The Vegas Golden Knights added to the Chicago Blackhawks’ misery by extending their losing streak to five games with a 4-1 win at the United Center. The Blackhawks have not led for a single second during this current skid and haven’t held the lead since their win at the New York Rangers on Dec. 3.
The Five-Forward Power Play Returns
During November 19th’s 6-1 loss to the Boston Bruins, Luke Richardson tried his luck by putting five forwards on his top power-play unit. He ran with that unit for a couple of games before returning to the more common four-forwards and one-defenseman setup. Seth Jones returning from a thumb injury helped with that decision too.
On Thursday, Richardson decided to give the all-forward unit another look with Jonathan Toews, Max Domi, Taylor Raddysh, Tyler Johnson, and Patrick Kane.
“To start a power play (with five forwards) is not a real danger. With our best players on the team handling the puck, it’s less likely for a turnover or opportunity against. It’s smart to have two defensemen on the second unit. That’s usually when the penalty is trickling down, and you’re going to get into a 5v5 situation. We had some success with it earlier in the season, so we will dabble with it again and see how it goes.”
That theory of not being in danger did not prove to be true. William Karlsson broke free out of the zone during the Blackhawks’ second power play. Kane made a nice back check to prevent a shot, but Karlsson set up the trailing Reilly Smith for the shorthanded goal, giving Vegas a 2-0 lead.
Richardson said after the game that goal would have happened whether there was a defenseman on the ice or not because all five guys gravitated to Karlsson and the puck, leaving Smith wide open in the slot.
Andreas Athanasiou & Balance to the Bottom Six
Andreas Athanasiou returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday’s game versus the Washington Capitals due to a family funeral. The speedy winger has spent most of the season playing with Domi and Kane, but Richardson slotted him on the third line with Jason Dickinson and Tyler Johnson. The thought behind the move was to balance out the lineup a bit. Richardson also noted that the trio “can be very responsible and be a threat offensively.”
The trio combined for no shot attempts in just under eight minutes of 5v5 ice time during the first two periods. Unfortunately, Johnson reinjured his ankle and did not play in the third period. Richardson did not have an update on him after the game.
The Little Things Add Up
When you watch the Blackhawks, you can see that nothing comes easy. They struggle to accomplish the simplest of tasks. The types of plays other teams make easy, the Blackhawks fumble on a consistent basis. A clean zone exit is a monumental task. Half the time, standard passes can’t even find the stick.
It has been a season full of things just not lining up for the Blackhawks. Several instances occurred during Thursday’s loss to the Golden Knights. In the first period, Sam Lafferty had a puck come to him in the left circle with a wide-open net. Instead of flicking the puck into the cage like we’ve so many opponents do this season, he couldn’t control it and didn’t even get a shot off. In the middle frame, Kane found himself all alone at the right dot for a one-timer. Instead of burying the shot like he has done hundreds of times in his career, he hit the puck with the heel of his stick, and it fluttered harmlessly over the net.
“We’re looking for the perfect shot,” Richardson said. “We are shooting one step too long, which allows them to get sticks on the puck. When you shoot the puck early, the goalie has trouble picking it up.”
On a team that doesn’t have the star power as most teams, these near misses keep adding up and costing them games. On to the next one!