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Tuesday night’s game in New Jersey will mark the Chicago Blackhawks’ 25th game of the season. The Hawks are currently 7-13-4, good for third in the all-important “tank standings.”
They are worst in the league in both Corsi For Percentage and Fenwick For Percentage. They are third worst in the NHL in Expected Goals For Percentage and High Danger Chances For Percentage. However you measure it, the Blackhawks are exactly what they are designed to be … one of the worst overall teams in the league.
Despite their predictably bad record, the team has been competitive, hard-working, and in some cases, overachieving. Of their 15 losses, nine have been by two goals or fewer. Seven of those nine are one-goal losses. Despite being out-talented nearly every night, the Blackhawks have kept games closer than they have any business being. With that in mind, I’m going to hand out my “Blackhawks at the 25-game mark” awards.
MVP – Jonathan Toews
24 games: 8 G – 6 A – 14 P, 64.2% faceoffs (#1 in NHL)
I guess we should have known better, but after a forgettable 2021-22 season (on and off the ice) for Toews, he’s had an impressive bounce-back season. While he’ll never return to the level of his prime, Toews has been among the Blackhawks’ most effective players most nights. In the locker room, his demeanor has seemed as positive and jovial as can be expected from a team struggling as mightily as Chicago has up to this point. Whether or not he wants to stay beyond the trade deadline remains to be seen, but an effective and invested Toews is good for both the Blackhawks and any potential trade partners. He’s only driving his value up.
Best Forward – Max Domi
24 games: 9 G – 10 A – 19 P, 57.5% faceoffs (15th in NHL)
Full disclosure, I had Patrick Kane’s name here first but thought a little deeper. Domi is here for one reason…to be traded at the deadline. He’s bounced around the NHL and hasn’t really been able to find a permanent home for himself. By signing in Chicago, Domi bet on himself, and it’s paying off early.
Domi’s 19 points have him only one point behind Kane for the team lead, but he’s also shown the ability to play a two-way game and dominate at the faceoff dot. Since being moved off of Kane’s line, he’s asserted himself offensively, which was my only true criticism of his game. With Kane, he was reluctant to pull the trigger, and would often defer to the veteran winger, passing up prime scoring chances in the name of one more pass. In the three games since he began centering Philipp Kurashev and Taylor Raddysh, Domi has four goals, an assist and 11 shots on goal.
Best Defenseman – Jake McCabe
21 games: 1 G – 7 A – 8 P, +4
Being a plus player on the 2022-23 Blackhawks is no small feat. His +4 leads the team, and only Connor Murphy (+2) and Tyler Johnson (+1) are above water in that category. For a guy who underwent cervical spine surgery last summer, McCabe has been an absolute beast. He’s tops on the Blackhawks and seventh in the NHL with 56 blocked shots. If the Hawks are up a goal late, McCabe is the defenseman I want on the ice most.
The Hawks certainly missed Seth Jones’ presence when he was on injured reserve, and when fully healthy he’s the team’s best defenseman by a wide margin. But, so far this season, McCabe has stood out the most.
Biggest Surprise – Arvid Söderblom
2-6-0, 3.21 GAA, .906 save percentage
I don’t think it’s a stretch to call Söderblom (SAHD-er-blewm) the best goaltender in the Blackhawks’ system. Yes, Petr Mrazek has more experience, and the injured Alex Stalock has better numbers, but when the big Swede is in net, I have very little concern about what’s happening between the pipes. I’ve made the comparison to Corey Crawford all season. Goalie coach Jimmy Waite agrees with me, by the way.
“It’s pretty impressive how calm he is,” Waite told the Sun-Times’ Ben Pope. “It almost makes me nervous how calm he is. [I ask him], ‘Are you ready to go?’ And that’s how [Corey] Crawford was — so calm.”
Söderblom is big, positionally sound, and “quiet,” meaning he isn’t flopping and flailing all over the place to make saves. He plays his angles, controls his rebounds, and gives the Hawks a chance to win most nights. All that from a guy who wasn’t even expected to play in Chicago this season.
Biggest Disappointment – Sam Lafferty
19 games: 3 G – 4 A – 7 P
It really pains me to say this, especially considering Lafferty and the departed Dylan Strome were in our CHGO Blackhawks Postgame Show “Fourth Stars of the Game” segment nearly every night last season, but after a hot start (all of his seven points came in his first nine games). Lafferty, who is currently injured, has been uncharacteristically invisible.
I’m confident Lafferty will bounce back once he returns to the ice. He remains a player I’d like to still be here in Chicago when things turn around, but we were all hoping to see more this season.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, December 6 @ New Jersey
6:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
The New Jersey Devils are 20-4-1. They are second in the NHL with a +36 goal differential. They have won eight of their last ten games. They are 9-3-1 at home and 11-1-0 on the road. They already have a nine-point lead in the Metropolitan Division. They are, as the kids say, an absolute wagon. This could be a very long night for the Blackhawks, but tune in to see Jack Hughes and company do their thing.
Friday, December 9 vs Winnipeg
7:30 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
This will be the third meeting of the season for the Blackhawks and Winnipeg, with the Jets holding a 2-0 record and an 11-2 goal advantage, including a 7-2 win at the United Center just last Sunday. At 15-7-1 (second in the Central Division), they finally look like the team they’ve been hyped to be for the last few years. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re deep and they have one of the league’s best goalies in Connor Hellebuyck.
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