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For the second time in the last week, the Chicago Blackhawks squared off with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blackhawks drew first blood last week with a 5-3 win down in the Sunshine State behind two goals and four points from Connor Bedard. Tonight’s rematch at the United Center saw a better defensive effort from the Lightning, and their top stars stepped up in a 4-2 victory.
The new-look power play (more on that below) got the Blackhawks on the board 13 minutes into the game as Lukas Reichel redirected a Kevin Korchinski goal for his first tally of the season. The Blackhawks only had one shot on goal before Mikhail Sergachev took a boarding penalty. The visitors had an 11-5 shot advantage heading into the first intermission, but the home team had the only stat that mattered.
Brayden Point tied the game early in the second period with a power-play goal that looked very similar to Reichel’s. The Blackhawks challenged the play for being offside, and it looked like they were right, but it was deemed a good goal.
Three minutes later, Sergachev made up for his earlier penalty by scoring his first goal of the season to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.
Corey Perry came back to haunt his former team by evening up the score early in the third period. He started a 2-on-1 rush with Boris Katchouk, but his pass across was broken up. Being the savvy veteran he is, Perry went right to the side of the net, where Katchouk found him for an easy tap-in goal, his fourth on the season.
The Lightning took control of the game right after Perry scored. After multiple shifts of sustained offensive zone time, they finally cashed in when Victor Hedman scored off a fortunate bounce off the end boards. Brandon Hagel iced the game with a late empty-netter.
Jay: Petr Mrazek Continues His Solid Play
After every Blackhawks game, the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast asks our audience to select the game’s fourth star. Every time Mrazek has started the game, he’s been a candidate (if he wasn’t named one of the game’s three stars first.)
Mrazek, who entered the season with low expectations, has been the most consistent Blackhawk all season. He’s 4-4 on the year, with a 2.86 GAA and a .919 save percentage. On paper, those numbers may look a little ordinary, but when you consider how many shots per game Mrazek sees, and the inexperienced defense playing in front of him, you can’t help but be impressed.
“The confidence has been there,” Mrazek said Wednesday. “The things that [goalie coach Jimmy Waite] wanted me to work on helped me in the second half of [last] year, and the offseason as well.”
“It’s been great so far,” Mrazek said of his relationship with Waite. “I can’t say a bad thing about it. It’s been awesome.”
It can be easy to lose sight of how much a goalie coach can change a player, and how long those changes can take effect, especially when the goalie is coming off a tough stretch of seasons as Mrazek was before he came to Chicago.
Keep a close eye on how Rockford goalie Drew Commesso plays this year. If he continues to thrive in the pro-environment, perhaps the Hawks would consider moving Mrazek to a team desperate for goaltending (Edmonton?) sooner rather than later.
Greg: Lukas Reichel Cashes in on Power-Play Opportunity
One of the hottest topics of the early season has been the lack of production from Reichel, who entered tonight’s contest with two assists in 13 games. We suggested on Tuesday’s episode that a promotion to the top power play unit might be exactly what the young forward needs to get his scoring touch going.
I didn’t get the chance to ask head coach Luke Richardson if he was thinking about that move after Wednesday’s practice because he had already implemented it. He was very specific this morning on what the power play needs to do to be successful.
“We need to start moving the puck a little quicker,” he admitted. “The goal we scored in Tampa was indicative of that. It was all just speed and movement. The game is so skilled now, and even the defensive guys have good sticks, so you have to move the puck quickly. I was happy with practice yesterday, and hopefully, that translates to the game.”
The Blackhawks got their first power play chance midway through the first period, and Reichel was quick to make an impact. He used the freedom of the bumper role to find some space in the slot, where he redirected Korchinski’s shot past Jonas Johansson for his first goal of the season. You could hear his sigh of relief all the way up in the press box.
The unit only got one more chance the rest of the night and wasn’t able to produce much pressure. However, more importantly, the pressure was taken off of Reichel with his first goal. Look for that play to lead to more points for the 21-year-old forward.
Mario: Blackhawks won’t be pushed around
Sometimes when you are overpowered in a hockey game from a talent perspective, you have to try to equalize the game in other ways. Physical ways. Tonight, while the Blackhawks were getting dominated in puck possession, they weren’t going to let the Lightning push them around in any other ways. Far be it from me to advocate for “gooning it up,” but I enjoyed seeing the pushback from the team tonight, despite having to chase the majority of the game.
Following a boarding penalty on Mikhail Sergachev for a bad hit on Philipp Kurashev, the first player to confront Sergachev was Connor Bedard, ensuing in a scrum.
After Steven Stamkos skated a little too close for comfort after a save and a whistle by Petr Mrazek, Connor Murphy grabbed him and a scrum ensued.
After Connor Murphy laid a big, clean hit on Tyler Motte, Michael Eyssimont decided he would take up issue with Murphy and was promptly fed his lunch by the Blackhawks defenseman.
I’m glad to see that this Blackhawks team is not conceding that they are going to be out-matched most nights. They are going to push against their opponents any way that they can. It was a key factor last season for this team and Luke Richardson seems to be keeping that going into his second year behind the bench.
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