anton Forsberg Blackhawks Brad Malone Oilers

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg watches the puck against Edmonton Oilers center Brad Malone (Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports)

Unfortunately, both games were lost in overtime, so Forsberg has yet to see his first win as a Blackhawk. Get this kid a victory already; he deserves it!

What Went Wrong

The third line of Patrick Sharp, Artem Anisimov, and Alex DeBrincat is in a bit of a rut. The only one of these players to generate a point this week was DeBrincat, who was credited with an assist on a power play goal in St. Louis.

Sharp is still getting shots off – he combined for seven shots on goal this past week. But none of them are getting through, even on the power play. DeBrincat can’t seem to find his groove; he posted three, one, and then zero shots on goal, respectively, in the last three matchups. Anisimov hasn’t had more than one shot on goal in any of the last three games. He’s also still struggling with faceoffs, and isn’t driving the net, which is one of his biggest strengths.

Artem Anisimov is a member of the third line that has been struggling of late for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Three games is a small sample size, so maybe this trio just needs time to find chemistry. But if they can’t generate some points soon, a lineup change might be in order.

Related – Chicago Blackhawks: Honoring Bryan Bickell

Food for Thought

The defense is an area of concern. Keith doesn’t have a partner to make up a solid first pairing, as Seabs is struggling. Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta appear to be the second pairing for now, but they’re inconsistent. And then there is the balancing act of trying to give playing time to the other four defensemen – Murphy, Oesterle, Michal Kempny, and Cody Franson.

Murphy participated in all three games this week, after sitting out for two games last week. But he’s been playing on the third pairing. Wasn’t he supposed to be the guy on the top pairing with Keith? Oesterle sat out once this week, Kempny was scratched for two games, and Franson didn’t play at all.

Michal Kempny is one of many defensemen fighting for playing time with the Blackhawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

How is anyone supposed to get acclimated with all this rotating in and out of the lineup? Having eight defensemen is a problem. Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago tries to put a positive spin on things, but I disagree. I think the reason the coaching staff is doing so much experimenting is because they lack confidence in the entire defensive corps. Hopefully, this group can hold things together until the trade deadline in February, when the Hawks can pick up another serviceable defenseman. If not, the Hawks are going to be in trouble. This current recipe of depth at forward and leaning on your goaltender isn’t going to cut it in the long run.

Final Observations

After all this complaining about the defense, it’s worth it to note that of the seven goals scored this past week, Keith assisted on four of them. So there’s that.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, didn’t crack the score sheet. Neither did Nick Schmaltz. Oh, boy. Things are gonna change, I can feel it!

The Hawks travel to face the newest NHL club, the Vegas Golden Knights, for the first time ever this coming Tuesday. Then they’re on to meet the Nashville Predators and the Colorado Avalanche in back-to-back tilts over the weekend. The Knights have a 6-1 record, and they’ll be looking to defend their home ice. The Preds will be out for revenge after losing to the Hawks in OT earlier in the season. The Avs should be an easy win, but after a tough matchup the night before, it has all the markings of a trap game.

Can the Hawks come up some wins this next week? Never a dull moment! Stay tuned.


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