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Shootout Specialists, Canucks and Flyers Make Major Changes, Lehner Opts-Out, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

Chicago Blackhawks

The late-Al Davis used to say, “Just win baby!” That’s how it has felt for the Chicago Blackhawks lately.

They have eight wins in their last 12 games, going 8-4-0 over the stretch of time since Derek King took over as interim head coach. They’ve found an identity and it was on display last night against the New York Islanders, a team that had now won a game in their last ten outings. Chicago got out to 1-0 and 2-1 leads and seemingly decided, “that’s good” and packed it in and put the game on Marc-André Fleury’s shoulders to carry the weight. It didn’t work for a regulation win, but through overtime and the shootout, Fleury did enough and Patrick Kane found the shootout winner. It was the second shootout win in three games for the Blackhawks and their fifth win out of their last eight that needed overtime or the shootout.

While wins are wins are wins in the regular season, if the Blackhawks want to get to the postseason and have success, they’ll have to start winning more convincingly and more often in regulation.

•   Good news for the Blackhawks: the powerplay has scored twice in their last three games.

•   Brandon Hagel comes away with the goal on the powerplay, his eighth of the season, after having the puck bounce in off of him. This is the kind of goal that Kirby Dach or Jonathan Toews could use. Get to the front of the net and maybe one goes in off your foot or shin or arm or you get a favorable rebound. For goal-hungry players, Hagel’s positioning is where you want to be.

•   Speaking of being goal-hungry, Dylan Strome was in the right place at the right time for his second goal of the season last night.

•   The more players busting goal-slumps, the better. Strome had not scored in six games and had just three points heading into last night’s contest. That one should be a confidence booster for him.

•   Who else would you rather have in the shootout than Patrick Kane and Marc-André Fleury?

•   Fleury made all three saves in the shootout to help the Blackhawks get the win last night. He also made 22-of-24 saves on his way to getting his seventh win of the season and sixth in his last eight starts.

•   Last night was also win No. 499 of Fleury’s career. His next win will get him into the exclusive 500-win club, joining fellow Quebec-native goaltenders Patrick Roy (551) and Martin Brodeur (691). Fun fact: the four-winningest goalies in NHL history (Brodeur, Roy, Fleury, and Roberto Luongo) are all from Quebec. Former Blackhawk goalie Ed Belfour is fifth all-time (484), from Manitoba.

•   In the shootout this season, Fleury has made eight saves on eight shootout shots against him. He is the only NHL goalie to play more than one shootout game this season and make every save.

•   Needless to say, the belt went to Fleury last night.

https://twitter.com/NHLBlackhawks/status/1467709777086230529?s=20

•   The 2021 Vezina winner has a 6-2-0 record and a .944 save-percentage over his last eight starts since November 9, which is the third-best save-percentage in the league among the 32 goalies to start at least six games over that span.

•   Fleury, along with backup goalie Kevin Lankinen, have been getting help from their defense in front of them since Derek King took over. It wasn’t instant, but shots against the Blackhawks have gone down per game since November 6 when the team made their coaching change. Under Jeremy Colliton to begin the season, the Blackhawks allowed 32.4 shot against per game, 19th in the league. Under Derek King since November 6, that number has dropped to 30.3 per game, 11th in the league.

•   Over their last six games, the Blackhawks have allowed just 28.2 shots per game, which is the second-fewest in the league since November 23.

•   It may not be pretty, especially with so many top players going through scoring struggles, but the Blackhawks have a plan and identity that they can stick with to win games.

•   Maybe it’s the new identity, maybe it’s the suit. We may never know.

•   While the changes within the Blackhawks organization may have been forced in some aspects, the changes have been for the better and the results have followed in Chicago. It seems to have opened the floodgates to the league making more front office and coaching decisions at this point in the year.

•   For instance, late last night the Vancouver Canucks made major changes to their coaching staff and front office.

•   Most notably, General Manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green have been fired. Bruce Boudreau and Scott Walker now lead the coaching staff with a number of front office members shifting their roles.

•   Benning and Green are out in Vancouver and so are head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant coach Michel Therrien with the Philadelphia Flyers this morning.

•   So much change in a span of 12 hours or so.

•   While the Blackhawks have said that they will not make any coaching changes or decisions until after the season is over, more teams looking for head coaches in the NHL does not bode well for them in the long-run. While Derek King has done a great job in the interim to replace Jeremy Colliton, it will take longer than this first 12-game stretch to sell me that King is the long-term solution behind the Blackhawks bench. Teams like the Flyers and Panthers could potentially be looking for long-term coaches to fill their vacancies along with the Blackhawks. Not to mention there could be changes coming to the Canadiens coaching staff this season as well.

•   In former Blackhawks news, Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner has become the first high-profile player to opt-out of going to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

•   Lehner was likely going to be selected to Team Sweden, but citing his mental health and the conditions in which the players going to the Olympics would be subjected to, he decided staying put would be best. This is to say, if the NHL still sends players to the Olympics amid growing concerns regarding COVID in the league and globally.

•   Another Swede and former Blackhawk, Adam Boqvist is doing just fine in his new role with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

•   Boqvist is averaging 16:25 minutes per game in a primarily third-pairing role and getting time on the powerplay. He has six goals and nine points this season, which would lead all Blackhawks defensemen in goals and be second behind Seth Jones in points this season. Just pointing that out.

•   Speaking of Jones, he and his brother Caleb were able to have their Dad, former NBA player and Denver Nuggets assistant coach Popeye Jones, in Madison Square Garden on Saturday night to watch them play together against the Rangers. Tonight, with the Nuggets in town to face the Bulls, it’ll be the Jones boys in the stands to watch Dad work.

•   Pretty cool moment for the Jones family.

•   Speaking of the Bulls, you should be watching them.

•   That will do it for today. Hope you have a great Monday ahead of you!



Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.