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In a 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, in front of one of the smallest crowds at the United Center since the beginning of November, the Blackhawks looked disjointed on the ice and didn’t have the drive to even come close to keeping up with the Stars. It took until the third period, when the Blackhawks were already down 3-0 and only had 10 shots on goal, for the team to start having some bite. But it wasn’t enough.
The Chicago Blackhawks are a point in the season, and have been for some time now, where if the team was packing it in and just crossing the days off until the season finale, no one would blame them. Give credit to Luke Richardson for continuing to get the most out of the is Blackhawks lineup on most nights and not allowing for the team to be looking for the exit doors. But it feels like that time has run out.
Goals coming from Seguin, Miller, Pavelski, and Glendening for the Stars tonight, with Tyler Johnson finally breaking his slump and getting the lone goal for the Blackhawks tonight.
On the Tyler Johnson goal, Blackhawks rookie Wyatt Kaiser earned his first career NHL point with a secondary assist, so good for him.
Also would be remiss if I didn’t mention Alex Stalock’s night in goal, which ultimately came to an early end after being run over by Luke Glendening on the 4-0 goal, not getting any call from the refs and then letting them know about his displeasure for the remainder of the game before being tossed with just over three minutes to play in regulation.
Oh, and Connor Murphy beat up Ty Dellandrea. So that was that.
Greg’s Hit: Max Domi Makes His Return to Chicago
General manager Kyle Davidson’s big free agency splash last July was signing forwards Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou to identical one-year, $3 million contracts. When these moves were announced, we all figured both players were signed to be dealt for assets at the trade deadline. We were half right.
Athanasiou has shown flashes of being a dynamic player but hasn’t played with the consistency you want to see. That’s a major reason why he’s played for four teams the last four seasons. Domi, on the other hand, flourished in the expanded role he got with the Blackhawks. In 60 games, he scored 18 goals and 49 points while proving he can be a full-time centerman. He won a career-high 53.7% of his faceoffs during his time in Chicago.
The last time the Stars were in this building, Domi was held out of the game because he was in the process of being traded to them. By the time the Stars were on their flight back to Dallas, the trade was official.
Domi was very popular during his time here, both in the locker room and with the fans. So much so that his return to Chicago this summer doesn’t seem as unlikely as you may think. He has played the best hockey of his career while playing for Luke Richardson as either an assistant or head coach and admittedly fell in love with the city.
Dallas head coach Pete DeBoer put Domi in the starting lineup against his former team, and he got a bit of a cheer from the United Center faithful when his name was announced. Late in the first period, he used his speed to split the defense, but Alex Stalock kept his shot out of the net.
Later in the frame, Domi picked up the secondary assist on Miller’s power-play goal. It was his 19th power-play point of the season and his first with Dallas. In his 12 since the trade, he had a goal and five points with the Stars.
Jay’s Hit: Alex Vlasic impresses in season debut
After playing 15 games with the Blackhawks at the end of the 2021-22 season, defenseman Alex Vlasic seemed like a shoo-in to make the 2022-23 roster, but when the season began, he found himself down in Rockford. As shocking as it was at the moment, in the context of GM Kyle Davidson’s commitment to development and to patience with prospects, it made a lot of sense.
“He’s had a really solid year down [in Rockford]. He’s done what we’ve asked him to do,” Luke Richardson said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “He’s progressed to be a top defenseman down there and worked on some things that he probably wouldn’t be able to work on up here at the NHL level. I think it’s worked out well. We’ll give him some games and some time at the NHL level to see where his progression has got for us to see and also for him to see and feel.”
When asked specifically what the Blackhawks wanted Vlasic to focus on in Rockford, Richardson had a specific answer, as he usually does. “Moving the puck out of the d-zone. Trying to get him to play more [aggressively]…against the top line players and be hard to play against. He’s done a really good job with that this year. He’s going to be a big defenseman with a big reach…a shutdown type of guy. Just [the chance] to be ‘The Guy’ in all the important situations down there this year was really important for him to go through the process all year…not being up and down…up here…in and out of the lineup. He stayed with it, with a good mindset.”
