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Hawks Hits: Binnington, Blues spoils Blackhawks' "Best Day Ever"

Mario Tirabassi Avatar
November 26, 2023

The last two games for the Chicago Blackhawks have been matinee starts. Both games saw them trail their opponent 3-1, but only one had a dramatic comeback in-favor of the Blackhawks. Today’s game was not that game. On an afternoon where the Blackhawks controlled most of the action, they still fall short 4-2 to St. Louis.

The Blues got on the board early with a battle of young former WHL standouts going their way as Jake Neighbours beat Kevin Korchinski in a footrace and one-on-one battle to score the opening goal. Almost exactly two minutes later, former Blackhawks draft pick Kevin Hayes made it a 2-0 game with a decent snipe and Chicago was facing a multi-goal hole just five and a half minutes into the contest.

Ryan Donato made it 2-1 in the first period with a tip-in goal off a shot from Isaak Phillips with just over five minutes left to play in the opening period, but the momentum swing back in Chicago’s favor only lasted a little more than two minutes as the Blues made it 3-1 on a backdoor tap-in on the powerplay by Pavel Buchnevich on a no-look pass from Robert Thomas.

The game would remain 3-1 from that point through the second period and most of the third period with the Blackhawks controlling most of the offensive action and chances.

Create where it’s due, Jordan Binnington played well today and was able to make the saves asked of him when the Blackhawks got their scoring chances. The effort today wasn’t the problem with the Blackhawks, but rather the execution on the finishing of those chances made the difference.

With just over six minutes to play in the third period, the Blues put the game away with the 4-1 goal coming after Pavel Buchnevich picked the pocket of Korchinski and found Neighbours in front of the net to bury his second goal of the game. In the final moments of the game, the Blackhawks made it a 4-2 effort as Boris Katchouk, who felt due after having a ton of chances this season with none converting, buried a breakaway chance for his first goal of the season.

Arvid Söderblom played in back-to-back games for the first time this season following his overtime win over the Maple Leafs on Friday afternoon. He made 24 saves on 28 shots faced and sees his record fall to 2-7-0 on the year. With the loss, the Blackhawks record falls to 6-13-0 on the year and with 12 points in the NHL standings, are just two points ahead of the San Jose Sharks for dead-last in the league.

Greg: Blackhawks Still Chasing First Winning Streak

The Blackhawks picked up their sixth win of the season in dramatic fashion over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday. That gave them their sixth chance to win back-to-back games, something they have been unable to accomplish this season. In fact, the Blackhawks are the only team in the NHL to not have won back-to-back games. Even the San Jose Sharks have a two-game winning streak.

“It will build our team’s confidence,” Luke Richardson said about winning two games in a row. “It will also get us in a mindset when playing here at home – making it a difficult place to come in and play. It’s a two-win situation today if we can double up on the wins at home and make it difficult on the other team. That’s what we’re looking for today. Our game plan is very similar to the last game. Put it in deep with lots of speed, put pressure on them, and have as much control of that puck as much as we can.”

Richardson and the Blackhawks did not get the start they were looking for, giving up two goals on the first four shots of the game. After Donato got them on the board, they allowed a late first-period goal to the worst power play in the NHL.

The overall effort wasn’t terrible. The Blackhawks were the better team for stretches of the game. The biggest difference was that the Blues were able to take advantage of their scoring chances, and the Blackhawks could not. St. Louis’ top players played as such and won their team the game. When the talent gap is big on most nights, it will be hard to string together wins. However, it would be nice to finally get two in a row at some point.

Jay: Backdoor goals are killing the Blackhawks

Over their last three games, the Blackhawks have given up six goals that can be described as “back door.” What does that mean? While the puck is being carried on one side of the ice, the offside forward sneaks to the side of the net, looking for a pass to come their way as they’re uncovered. 

It happened three times vs Columbus, twice vs Toronto and again vs St. Louis. 

Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson was asked about it after Saturday’s practice. “We have to be better for our goaltenders, for sure, in that department,” Richardson said. “We talked to the D to be up a little more. When they shift they have to shift together and shift early, so we’re on the puck but we’re also covering the middle of the ice. If they can sauce a pass 85 feet across the ice and land it flat nowadays, well then we’ll give them that. It’s at least only one big push from the goaltender, it’s not a last-minute scramble to the backdoor. It’s usually about the top circles or hashmarks at least. That’s something we have to make sure we’re better at.”

With an inexperienced team, these learning lessons can be expected, but it hasn’t only been the young defensemen. On Sunday, it was Connor Murphy who was the defenseman in front of the net on the Blackhawks “diamond” penalty kill. He’s responsible for the forwards in front. As you can see in the highlight above, Jake Neighbours (63) leaves the net front area. This should turn Murphy’s attention to Pavel Buchnevich, the eventual goal scorer. In fairness, Murphy is responsible for defending a potential one-timer, which could have been an option for Neighbours, but it’s a calculation Murphy has to make there. Söderblom is square to the potential shooter on Neighbours’, side. He could let Söderblom handle the shooter while he handles the back door. 

Looking over the last few games, you can see that opposing teams have gone to school and are looking for the play vs Chicago. Until they make the adjustment, expect it to continue. 

Mario: Nick Foligno is without question the Captain of this Blackhawk team

Without wearing a “C” on his chest, Blackhawks newcomer Nick Foligno is undoubtedly the Captain of this year’s team. Following today’s 4-2 loss, and seemingly following every difficult game or scenario this club has faced, Foligno was again facing the media and answering questions with necessary brutal honesty. That’s a trait in a player that this club needs and that they have had in recent years with Jonathan Toews.

Here is Foligno’s full media availability following today’s game.

A former Captain himself in Columbus, Foligno is in his 17th season in the NHL and has the presence and cache in a locker room to call things as he sees them. What Foligno is calling out of his teammates, rookies and vets alike, after just 19 games in Chicago is the truth: there’s a missing culture to this team. Last year, the Chicago Blackhawks played with a dedication to keeping things simple and playing hard. Two simple things Luke Richardson asked of his team in his first year behind the bench. On most nights they were out-matched on talent, but they weren’t often out-worked.

This year’s team has not had that same identity or team culture surrounding them. Foligno called it out on Sunday afternoon and it is a message this roster needs to absorb and put into action. There’s a lot of “looking in the mirror” time coming for this team if they cannot find the will and commitment to executing the simplicity of the game and playing within the system Richardson is asking of them.

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