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Three 'Hawks Hits: Stalock solid, aggressive PK & a trio of Johnsons

Greg Boysen Avatar
October 2, 2022

After beating the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 in the Motor City Wednesday night, their old rivals returned the favor by shutting them out 3-0 at the United Center on Saturday. The offense couldn’t get anything going while their goaltender kept them alive for 40 minutes. Eventually, failed breakouts got the best of them as the Red Wings scored a trio of goals in the third period to take home a victory. It wasn’t all gloom and doom, as three things stood out from the preseason defeat.

Stalock Shines for Two Periods

Alex Stalock’s debut was a rough outing against the St. Louis Blue last Tuesday. He entered mid-way through the game with the score deadlocked at 1-1. He allowed three goals in the third period and finished with a .750 save percentage (SV%). Not the foot he wanted to start his tenure in Chicago on.

The 35-year-old netminder was given the entire game on Saturday to work off the rust and took full advantage of it. He was fantastic in the second period, stopping all 18 shots he faced. His best effort came late in the frame when he moved from his left to right and used his pad to stop Red Wings prospect Jonatan Berggren from lighting the lamp.

Stalock’s shutout bid ended early in the third period. Budding superstar Lucas Raymond made an excellent play to fight off a defender before finding Jakub Vrana open in the right circle for a one-timer goal. A failed breakout led to Dylan Larkin being left alone in front of Stalock for Detroit’s second goal. Raymond beat him with a snap shot late in the period, one he should have stopped.

“He played great,” head coach Luke Richardson said. “He was just lights out in the second period. He gave us a chance, and, unfortunately, we wasted so much energy in the D-zone because of turnovers that we didn’t have any pop for ourselves in the third. He hasn’t played a lot in the last year, so I’m sure that was a confidence builder.

Aggressive New Look on PK

There have been plenty of noticeable changes under Richardson than in the past couple of seasons. First, the team looks much more controlled and calmer in the defensive zone. Nobody is chasing players up the blue line anymore. Everyone knows where they are supposed to be and what their responsibilities are.

The penalty kill is implementing a new philosophy too. It is much more aggressive and is applying greater pressure to the puck carrier than what we have seen in years past. The norm across the NHL has seen power-play units use the drop pass to allow for an easier entry into the zone. The Blackhawks are looking to take away that option and make crossing the blue line a difficult task.

The Blackhawks had four successful kills on the night. The new aggressive look was noticeable on the first two kills, but Detroit had more sustained zone time during the last one. Stalock was the biggest reason the Red Wings were kept off the board on their third power-play chance. The fourth kill came late in the game when Detroit was already up by three goals, and they did not apply significant pressure.

On the first kill, Isaak Phillips made a nice read to intercept a pass just inside the zone and quickly move it out. Josiah Slavin then used his forechecking to keep the puck down at the other end of the ice for a few moments. Slavin’s work on the penalty kill will be his greatest asset at the NHL level and could keep him here for a long time. Reese Johnson also showed his aggressiveness by pressuring the puck through the neutral zone instead of playing back on his heels, waiting for the play to come to him.

“I thought it was great,” Richardson said of the penalty kill. “It was very aggressive. I thought we did a great job up ice and in the zone. It wasn’t perfect, but when you can put them on the run. Skill players don’t like to be under pressure; they like to have full control on the power play. They like to zip it around, and we’re not going to sit back and let them do that.”

Richardson has preached playing with more structure while providing pressure on defense. The team is buying into this philosophy, and the penalty kill has benefitted.

All the Johnsons

For the first time this season, all three Johnsons were in the lineup simultaneously: forwards Reese and Tyler and defenseman Jack. Richardson admitted that he still hasn’t figured out what to call them when the trio is all together.

“I’ve got it confused,” the first-year head coach said with a smile. “When I yell ‘Johnson,’ a couple of heads turn. I have to figure out the nicknames. I have to get on that.”

Reese is expected to bring energy to the bottom six of the lineup with his physical style of play. Tyler and Jack are here to provide leadership and build a winning culture, as they have been a part of the last three Stanley Cup championship teams. Richardson is happy to have Tyler on his bench and in his locker room these days.

“He’s very vocal,” he said of the veteran forward. “He’s helpful on the ice in practice with the players and coaches. He helps us get a beat on whether things are being understood properly. He’s got a great personality; he’s smiling, he’s fun. I used to hate coaching against him because he was a guy that brought energy to the other team, and that’s what he’s going to for us this year.”

Tyler played on the “first line” with Jonathan Toews and Taylor Raddysh. After taking two penalties in the first period, he finished with two shots on goal and was on the ice for one goal against. Reese was effective on the penalty kill and provided some jam in front of both nights. He left the ice during the third period, but Richardson said he was fine after the game.

Jack played nearly 22 minutes in his preseason debut. He finished his night with a shot on goal, one blocked shot, and two hits while being on the ice for two goals against.

“It was nice to get out there and try to make some plays under pressure and shake a little of the rust off,” the veteran blueliner said.

The Blackhawks will be in Milwaukee Sunday night to the Minnesota Wild in their final “home” game of the regular season. Expect to see the likes of Patrick Kane, Seth Jones, and Petr Mrazek in front of the sellout crowd in Beer City.

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