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Hawks Hits: Blackhawks Run Out of Gas Against Devils, Hold 'Players Only' Meeting

Mario Tirabassi Avatar
November 5, 2023

The New Jersey Devils were without Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. The Chicago Blackhawks were on night two of back-to-back games. Only one of these teams was able to overcome their disadvantage tonight as the Devils came away winners over the Blackhawks, 4-2 the final score.

Despite scoring the game’s opening goal in under two minutes, Chicago wasn’t able to put together the bell-to-bell effort it requires to beat this top-tier Devils team on the second night of back-to-back games following a 5-2 win last night over the Florida Panthers.

Taylor Hall got things started quickly with his second goal in as many nights for the Blackhawks, putting the team out to the early 1-0 lead just 1:51 into the game. It marked the third-straight game that Chicago had scored the opening goal of the contest. But following an interference call on Connor Murphy mid-way through the first period, the Blackhawks lost all momentum they had built as the Devils scored on the ensuing powerplay with a goal from Dawson Mercer. That tying tally was followed by the 2-1 goal coming from Jack Hughes’ replacement Max Willman.

The Blackhawks would have a few chances to try to even the score, including a chance setup by Jason Dickinson and Tyler Johnson in the second period that would be saved by an incredible diving effort by New Jersey goaltender Vitek Vanecek.

The Devils held the majority of the game’s possession in the second and third periods, adding a 3-1 goal from Curtis Lazar in the third period to extend their lead. After a floundering powerplay with just over eight minutes to go in the game, it looked as if the Blackhawks had run out of gas completely. But with just under five minutes to play, Ryan Donato injected a bit of life into the game and the United Center crowd scoring his third goal of the season on his own rebound the make it 3-2 with 4:46 to play.

The game was nearly put on ice with 2:02 to play with an empty-net goal but it was called back by a Luke Richardson successful offside challenge and there was still life left in the building, though New Jersey would be able to kill the final minutes and add a legal empty net goal with just a second on the clock to end it officially 4-2.

Arvid Söderblom did everything he could to keep the Blackhawks in the game making 36 saves on 39 shots tonight. He has just three wins in 23 appearances for the Blackhawks in his NHL career, and tonight was another night in which the Blackhawks owed him a better result.

Following the loss, the Chicago media was held out of the locker room for about 20 minutes before it was opened. It ended up being a players-only meeting that seemed to focus on the team’s consistency, accountability, and reminding each other of working within the team system. Seth Jones and Corey Perry spoke about instilling the message of accountability in each other and making sure the team is working to execute on their goals as a group this season.

“We have a few words we came up with as a team this year that we want to live by, so we want to live by those.” Jones said about the message of the meeting. “You want to hold each other accountable. You’re not in there ‘Mother-effing’ guys, but if you make a mistake, your teammate should be able to tell you you’re wrong and vice versa.”

“Be accountable and play within the system that we’ve installed through camp and the first few games of the season,” 19-year-vet Corey Perry said following the meeting. “We do it in spurts, but we have to do it for a full game. We had a good heart-to-heart…We’re not putting anyone down. That’s not the message. It’s more about being brothers, being able to talk about it and figure things out as men.”

For a Blackhawks team that is working with a basically brand new leadership and veteran group, while also bringing in numerous young players hopeful to be a part of the next contending core group, there is miles of runway for these types of meetings and messages. Players like Perry and Jones, Nick Foligno and Connor Murphy, their top job this season is to make sure that players like Connor Bedard, Lukas Reichel, Kevin Korchinski, and the rest are acclimating to the professional game. Especially at the NHL level. It’s early in the season and getting players on the same page and adhering to the same message after game No. 11 is much better than having to do it after game No. 40 or later.

Jay: Wyatt Kaiser finding his game

During the Blackhawks preseason, Wyatt Kaiser was the darling of training camp. He was arguably the Hawks’ most impressive young defenseman and showed poise and ability beyond his years. Then the regular season began.

Kaiser was by no means awful to start the season, but it was clear he was struggling to adapt to the speed of the NHL game. He’d often have the puck stolen from behind as he took too long to move the puck, or he’d wait an extra tick or two too long and defenders would close in on him. An extra stickhandle here or there can make the difference between moving the puck into the offensive zone or a turnover. Kaiser’s mental clock has vastly improved.

Over the last 3-4 games, Kaiser has begun to look like the player we saw in the preseason. In fact, in Sunday’s loss to New Jersey, he was the Blackhawks’ highest rated player according to hockeystatcards.com.

Kaiser ended the game with 17:34 of ice time, one assist, two shots on goal, and two hits, all while spending the bulk of the game with Nikita Zaitsev (who has been decent in his own right). He was noticeable and has clearly gained the trust of Luke Richardson.

Greg: Arvid Söderblom Regains Form

The last time we saw Arvid Söderblom, he was torched by the Arizona Coyotes for seven goals on 22 shots. This was his second straight shaky start after he allowed five goals on 19 shots against the Vegas Golden Knights during the home opener. Normally giving up 12 goals in less than two full games is a major concern. However, Söderblom’s first two games against the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs were very good, allowing just three goals on 68 shots.

It’s because we have seen Söderblom have some flashes at the NHL level and be very good in the AHL that we get down when he has a bad stretch. We got the good version of Söderblom against the Devils. Mercer beat him with a quick shot to the short side while Nikita Zaitsev was getting boxed out in front of him for the first goal. The third New Jersey goal came on a redirect from in close, but he seemed to be cheating to his left, which left the five hole exposed.

The Willman goal was the worst of them all. Korchinski hustled back, but that was a save Soderblom needed to make. That has been the biggest difference between him and Petr Mrazek this season. Mrazek has been able to come up with the big stops more often than his younger counterpart.

The bottom line is that Soderblom had a nice bounce-back game following two rough outings. He made a season-high 36 saves and gave the Blackhawks a chance to win. You’d like to have one more big save, but this is all you can ask for on most nights.

Mario: Blackhawks need more out of their defensemen in the offensive zone

The Blackhawks blue-line is not their strong-point. While Kevin Korchinski, Alex Vlasic, and Wyatt Kaiser have been playing well as rookies, they are still very much prone to the rookie growing pains. Seth Jones and Connor Murphy are solid options as top-four defensemen in the NHL, but the all-around depth of the group is lacking at this moment in time.

What they also lack is goal production. Chicago defensemen have just one goal this season and it came on Saturday night from none other than Nikita Zaitsev.

On Sunday, I tracked the defensive shot-generation against the Devils and the period-by-period breakdown went as such:

First period: Blackhawks defensemen accounted for ten of the 23 chances created and seven of the 14 shots on goal
Second period: Blackhawks defensemen accounted for six of the 13 chances created and just three of the nine shots on goals
Third period: Blackhawks defensemen accounted for just four of the 19 chances created and three of the 11 shots on goal

After the fast start to the game, the defensive efforts to create shots dwindled.

“We just need more goals. We need to make more plays on the blue-line.” A frustrated Seth Jones said following the 4-2 loss.

Alex Vlasic led all Blackhawks tonight with six shots on goal as well as leading in chances created with six.

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