For the second time in as many nights, the Blackhawks held their own against a much better team and fell short. While the Blackhawks were certainly outplayed throughout this game, their simple system and willingness to work keeps them in games they shouldn’t, at least on paper. Friday, it was a 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers. Saturday, it was a 3-1 loss to the Lightning in Tampa Bay.
The first period ended scoreless with Tampa outshooting the Hawks 7-4. The Hawks actually ended the frame ahead in high-danger scoring chances (3-1), but the Lighting turned things on in the second. Tampa outshot the Hawks 15-9 and had nine high-dangers chances to the Blackhawks one. Brayden Point scored his 42nd goal of the season, and the period ended with Tampa up 1-0.
Five minutes into the second period, Blackhawks leading goal scorer Taylor Raddysh bit the hand that once fed him, tying the game at one. Rookie Cole Guttman corralled the puck behind the net and centered a pass to Raddysh, who quickly snapped it behind Tampa Bay goalie Brian Elliott for his 17th goal of the season. For those rooting for the tank, Point came through again, this time potting the game winner for the Lightning with :59.7 seconds to go in the third. Old-friend Brandon Hagel added the empty netter, his 23rd of the season, with :02 left.
“It’s heartbreaking because I feel like our guys really put it all out there,” coach Luke Richardson said after the game.
“They’re a little bit deflated after giving two nights of great effort against two strong teams. But we’re just going to reassure [them] that they did so many things right…that we’re going in the right direction. We’ll learn from this.”
Jay’s Hit: Petr Mrazek playing all-star level hockey
Effort and coaching praise aside, another big reason the Blackhawks have been in these games lately is the play of Petr Mrazek. Saturday, he stopped 34 Lightning shots in the loss and lately has been playing his best hockey of the season. He’s only allowed nine goals in his last five games, stopping 123 of 132 shots on goal…good for a .931 save percentage.
“He’s been great…both nights,” Richardson said of Mrazek. “He gave us a chance both nights. Tonight, they had some point-blankers…and not just one…multiple in a row. That just gives us even more confidence as we’re playing offense and through the neutral zone that we know that he just gave us a big lift. We have to go get him something at the other end.”
Remember, the Maple Leafs were so desperate to get rid of Mrazek at last year’s draft, they gave the Blackhawks a first-round pick just to take him off their hands. Overall, Mrazek hasn’t been great, but like many of his teammates, he’s played his best hockey since the trade deadline.
Mario’s Hit: Could Joey Anderson be Taylor Raddysh 2.0?
Joey Anderson came to the Blackhawks after being buried on the Toronto Maple Leafs roster. He’s not a very assuming player, but there are small things he does that can build up and make a big difference. He has an opportunity with these Blackhawks to make waves and solidify some NHL time in the final stretch of the season and into next year.
Anderson has a chance to be this year’s version of Taylor Raddysh.
I know in the grand scheme of the NHL, that’s not the highest bar to reach, but for a player who was between the AHL and NHL on a team looking to contend for the Stanley Cup, that’s a big deal. Tonight was another solid performance for Anderson in a fourth-line role with Chicago. He finished the night with 11:19 of ice-time, but was one of the top effective Blackhawks with a 0.26 individual expected goals rate, three individual chances created and two individual scoring chances created. All of those rates were in the top-five of Blackhawks tonight.
Anderson is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent at the end of this season and the Blackhawks won’t be hard-pressed on money to spend this summer. There’s no harm in giving a player like Anderson a shot again next season on a very affordable deal. They’ll have to sign someone in free agency, why not stick with a guy who has already looked decent in a limited sample size with your organization?
Greg’s Hit: Low Shot Totals Contribute to Tank Standings
Getting pucks to the net has been an issue for the Blackhawks all season long. They entered tonight’s tilt in Tampa, averaging 26.7 shots per game. They are one of only nine teams in the NHL averaging less than 30 shots per game, and only the Arizona Coyotes have a lower average on the season. We knew things would get worse after the trade deadline when Patrick Kane and Max Domi and their 325 shots on goal were shipped out of town.
Since March 2, the first game without both Kane and Domi, the Blackhawks are 1-4-1 while being outscored 16-14. While they haven’t been blown out in any of their recent losses, they were outshot 217-134 in those six games. The third period has been particularly rough during this stretch, as the Blackhawks averaged just 8.5 shots in the final frame.
Tonight’s game wasn’t much different as the Blackhawks were outshot 37-24 overall and 15-10 in the third period when their lone goal came. It will be challenging for the Blackhawks to steal many points down the stretch if they can’t get the puck on net. Luke Richardson already has a fairly simple system, so it will be up to the players to make the extra effort. The final 16 games of the season are a chance for many guys to make an impression and stay in the NHL beyond this year. Let’s see who makes the most of the opportunity.