Did you miss them? The Chicago Blackhawks have caught fire in the month of February.
With a 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings on February 17th, the Chicago Blackhawks February record becomes 6-1-1. Rookie goaltender Kevin Lankinen collected the first shutout of his NHL career in this win, but just as important, the forward core has been lights out.
As the team that won three Stanley Cups in the previous decade, you would think the seasoned veterans like Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook or Andrew Shaw were having career-revitalizing years. Instead, we’re seeing this former dynasty dominate with rookies, injuries to most of those veterans mentioned, and of course, Patrick Kane. For a team that started 0-3-1 and headed for the basement of the league, the Chicago Blackhawks are looking like the dark horse of the Central Division.
Chicago Blackhawks Offense
With an empty-net tally in the 2-0 win over Detroit, Alex DeBrincat now has nine goals and eight assists in 14 games played. Both him and Patrick Kane are producing monster numbers, with Kane being his usual MVP-self, at seven goals and 16 assists in 18 games played. These two wingers alone account for much of Chicago’s scoring barrage this season. That’s not to mention Dylan Strome or Dominik Kubalik; they’ve been just as hot this year. However, the player between Kane and DeBrincat on the first line sums up how the year has been for the Hawks. Rather than Dylan Strome or Jonathan Toews, Chicago’s mainstays at the center position, Pius Suter has taken the reigns in the faceoff circle.
The Swiss center Suter has six goals and four assists in 10 games played thus far, and his success this year is a representation of most of the lineup. Rookie Philipp Kurashev has nine points, bottom-six forward Mattias Janmark is emerging with six goals and 10 points, and no one has been more shockingly talented as the man between the pipes for Chicago.
The powerplay of the Hawks has been their strongest asset offensively. They currently rank third in the entire league, with a solid 32.73%. Roughly one of every three powerplays nets them a goal. They also sit at a respectable 82.14% penalty killing percentage, nearly cracking the top-10 league-wide, at 12th. Chicago’s special teams have been spectacular to open the year, and most players on their special team units are rookies or new additions.
In The Pipes
Gone are the days of Corey Crawford or Antti Niemi in net; say hello to Kevin Lankinen. Crawford was the longtime starter for the past decade, but the organization moved on from him in the offseason, eventually retiring altogether. To start the season, it seemed like the Blackhawks were merely shuffling around fringe-starting goaltenders like Malcolm Subban and Colin Delia, but as soon as Lankinen took to the net, Chicago had its goalie of the future. This season he’s put up an electric 0.931 SV% and 2.29 GAA, which puts Lankinen in the pantheon of other elite goalies in the NHL. Many have put him as the front-runner for Rookie of the Year, given how crucial he’s been and going to be for Chicago.
Blackhawks Injuries and the Future
In what may be the most impressive feat the Blackhawks have pulled off this season, they’ve done this all with a host of key injuries. At the time of this article, Andrew Shaw, Jonathan Toews, Alex Nylander, Kirby Dach and Connor Murphy are all sidelined week-to-week or even long-term. Toews, the captain, doesn’t appear to be coming back in the near future, and Dach was supposed to take the next step this season to emerge as an all-star center after a successful rookie season.
So, with many key injuries in the lineup, what happens if they return by the end of the season? The combination of dynamic youth helping Chicago now and the experienced veterans that helped this team win three Cups in the 2010s makes for a sleeping giant within the Central Division. It isn’t going to be easy; the current Cup-winning Lightning are in their division, as well as the Panthers, Hurricanes, and Stars.
However, this is the team that knocked the best player in the world, Connor McDavid, and fellow Art Ross-winner Leon Draisaitl, right out of the playoffs last season. If there’s any team that flips the switch in the postseason, it’s the Blackhawks. They could even buy at the trade deadline, acquiring a stable defenseman or another top-6 forward to bolster the already-lethal scoring. If not, then it’s no big deal; the offseason is where they can get back to good health and retool for a potential run next year.
One thing is for certain, the Chicago Blackhawks have provided the blueprint for all cup-winning franchises: keep the core, get young. As a team that was projected to contend in the draft lottery, they’ve certainly proved the doubters wrong and are vying for cup-contention within the next few years if they play their cards right.