The Chicago Blackhawks are in “Must-Win” mode.
Of course, I said that on Thursday and what happened? They did not win. They looked bad against a bad team. Luckily for them, the Nashville Predators also lost, so they did not lose ground in the Central Division playoff race as far as points go, but their opportunities are narrowing. Chicago has 12 games remaining this season with nine of them coming against teams that are in the top four playoff spots in the Central Division. Tonight they take on the Detroit Red Wings for the final time this season, and after the 4-1 embarrassment on Thursday, they MUST WIN tonight.
• Chicago comes into tonight with a 5-2-0 record against Detroit, but also having dropped two of their last three meetings. Moreover, the Red Wings were coming into Thursday’s game without key players like Anthony Mantha, Jon Merrill, Robby Fabbri, and Bobby Ryan. However, it didn’t matter much, especially when newly acquired forward and assumed team points leader Jakub Vrana is scoring breakaway goals in his debut game.
• The Blackhawks’ special teams play needs to be on point as they head down the stretch of the season. Now is the worst time for their once league-leading powerplay to fizzle-out. Over their last ten games, the man-advantage has just three powerplay goals on 31 chances (9.7%) and ranks 25th in the NHL since March 27th.
• Over the same ten game stretch of the season since March 27th, the Blackhawks have the fewest number of times being short-handed (11) in the league, but the 26th-ranked penalty-kill at just 72.7%.
• It’s not helpful that two players who are keys to the powerplay and penalty-kill are both currently unavailable for the Blackhawks as Adam Boqvist (concussion) and Calvin de Haan (hip) are sidelined. Boqvist is a key-figure on the Blackhawks powerplay this season, usually running the top unit. He has eight powerplay points this season, leading all defensemen, and is one of the teams best players at drawing penalties against him. Boqvist ranks tied for third on the team with 11 penalties drawn this season and ranks fourth with a +5 in net penalties.
• A defensive-minded stalwart for the Blackhawks this season, de Haan’s absence means that Nikita Zadorov is forced into playing more minutes for Chicago and that’s not a great thing. He led all defensemen in minutes on Thursday with 21:24 played in the 4-1 loss. A healthy de Haan will take minutes away from Zadorov and rookie Wyatt Kalynuk, and that can only be a good thing at this point in the season.
• Speaking of Zadorov, Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times had a great piece on the 25-year-old defenseman’s future with the Blackhawks. With the addition of Riley Stillman, a player who plays a similar style to Zadorov, the clock is ticking on the soon-to-be restricted free agent to prove he can be a top-four regular defenseman for the Blackhawks.
• Although it appears that may not be in too much jeopardy…
Bowman says he expects to sign Zadorov after this season.
"He had a slower start, new team and new system to play. He got going though and he and Murph were one of our best pairs at times this season. He has an opportunity to reset his game now"@ESPNHockeyShow #Blackhawks
— Mario Tirabassi (@Mario_Tirabassi) April 17, 2021
• Changing gears to the Eastern Conference and the Buffalo Sabres. Freshly traded away from Buffalo, Taylor Hall matched his goal total for the season in three games with the Boston Bruins, scoring last night against the Islanders.
Taylor Hall this season:
with Buffalo – 2 goals in 37 GP
with Boston – 2 goals in 3 GP pic.twitter.com/Wfkose9wfJ
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 17, 2021
• It appears that Hall wasn’t exactly the problem in Buffalo.
• While the Sabres did make some roster and coaching staff changes, a lot of work still needs to be done to give a thriving hockey market the team it deserves. Interim head coach Don Granato, a former assistant coach with the Blackhawks, is already doing a great job trying to turn things around within the organization. Check out The Athletic’s John Vogl on why Granato might be the right person for the job long-term.
Don Granato is winning.
He’s winning games. He’s winning interviews. He’s winning over fans.
The Sabres' interim coach is the anti-Krueger, and he's just getting started.https://t.co/p5BI72X5Zx
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) April 16, 2021
• Buffalo is consistently one of the biggest TV markets in the NHL as far as ratings go. Every year for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, even when their team is not in it, Buffalo is tuning in. Maybe it’s partly due to their proximity to Canada, but nonetheless, the market deserves a competitive team.
• Granato may or may not be the right person for the Sabres job, time will tell, but just from this answer alone about the LGBTQ+ community within the hockey world, he seems like a coach who can have an impact on the culture of the team and sport.
I asked Don Granato to step away from just hockey talk for a moment to talk about the Sabres support from the LGBTQ+ community ahead of tomorrow's Pride Game against the Penguins.
— Julianne Pelusi (@JuliannePelusi) April 16, 2021
• The league needs more of this from prominent figures.
• Unfortunately for Buffalo, the immediate reality is that they are likely going to see their non-existent playoff hopes be dashed away in the next couple of hours.
The Sabres can become the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention today.
If Buffalo take 0 points from their game, they're out.
If Buffalo take 1 point from their game while the Rangers take 2 points in any fashion from their game vs N.J, then Buffalo are out.
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 17, 2021
• Also not fighting for a playoff spot are the Vancouver Canucks.
• Dealing with the recovery from a severe COVID-19 outbreak, the Canucks are getting their players back on the ice at a pace that is better than the original idea from the league. Their games from this weekend were pushed back and the season extended as far as it could be before the postseason needed to begin for the all-Canadian North Division. They have a new schedule, and somehow it looks just as bad or worse than before…
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) April 16, 2021
• Instead of 19 games in 31 days, it’ll be 19 games in 32 days. Yay.
• After the words from J.T. Miller and the discussions with the league and NHLPA, I’m still baffled that the league is still pushing for them to go through this hellish schedule and finish the season while most players are still dealing with the longer-term effects of the COVID variant that spread through the team.
"My wife tested positive as well," says Horvat. "It hit her a little harder than it hit me and it's going to take some time. She's starting to get through it now, and that's the last thing I was worried about at that point was getting on the ice and playing hockey." #Canucks
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) April 16, 2021
• Why do we have such a hard time seeing the human-side of sports and the logistics behind them?
"What do you say to those that say it's just the flu"
Bo Horvat: *laughs* "It's not… It's not something you want to get.." #Canucks
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) April 16, 2021
• Good luck and good health to the Canucks as they finish the season. The NHL really needs to look at this and learn how not to respond to major team impairments like this ever again.
• Ugh, I’m in a bad mood. I need a palate cleanser.
This is Simba and Cooper. They’re finally fully vaccinated. Hugging for the first time in over a year. Both 14/10 heartwarming as h*ck pic.twitter.com/rm8KUne0tp
— WeRateDogs® (@dog_rates) April 15, 2021
• That’ll do. Have yourselves a Saturday! We’ll see you tonight for Blackhawks and Red Wings at 6:00 p.m. CT…DE-TROIT SUCKS!