Don’t look now, but the Chicago Blackhawks have won three straight games after a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche. They have done this without their superstar winger Patrick Kane, which makes this streak even more impressive. The Blackhawks used some timely scoring, amazing penalty killing, a solid effort from Petr Mrazek, and a successful goaltender interference call late in the game to knock off the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
Sam Lafferty Stays Hot
Sam Lafferty was one of the biggest surprises of the 2021-22 season after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alex Nylander. He became a fan favorite thanks to his speed, work ethic, and style of play. This season, he got off to a huge start with two goals and five points in his first four games. The speedy forward had just one goal in three points in his next 24 games.
Something has clicked of late for Lafferty, and he stayed hot by scoring the opening goal of the night. Colin Blackwell picked up his second point in as many games by springing Lafferty on a semi-breakaway early in the first period.
Lafferty now has two goals and five points in his last five games. He recently told Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times that his success has been due to playing more conservatively this season.
“I’m trying to put pucks in smarter places this year, where we can get them back, and [I can] be a little more consistent that way. But if I get a chance to take someone wide, I’m definitely going to do it.”
In addition to the goal, Lafferty’s night ended with two shots, a hit, and a blocked shot in just over 19 minutes of ice time.
Isaak Phillips Shines in Return to Lineup
Isaak Phillips has quietly risen up the organizational depth chart and has seemingly come out of nowhere since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He returned to the ice tonight after being a healthy scratch the last two games. Head coach Luke Richardson explained that his absence had more to do with needing to play Ian Mitchell than Phillips’ performance.
“We have two young guys that need time to play,” he said after Thursday’s morning skate. “Phillips played really well, especially with (Connor) Murphy. He was moving his feet, playing aggressively, and getting more of a presence out there defensively. We’ve got to make sure he doesn’t sit out too long. Tonight’s a good chance against a team that can skate, and he can skate. He’s got to close quick and play good defensively.”
Captain Jonathan Toews was asked about the play of Phillips and Mitchell, and he has been pleased with what he has seen from the young blueliners.
“It’s hard for anyone to look good when the team isn’t going well,” Toews said. “Those guys are really adding to the mix. They are making strides in their individual games. It’s nice to see. I’ll keep encouraging them to work hard every day, though I don’t think you need to tell them much in that sense.”
Richardson and Toews had to be impressed with what they saw out of Phillips against the Avalanche. The young defender had a spectacular second period. His stretch pass out of the defensive zone set up Andreas Athanasiou’s ninth goal of the season.
Moments later, Phillips made a nice keep at the blue line, and Athanasiou was robbed of a second goal by the right pad of goaltender Pavel Francouz. Phillips also had a scoring chance of his own by crashing the net and drew a holding penalty late in the frame. He finished his night with an assist, one shot attempt, five hits, a takeaway, and a 41.18 Corsi for percentage at 5v5 in 12:02 of ice time.
The Penalty Kill Comes to the Rescue
When the Blackhawks lost to the Avalanche on opening night, the defending champions scored four power-play goals in six chances during their 5-2 victory. Chicago played with fire by taking five trips to the penalty box tonight, but the penalty kill unit was up to the task and did not give up a goal. In fact, they only surrendered five shots on goal in 10 minutes.
The unsung heroes were Jason Dickinson and Jack Johnson, who had 5:55 and 5:33 of shorthanded ice time, respectively. Lafferty was critical in the penalty kill’s success as he played 5:07 shorthanded and used his speed to help clear the zone and create a couple of chances.
“At times, with different guys in and out of the lineup, I don’t think guys were really comfortable with it,” Richardson said of his recently struggling penalty kill. “I think it’s been coming. Just like everything else, repetition and I thought tonight it really showed and even sometimes when you misread, which is easy to do with a a MacKinnon or Makar coming up the ice, we still put pressure on them and it puts them under the gun to make a play at the line. (Assistant coach) Kevin Dean spent more time on the video this morning, getting guys prepared. We had a good plan and I thought the guys really executed.”
The Blackhawks are back in action with a rare Saturday night home game against the Seattle Kraken, who are for real.