The Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild came into their Sunday night contest at the United Center as two teams sitting in the standings where they didn’t expect to be at this point of the season. Chicago entered the game third in the Central Division with a 4-3-1 record, while Minnesota sat fifth with a 3-4-1 record. Yeah, it’s still way early in the season, but it’s the perfect time for the Wild to hit the panic button because, why not?
Chicago put the pressure on in the first period with Jake McCabe opening the scoring, but it was short-lived as Matthew Boldy tied the game 22 seconds later. In the third period, Andreas Athanasiou would score a beautiful one-on-one goal to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead, but it was Boldy again putting an end to the Blackhawks lead just 17 seconds later to make it 3-3 mid-way through the final frame.
It would hold that way through regulation, and the Blackhawks would play an overtime period for the second time in as many nights. In the extra frame, Alex Stalock came up with a huge save to preserve the 3-3 tie late and forced a shootout where Kirill Kaprizov and Frederick Gaudreau were the difference-makers and gave Minnesota the 4-3 win.
Feeling the loss of Seth Jones?
Ahead of the game tonight, the Blackhawks announced that top defenseman Seth Jones would miss the next three-to-four weeks with a thumb injury. While this does present an opportunity for a young defenseman to replace Jones in the lineup, it also leaves the Blackhawks without their best defenseman. That’s no easy task to replace Seth Jones, who plays in all situations for the Blackhawks when you don’t have someone who can eat the minutes he does.
Before the game, Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said replacing Jones would be a “committee” effort from the Chicago defensive group. That certainly was the case tonight, as the ice time was evenly spread among the six blueliners. Coming into the game, only Seth Jones was averaging over 20-minutes of ice time per night, with Patrick Kane second on the team. Tonight, four Blackhawks defensemen logged over 20 minutes (thanks to overtime, too) as Connor Murphy, Jake McCabe, Jack Johnson, and Caleb Jones all eclipsed the benchmark.
One guy who might benefit from Jones being absent is Jake McCabe. Not necessarily known for his offensive production, McCabe opened the scoring tonight with his first goal of the season, extending a three-game point streak.
McCabe, Connor Murphy, and Jack Johnson will be heavily relied upon by Luke Richardson to shoulder the majority of the most difficult minutes for the Blackhawks for the time being. Although, don’t be surprised if a guy like Caleb Jones sees an uptick in responsibilities with his brother on the shelf. Caleb logged 20:42 minutes tonight and was slated to be the main defensive option on the top powerplay unit, but the Blackhawks went without a powerplay in the game.
Jonathan Toews making up for mistakes
Coming into tonight’s contest, it was a less-than-stellar run for Jonathan Toews in his last two games for the Blackhawks. Late in both games, it was Toews who made a play that eventually led to the downfall of the Blackhawks each night. He made an ill-advised pass against the Edmonton Oilers, eventually allowing them to score their 6-5 winner in regulation. Against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night in Buffalo, a foul penalty late in the third period in a tied game sent Toews to the box, and the Sabres were able to find the OT winner while on the ensuing powerplay.
Toews had been off to a great start to the season from a production standpoint, coming into Sunday’s contest with six points through his first eight games of the season. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but that’s a 61.5-point pace for an 82-game season, coming one year after he logged 37 points in 71 games—a career-low in production.
In the second period, Toews was in the right spot to make the most of a rebound attempt from a Philipp Kurashev shot to net his fifth goal of the season.
It took Toews 47 games last year to reach his fifth goal. Major progress. Toews now rides a five-game point streak and is on a 64-point pace for an 82-game season. Just saying.
The early production from Toews is encouraging from the standpoint of his trade value, but also his overall confidence and attitude this season. “Grumpy Toews” of last year seems to be wearing off as he plays more under Luke Richardson and produces more on the ice.
Blackhawks Learning Lessons on Leads
Usually, when an NHL team gets two separate leads in a game, they can sustain them in what is sure to be a back-and-forth game. For the Blackhawks tonight, they held the lead twice at 1-0 in the first period and 3-2 in the third but could not hold those leads for longer than a minute combined. Ultimately the game ended in favor of the Wild in the shootout.
This season has been a roller-coaster for Chicago as they had a few comeback wins where they erased two-goal deficits, had to hold on for dear life to what was a 3-0 lead against the Florida Panthers, let three different leads slip away in a loss to the Oilers, and blew a 3-1 lead last night to the Sabres in a 4-3 OT loss.
“The first shift after a goal is always an important one,” defenseman Jared Tinordi cliche’d after the game. “Every game is tough, and we’ve been in every game. Just a matter of getting over that hump…We need to do a better job on the first shift after scoring, but no one was rattled or down after those goals.”
Last year, the Blackhawks were allergic to having a good shift following scoring a goal. Most Blackhawks teams under Jeremy Colliton and Derek King had those troubles, but those habits shouldn’t stick around for a Luke Richardson-led team. Richardson compared this loss tonight to the previous two against the Sabres and Oilers and restated that the team needs to learn from losing those leads in a way that doesn’t become habit but a teachable moment.