Blackhawks See Both Good & Bad From Slow Season Start

Chicago Blackhawks, Column, Connor Murphy, Jeremy Colliton, Kirby Dach, Seth Jones

It’s easy to be disappointed with this extremely dreadful beginning to the 2021-22 campaign for the Chicago Blackhawks. Everyone had such high hopes for them in this season. It was supposed to be different this year. Offseason additions of Seth Jones, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jake McCabe made a statement that this team is headed in the right direction. Captain Jonathan Toews is finally back and ready to roll! On paper, this is a good team. Heck, this is supposed to be a playoff team! So why do they look so horrible right out of the gate?

Most Blackhawks’ fans are up in arms about how the last three games have unfolded. As they should be. It’s been a rough start, for sure. But we have to take some deep breaths here. It’s only three games. There are 79 more to go. Throwing in the towel this early would be premature. After all, adversity breeds resilience and character. Who knows, this could actually be good for the team in the long run. On that note, let’s take a look at some of the bad, but also some of the good, from the Blackhawks first three contests of the season.

Blackhawks Game Results

@ Colorado Avalanche, Wed. Oct. 13, Loss 4-2

@ New Jersey Devils, Fri. Oct. 15, Loss 4-3 (OT)

@ Pittsburgh Penguins, Sat. Oct. 16, Loss 5-2

Related – Blackhawks Banter: Shaw, Fleury, Struggles Out of the Gate

Slow Starts

The first order of business should be focusing on coming ready to play right from puck drop. Because that certainly hasn’t been the case so far. Against the Avalanche, the Blackhawks were extremely outplayed right out of the gate, and found themselves down three goals to one and outshot 18-8 at the end of the first period.

In hindsight, that actually wasn’t so bad in comparison to the following two contests. In New Jersey, the Devils’ Dougie Hamilton scored just 17 seconds into the game. At the end of the first period, the Blackhawks had only registered six shots on goal. Although, they had also held the Devils to six shots on goal. So there’s that.

Connor Murphy Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks struggled in their first three games of the 2021-22 season. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

On Saturday night, the Penguins scored a mere 15 seconds into the game, one-upping the Devils from the night before. This was by far the worst first period of the three games. At the end of the frame the Penguins led 4-0, with the Blackhawks only managing three shots on goal to the Pens’ 13. It was a bloodbath that saw Marc-Andre Fleury chased from the net in his old barn.

It goes without saying the Hawks need to come out ready to go and with a big, fat chip on their shoulders Tuesday night when they face the New York Islanders at the United Center.

Blackhawks Defensive Woes

Does head coach Jeremy Colliton’s system need to go, or at least be adjusted? I’m certainly starting to lean this way, because I’m not sure how good, solid, talented players can continue to look so bad.

Head Coach Jeremy Colliton
Is Jeremy Colliton to blame for the Chicago Blackhawks defensive woes? (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Lots of pressure has been put on Jones to save the day for the defense, and for the Blackhawks in general. I’ve said from the get-go that’s not exactly fair. But that’s what happens when you sign such a huge contract. Jones looked good in the second tilt against the Devils, but struggled against the Avalanche and the Penguins. After the Devils game he spoke about this: “The first game, I wasn’t good. Tonight I was a little more sharp. I need to be more consistent, I gotta do it tomorrow.”

Well, he didn’t do it tomorrow. But, he has 79 more chances at it. He’s still getting used to the darn system, after all. He and McCabe, who has also struggled mightily. Unfortunately, the rest of the defensive corps doesn’t have this excuse.

Here’s a quote from Connor Murphy after the Penguins’ game.

The odd-man rushes are not good, what we’re giving up. Whether it’s us making poor puck decisions or not getting on top of their players coming out of their end and them having speed and more numbers than us back, or sorting issues.

Sounds like he’s still thinking too much instead of just reacting. And he’s been with the team the longest of all the defensemen! It’s just not good.

Related – IceHogs Mitchell & Stanton Reunited as Leaders

Finally, the Blackhawks are definitely at a disadvantage with both Wyatt Kalynuk and Caleb Jones out. Ian Mitchell just isn’t ready, and Erik Gustafsson as a stop-gap hasn’t shown he can be that so far. He’s just a defensive liability. Hopefully the defense can pull it together as they get more games under their belt, and weather the storm until they can get some reinforcements.  

Dach off to a Good Start

Let’s talk about something positive, shall we? Kirby Dach has been a pleasant bright spot in this first trio of games. In the Avs game, he stood out as one of the best players of the night. He was working hard and creating chances, and led the team with five shots on goal. He had a couple grade A breakaway chances, but unfortunately didn’t finish on either of them. He expressed his frustration after the game.

Kirby Dach on his missed chances: “It sucks. If I score those it might be a different game. That’s on me. It’s been a problem of mine for the past couple of years, you guys ask me about it quite a lot, so I’ve got to figure something out and start scoring goals.” #Blackhawks

The 20-year-old followed that up with a power play goal against the Devils, and was promoted from the third line to the top line alongside Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane by the end of the contest. Sure enough, his performance earned him the top line center role for the Penguins game. He, Brandon Hagel and Kane combined for a pretty goal in the third period.

Dach even won five-of-nine faceoffs for a 56% success rate, showing improvement in that area. He looks strong and aggressive, despite the rest of the team struggling. It should be fun to watch him evolve as the season progresses.  

Special Teams Saves the Day

It’s a little scary to think about where the Blackhawks would be without their special teams contributions. In these first three contests, they’ve scored four power play goals off 11 tries. This is good for a 36.4% success rate, which is actually seventh in the league right now. Yes, yes, it’s early. But it’s a nice start.

Related – 3 Bold Blackhawks Predictions for the 2021-22 Season

The top power play unit of DeBrincat, Kane, Toews, Jones and Tyler Johnson looks extremely dangerous. They can move the puck beautifully, and Jones is excellent at keeping the puck in the zone in the quarterback position. DeBrincat and Kane accounted for two of the four PP goals, and we already spoke about Dach scoring another.

Dominik Kubalik also tallied on the man advantage, which was actually the first Blackhawks’ goal of the season. With all that talent on the top unit, he’s actually relegated to the second unit. This group rarely gets a lot of time to set up, but they are always a threat with Kubalik’s penchant for ripping the puck on net whenever he gets the chance. Oh heck, let’s give his goal a look.

Meanwhile, the hard-working penalty kill is quietly doing their job. The Blackhawks are a perfect eight-for-eight when down a man. They’re also continuing to use DeBrincat and Dach on the penalty kill, like they did at the end of last season. These two think the kill a little differently, since they’re both experts on the power play. They’ve both already had some odd-man rushes the other way. Hopefully they can turn these into some short-handed goals sooner rather than later.

Kudos to all those who contribute on the penalty kill! Keep up the good work.

It was by no means perfect, and the Blackhawks certainly have some hard work ahead of them. It was NOT a good first week of the season. But another week is on the horizon. It will certainly help to have the next four contests at home. The Blackhawks host the Islanders this Tuesday and the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. Then they face the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday and the Toronto Maple Leafs the following Wednesday.

The team should benefit from having all the fans at the United Center to motivate them and cheer them on. There’s plenty of room for improvement and further progress. Let’s hope we see it this coming week in the form of some wins!

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