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The Chicago Blackhawks entered Monday’s tilt on a two-game losing streak. Meanwhile, the hosting Toronto Maple Leafs won their first two games of the season behind a pair of Auston Matthews’ hat tricks. On paper, this one had the potential to be a bloodbath, and nobody was giving the Blackhawks much of a chance to win. But they play the games on the ice and not on paper. The Blackhawks rode a three-goal second period for a big 4-1 road win over the heavily favored Maple Leafs.
The first period saw a lot of back-and-forth action but no goals. The Blackhawks outchanced the Maple Leafs and led 8-5 in shots. The effort and the execution we didn’t see during the opening frame in Montreal were there right from the initial faceoff.
MacKenzie Entwistle, making his season debut in front of his family (yes, he really does have one), gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead early in the second period. The goal sparked the home team as they dominated the next handful of shifts. Just over two minutes later, William Nylander made some slick moves to create space before finding captain John Tavares for the game-tying goal. The Blackhawks showed their scoring depth with two late-period goals. First, Corey Perry scored on a breakaway set up a 92-foot saucer pass from Alex Vlasic. Tyler Johnson scored his third goal in his last three periods moments later to double the Blackhawks lead. Andreas Athanasiou had the primary assist on the first and third goals.
Taylor Raddysh iced the game with an empty-net goal in the final seconds, capping off a crazy final sequence that saw both teams get a goal erased for being offside. Goaltender Arvid Soderblom was spectacular in making 35 saves for his first victory of the season.
Jay: Can we talk about Alex Vlasic?
After, somewhat unexpectedly, spending most of last season in Rockford, defenseman Alex Vlasic has finally taken his rightful spot in the Blackhawks lineup full time, and while rookie defensemen Kevin Korchinski and Wyatt Kaiser have been getting most of the attention, Vlasic has been the most consistently impressive of the team’s young defensemen.
Unlike Kaiser and Korchinski, Vlasic is defense first. Typically defensive defensemen like being ignored. That usually indicates they played mistake-free hockey, but Vlasic has been so good that I’m taking this chance to shine a light on his game.
When I watch Vlasic, I can’t help but notice how much poise he has in his game. He never seems hurried. He never seems like his mind is going 100 miles per hour. He’s calm but quick with the puck. He knows how to use his massive 6’6’ frame to fend off would-be attackers. For a 22-year-old with 25 games under his belt, it shouldn’t look this easy.
In Monday’s 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs, Vlasic showed off some of his offensive skill, as well. Fifteen minutes into the second period, the Hawks were pinned in their own end. Vlasic gained control of the puck, walked calmly along the goal line, and fed an absolute dart to Corey Perry, who had all day to rip a shot past Leafs goalie Joseph Woll.
Vlasic ended the game with an assist and was on the ice for two of the Blackhawks’ goals. More importantly, he was on the ice while the Hawks were defending the Leafs’ empty net comeback bid. Richardson clearly trusts him, as he should.
As we work our way through this Blackhawks rebuild, there will be moments, or stretches, that let you know the team for sure has “a guy.” I’m ready to call it. Vlasic is a guy…a guy who will be part of things when the Blackhawks are ready to win again.
Greg: The Faceoff Nightmare Continues
Last season, the Blackhawks were one of the top teams when it came to winning faceoffs, at least up to the trade deadline. A lot of that was due to the work by Jonathan Toews and Max Domi, who both won well over 50% of their faceoffs. However, their success at the dot did not translate to much success in the win column.
Entering tonight’s game, the Blackhawks were dead last in the league in faceoff wins at 31.7%. That stat will go up a tick, but the team had another brutal night at the dot. They won just three of 14 faceoffs in the first period. Things got better in the middle frame was their best period, as they won 10 of 23 draws. They finished out the night by losing 14 of their 19 third-period faceoffs. This added up to 37.3%, which is not great.
The top two centers, Connor Bedard and Lukas Reichel, are playing the position for the first time at this level, so some struggles were expected. They went a combined 8-for-23 tonight. However, at some point, the numbers need to improve. While these two take their lumps at the dot, some of the veterans need to be better. Jason Dickinson went 3-for-13. Johnson lost all six of his faceoffs.
I hate to find the one negative thing to harp on following a big win, but this team cannot keep losing this many draws if they want to stay competitive. Hopefully, the numbers improve from within because I don’t think the team is going to make a trade just to bring in faceoff help.
Mario: Arvid Söderblom Looks Legit
I know it’s only two games for young Arvid Söderblom for the Blackhawks this season, but damn has he looked good. He made 32 saves against the Bruins a few nights ago and kept the Blackhawks in the game against Boston and then added another 35 saves against 36 shots tonight coming from the Maple Leafs to earn his first win of the season. That’s already half as many wins as he had last season.
Late in the game, holding onto a 3-1 lead, Söderblom made a pair of left-pad saves that kept the Blackhawks ahead as the Maple Leafs were pushing hard for any chance for at a comeback. But it wasn’t meant to be tonight.
The Blackhawks believe that Söderblom can be part of, if not, the goalie of the future. They have set themselves up nicely to at least have one of Södeblom, Drew Commesso, or Adam Gajan likely become that goaltender, but it is the 24-year-old Swede that is getting the first chance at being the next bonafide starter in-between the pipes for Chicago. Goaltenders usually take longer to develop into full-time NHL players than any other position, but Söderblom is ahead of the curve and was a project play for the Blackhawks when they signed his as a European free agent a few seasons ago. For reference, Corey Crawford is regarded as one of the best goaltenders in Blackhawks franchise history and after he was selected in the second round of the 2003 NHL draft, he took two full years in the QMJHL and five full seasons in the AHL before becoming a full-time player in the NHL as a 26-year-old in the 2010-11 season.
Again, it’s early in the season and his track record of NHL play coming into the 2023-24 campaign was a rough 2-12-2 record with a far below .900 save-percentage, but with a roster that looks better across the board than last season’s did, one would imagine that Söderblom will be able to turn those games last year where he was keeping the Blackhawks alive in one or two-goal games, into wins this season.
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