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The Chicago Blackhawks have finally gotten through their difficult start to the schedule this season and are getting to a point where every night isn’t against a Stanley Cup contender. But you wouldn’t have realized it this afternoon against the Nashville Predators in a 4-2 road loss for then Blackhawks. Former Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen got revenge on his former club with the win, and the Predators leap-frogged the Blackhawks from the bottom of the Central Division with their win.
After a good start to the first period, the Predators were able to get out to a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission with goals coming from Yakov Trenin and Gustav Nyquist. The Blackhawks were able to cut into the lead with a goal coming from Philipp Kurashev, but the Predators got back to a two-goal lead with the 3-1 goal coming from Cole Smith. Tyler Johnson got the Blackhawks back to within one-goal later in the third period, but it wasn’t enough of an effort late in the game to tie the game and Smith potted the empty-net goal to seal the game.
The Blackhawks are back in action tomorrow night back home in Chicago as they host the Buffalo Sabres.
Jay: Production Has Arrived for Philipp Kurashev
It feels like Phiipp Kurashev has been around forever. He made his NHL debut in 2020-21 and played in his 200th NHL game on Saturday in Nashville.
Over those games, we’ve seen glimpses and flashes from Kurashev, and it was clear to see what the Blackhawks saw when they drafted him in the fourth round (120th overall) in 2018. He brings a unique package of skills, speed, and board work.
Consistency had always been the knock on Kurashev, though. Despite the skills and flashes, the points were never there.
Well, it appears the production has arrived. Kurashev scored in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Nashville, and he, along with his linemates Connor Bedard and Nick Foligno, were dominant in the loss. They out-attempted Nashville 15-5 in the game at 5-on-5. They were the only line on the team that finished over 50% in shot attempts. Kurashev also finished the game as the Blackhawks’ highest-rated player (2.22), according to hockeystatcards.com‘s game score.
Since returning to the lineup after a preseason injury, Kurashev has three goals and five assists in nine games.
It’s unlikely he’ll continue his nearly point-per-game pace this season, but if he can be counted on to provide 35-45 points per season, it’s a massive win for the Blackhawks.
For all the skill they have in their system with players like Bedard and collegiate forwards Frank Nazar and Oliver Moore, the Hawks have a lot of skill without a lot of grit. That’s what makes Kurashev’s development so important. Those guys will need someone to retrieve the puck for them, and as of now, there aren’t any NHL sure-things on the horizon.
Greg: Arvid Söderblom Good, but Not Great in Net
Arvid Söderblom had high expectations heading into his full NHL season. We all thought he would lead the team in starts by the end of the season, and that still may happen, but he has not played consistently. His first two starts were very good, giving up three goals on 68 combined shots against the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. His next two starts saw him give up five goals to the Vegas Golden Knight and seven to the Arizona Coyotes. He’s only had one other start with a save percentage (SV%) over .900 and that came in a 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 5.
Söderblom’s biggest problem seems to be his confidence. We heralded at time last season about his play between the pipes. He was always compact and had very little wasted movement. The past few games, he’s been all over the crease, struggling with his rebound control, and flat-out fighting off the puck at times.
The Predators’ first goal may or may not ticked off Kevin Korchinski’s stick, but it beat Söderblom cleanly to the short side. The second and third goals were both results of his inability to absorb a rebound and cover up the puck. To make matters worse, they both came very in the first and second periods. Those are the types of goals that just kill momentum.
These are things that need to be better if he wants to remain part of the future, let alone earn more starts this season. It was not all bad for Söderblom. He made a huge stop on the shift following Kurashev’s goal, as well as a big toe save on the late second-period power play. However, they were cancelled out by his inability to keep the puck covered up. He finished with 28 saves and a .903 SV% but does not look like the confident goaltender we saw so much with the Rockford IceHogs.
Mario: Stop playing down to competition
All we keep hearing and talking about on the CHGO Blackhawks podcast regarding the level of competition the Blackhawks have faced early this season is that the quality of opponent is going to start leveling-down after facing contender after contender to begin the year. But in the three games so far this season that were supposed to be “easier” for Chicago, they are 0-3-0 and have been outscored 15-5 against Montreal, Arizona, and Nashville today.
It is so frustrating to watch this team win games over Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vegas, and Boston, some of them in convincing fashion, and then have duds against teams you have to be competitive against.
This is not a Blackhawks team that has enough talent to only play a 20 or 30-minute game and come away with a win. You have to have full-team efforts for a full 60-minute game to come away with wins, or at the very least, come away with efforts to hang your hat on. Last year’s team was arguably less-talented across the board, but their “will” and “want to” was there in 90-percent of the games. That workmanlike effort hasn’t been consistent in this year’s version of the Blackhawks and is supposed to be a staple of this team coached by Luke Richardson. We haven’t seen it yet and that team identity needs to start coming to fruition if the Blackhawks are going to be respectable. Yes, this season is still going to likely end up with a top-five or top-ten draft position, but how the team gets there still matters.
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