During the game, Vlasic, who was paired with Connor Murphy, made a number of impressive plays. Three moments in the first period stand out. Behind the Stars net, he used his reach to take a scoring chance away, then in his own zone, Vlasic won a puck from forward Evgenii Dadanov and calmly took the puck out of danger. Later at his own blue line, he took Dallas superstar Jason Robertson off the puck chance with a beautiful poke check. All these moments happened within the first ten minutes of the game.
Vlasic had another nice play during Stars powerplay at the end of the period. He forced Wyatt Johnson into the corner, lifting his stick, then stealing and clearing the puck.
During the second intermission of the Blackhawks’ WGN Radio broadcast, analyst Troy Murray was praising Vlasic’s game. “I see a different guy this year,” Murray said. He was impressed by Vlasic’s skating, edgework and reach. At 6-6, reach is one advantage Vlasic will have over most of his opponents, and he’s honed his stickwork over the season in Rockford.
Murray also mentioned how, even at the age of 21, Vlasic took Lukas Reichel under his wing this season, teaching him to cook and adjust to life in Rockford.
Regardless of how much time Vlasic will spend in the NHL this season, he’s a keeper.
Mario’s Hit: End of the road for Jonathan Toews?
If Jonathan Toews returns to the ice before the end of this season, it’s my belief it’ll be the last time he plays in the NHL.
On Tuesday morning, Toews returned to practice with the Blackhawks after missing nearly two months of action after pulling himself from the active roster due to his health complications from Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and Long-COVID. Toews has been working out on his own away from the ice in his time away and has been skating again in recent days, returning to team activities on Tuesday. It is encouraging to see Toews getting back on the ice, since that likely means he is feeling healthy enough to once again play NHL games. But following morning skate, Toews spoke to the media and the tone was less optimistic.
“It’s definitely on my mind that these could be my last few weeks in Chicago as a Blackhawk,” Toews said when asked about the process of returning to the ice. Whether it truly is his last few weeks as a Blackhawk or not, hearing Toews describe what he’s been going through physically and mentally this season and likely last season as well was tough to hear. The professional hockey life he had grown accustomed to hasn’t been his reality. Fewer outings with teammates, less enjoyment on and off the ice, more pain and frustrations physically, it doesn’t sound like anything any hockey player or professional athlete in any sport would want to go through.
Far be it from me to pass any diagnosis on anyone, I’m no doctor, but Toews visibly looks different and his demeanor hasn’t been what we’ve been used to experiencing from the Captain. I can only imagine the mental and physical battles he’s been going through just to play hockey over the past nearly three years. From Toews’ words, it seems like he is seriously mulling-over the potential that not only is his time in Chicago coming to and end, but likely so is his time in the NHL.
Would it be weird to see Toews play elsewhere? Yes, of course. Would it be sadder to see him be even more of a shell of himself next season in Chicago? Absolutely. You also have to ask, what team would invest in Toews next season knowing what his physical limitations are now at this point in his career? Would a team want to have Toews playing a third-line role and in the hunt for the postseason, only to have him have to step away from the game again next spring to recover from the toll that the season had taken on his body? From my perspective, I don’t think there’s going to be a big market for him and that’s unfortunate.
My hope for Toews is that he is listening to his body and by what he said on Tuesday, I think he is listening and realizing the harsh reality that is in front of him: it’s over.
No professional athlete ever wants to have retirement handed to them. Every player wants to go out on their own terms. Unfortunately for Toews, it does not seem like that is going to be the case. It seems his body is going to tell him that he is done well before his heart and mind would have made the decision.
If this is the end for Toews in Chicago and the NHL, he’s clearly going to push himself to be able to play in the final few games for the Blackhawks. Even if just for the final game of the season on April 13 agains the Flyers. Toews wants to have a proper ending to his time in Chicago and no one should blame him. Guys like Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford and so on never had the proper “goodbye” to their time in Chicago or the NHL. Toews deserves that.
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