The Colorado Avalanche, even without star center Nathan MacKinnon in the lineup, made it abundantly clear that they’re in a different league than the Blackhawks on Wednesday night, when they blew the doors off the building almost right out of the gate. I mean, seriously, it looked like the Avs might score 15 goals the way they were playing in the first 10-12 minutes of that game. The Blackhawks looked befuddled in the early going, but thankfully, they smoothed things out a bit thereafter and avoid a historical beatdown in Denver.
With that said, although the game ended in a 4-2 final, it wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. That game was a total victory for Colorado. There were bright spots, but there’s much more work to be done by this group moving forward. Thankfully the New Jersey Devils, whom they’ll visit tomorrow, are a step down in class from the Avs and possibly a much-needed palate cleanse for the Blackhawks. But before we start looking ahead to New Jersey, let’s discuss some observations from Wednesday night’s loss to Colorado.
Kirby Dach Shines
Kirby Dach was easily the most impressive player on the ice for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. Despite Dach not delivering on two prime scoring opportunities in the second period, he played very well. Much better than you’d think if you only took Dach’s word for it.
“Yeah, it sucks,” Dach said after Wednesday’s loss. “If I score those it might be a different game. That’s on me. It’s been a problem of mine for the past couple of years, you guys ask me about it quite a lot, so I’ve got to figure something out and maybe start scoring goals.”
Despite not burying either of those chances, Dach spent 18:59 on the ice, second to only Alex DeBrincat in ice time among the forwards, got off five shots, and even logged a hit. Dach was smooth and confident in a game that looked pretty clunky for the Blackhawks as a whole, which is an excellent sight to see for the third-year forward.
Remember, between the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season and the injury-shortened 2020-21 season; it’s easy to forget that Dach just played his 83rd NHL game last night. Nevertheless, Jeremy Colliton was very complimentary of Dach’s efforts on Wednesday night after the game.
“He started great, he was excellent all game, he was involved, he created a lot,” Colliton said. “He didn’t score, but I don’t think it was poor attempts — they didn’t go in. I know he wants to make a difference for the team and part of that’s producing, but I thought he played well.”
Bumpy Debut for Seth Jones
Seth Jones is here for the next eight years at the hefty price tag of $76 million. So, it would be nice if we didn’t have to spend those years screaming about this deal becoming an albatross. Unfortunately, Jones did not put our collective mind at ease last night. It was a bumpy debut for the new top-line defenseman in Denver.
Let’s look at a few numbers from when Jones was on the ice in five-on-five play, all of which were advantage Colorado.
- Shots: 32-15
- Shots on Goal: 18-10
- Scoring Chances: 23-4
Look, Seth Jones is not a bad player. He’s not even close to this bad. Jones played a team-high 28:19, and we saw him start to get more comfortable throughout the night, eliminating some of the early miscommunications and mental errors. So I wouldn’t place too much stock in the bumpy debut. He’s going to be okay. Will he live up to his contract? Who knows. But don’t think that he doesn’t understand the expectations that it creates.
“I think there’s expectation, of course.” Jones said before Wednesday’s game. “There’s expectation in all sports no matter what position you’re in. I obviously put a lot of expectation on myself as well. Whatever the fans, the organization or the media is putting on me, I’m putting just as much or even more.”
Don’t Blame The Flower
There’s plenty of places to sprinkle blame for the underwhelming performance, but Marc-Andrê Fleury isn’t one of those places. Fleury ended up saving 32-of-36 shots on goal against the Avalanche on Wednesday night, but let’s be serious about those first three goals; they were squarely on the defensive unit.
Also, how could you have any angst towards someone so thankful to others? Fleury had to take some time to thank his crossbar last night, after all, it was more helpful than his defenders in front of him most of the night.
A mic'd up Marc-Andre Fleury thanking his post is beautiful. pic.twitter.com/366WX0qnlg
— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) October 14, 2021
Righting Some Wrongs
Of the silver linings available to us from last night, the Blackhawks looking good on the penalty kill and faceoffs are two that stick out to me. Last season, the Blackhawks were 28th in the NHL on the penalty kill, killing off just 76.8 percent of their opponent’s opportunities on the man advantage. Last night, the Blackhawks were a perfect 4-for-4, at least as far as the stat sheet goes. If we’re honest, there were some lucky breaks for the Blackhawks on at least two of those Colorado power plays, but we’ll worry more about that when we have more of a sample size to work with this season.
The Blackhawks were even worse in the faceoffs department last season, winning 46.3 percent of the time, good for 29th in the NHL. The Hawks took 56.4 percent of the faceoffs from Colorado, mainly due to the return of Jonathan Toews, who won 16 of his 24 faceoff chances and 16 or the Blackhawks 31 total faceoff wins.
Nothing Cooking Upfront
At one point in the third period, I thought that the Blackhawks had gotten a few excellent looks at Darcy Kuemper on the night that they just failed to get past him. I counted at least four off the top of my head, including the two Dach chances in the second period, an early DeBrincat shot on Kuemper upfront, and then a solid opportunity for Kane shortly before I came to this thought.
Off the top of my head, there's been at least four really good looks at Kuemper tonight (77 x2, 88, 12) that the Hawks just haven't been able to bury. To think, after that first 10 minutes looked, if half of those went Chicago’s way, we’d have a game on our hands.
— Patrick K. Flowers (@PatrickKFlowers) October 14, 2021
Then, I looked at the shot chart, only to realize that those four shots were the only good shots that the Blackhawks had against Kuemper.
— Patrick K. Flowers (@PatrickKFlowers) October 14, 2021
That’s just not going to do it. Not against the Avalanche, and quite frankly, not against most teams. Only three of those four shots on goal upfront were considered high danger chances. The Blackhawks failed to generate any scoring chances or pressure on Colorado in front of the net in five-on-five action.
FINAL: Avalanche 4, #Blackhawks 2
Shot attempts: 70-61 COL
Shots on goal: 36-34 COL
5-on-5 scoring chances: 33-15 COL
5-on-5 high danger chances: 10-3 COL pic.twitter.com/9b2IuR1eC4
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) October 14, 2021
Toews is Back
Jonathan Toews played in his first meaningful hockey game in well over a year on Wednesday night, but it sure didn’t look like it. Toews didn’t log a point in the loss, but he did what he does well, well. The Captain won 16-of-24 faceoffs (66.7%) and logged 17:15 of ice time.
Toews didn’t speak to the media after the game, which I would guess was a pre-planned thing. The questions will be mainly about workload, and he probably doesn’t care to talk about that right now. But, to be fair, it makes sense to at least give the guy a night to sleep and see how his body reacts the next day before even inquiring on that topic, so I’m not too worked up about Toews not talking last night. Honestly, I’m just glad that he’s back.