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Fleury’s Return to Vegas, Reichel’s Big Night, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

Chicago Blackhawks

The way that Marc-André Fleury came to Chicago from the Vegas Golden Knights was surprising and confusing many different ways. The way that Vegas basically gave Fleury away for free, and how the trade nearly made Fleury consider retiring rather than play in another city and have to move his family again made it seem like the Blackhawks would be gambling with their trade with Vegas. Luckily, it’s worked for them in the form of a 37-year-old Fleury, playing as well as you could ask him to behind this kind of Blackhawks team.

Now on game two of a three-game roadtrip, the Blackhawks and Golden Knights are set to face each other in Vegas and mark the first time that Fleury will be back facing his former club, with whom he went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018 and won the 2021 Vezina.

•   For Fleury, it stands to be a night of mixed emotions.

•   And he’ll be the starter, even if Derek King was “unsure” about playing Fleury tonight or not.

•   Fleury’s former teammates are excited to see him come back too. Hopefully the mid-game “Thank You” video won’t be too distracting for Fleury in his return.

•   The Blackhawks Are looking to snap a six-game losing streak tonight, having gone 0-3-3 since December 17. They have also allowed 21 goals in their last four games since the start of 2022.

•   Fleury had a slow start to the season, but after the head coaching change on November 6, had a resurgence in Chicago. But over his last three starts, Fleury is 0-1-2 with a .865 save-percentage and has allowed 12 goals.

•   But the current woes of the Blackhawks don’t fall squarely on the shoulders of those in net. Even with a rotation of Fleury, Lankinen, Delia, and Söderblom over the last six games. Chicago is averaging just 2.33 goals per game since December 17 (28th in the NHL), while  allowing 4.67 goals per game over that same span of time.

•   The Blackhawks find themselves with an 11-18-5 record, seventh in the Central Division, 11 points outside of the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference, with 48 games remaining this season. The glimmer of hope they had to crawl out from the bottom of the NHL and maybe get themselves into a playoff chase is pretty much flamed-out. So where do they go next?

•   What is stopping the organization from starting from scratch?

•   Stan Bowman is gone. They are not contending. They are no longer selling-out the United Center. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s trade value will likely only go down from here. There probably isn’t a better time to blow it up and start anew than right now.

•   The process of selling has started in Chicago with the trade of Alex Nylander for Sam Lafferty. While it makes little sense that a team devoid of offense like the Blackhawks wouldn’t have given Nylander, an offensive playmaker, one more shot in the NHL, there is a little more to it than meets the eye when it comes to the ways of interim GM Kyle Davidson. Mark Lazerus of The Athletic has more on that deal and what it signals for the Blackhawks ahead.

•   If Davidson isn’t going to be loyal to Bowman re-treads and reclamation projects, that doesn’t bode well for the likes of Dylan Strome and Henrik Borgström if they were hoping to stay in Chicago longer than this season.

•   But, speaking of re-treads, the Rockford IceHogs brought back Brandon Pirri on a PTO deal yesterday. The AHL club’s all-time leader in points, Pirri has been a free agent all season but comes back to Rockford to help their depleted roster.

•   With Pirri back, he jumped right into the lineup last night for Rockford as they took on the Chicago Wolves. It was the first game of 2022 for the IceHogs and their first since December 21. Rookie Lukas Reichel seemed to be itching to get back on the ice after being on COVID protocol just a few weeks ago.

•   It was a huge night for the IceHogs and for Reichel. He tallied two goals and two assists as one of six players to record a multi-point game in the 8-0 win last night.

•   Of course Brandon Pirri got on the scoresheet in his first game back with Rockford, registering an assist on the 7-0 goal.

•   Not to be overshadowed, but in his return to the net with the IceHogs, Collin Delia registered his fifth career AHL shutout with a 30-save performance. The win also snapped the Wolves’ nine-game winning streak. You can find the full highlights from last night’s game here.

•   The IceHogs are back in action tonight, taking on the Milwaukee Admirals. Rockford sits in fourth-place on points-percentage (.520) and a 12-11-2 record.

•   Reichel leads the IceHogs with ten goals and 18 points this season in 19 games. He’s in the top-ten of active AHL rookies for points and is eighth in active AHL rookies with a 0.95 points per game pace. For a Blackhawks team devoid of offensive options, if they truly believe the season is not lost, Reichel should be going to the NHL roster.

•   Plus with the possibility of players like Strome, Borgström, and Kubalík being traded this season, it really only feels like a matter of time before the 2020 first-round pick is in Chicago anyway.

•   Other prospect news, Michael Krutil is leaving the IceHogs to play for the Växjö lakers in the SHL for the remainder of this season.

•   Krutil joins fellow Blackhawks prospect Victor Stjernborg with Växjö, but Stjernborg has been injured for most of this season.

•   Today, the Hockey Diversity Alliance launched a new ad campaign along with Budweiser Canada to shine light on the fight against racism in hockey. Just a warning, the ad, as it also says, contains language that could be triggering to some.

•   With current NHLers Matthew Dumba, Nazem Kadri, Wayne Simmonds, and Anthony Duclair, along with Akim Aliu, you’ll notice that none of them have any of their NHL garb around them. That is because the league wanted nothing to do with the Hockey Diversity Alliance or the campaign.

•  But I thought “Hockey is for Everyone?” This is completely predictable from the NHL, always behind the times, always late to the party, always doing the bare minimum. But even in this case, the bare minimum wasn’t achieved.

•   And clearly the problem of racism in hockey is not only experienced by NHL players. It’s experienced from the professional ranks all the way to the Junior and youth levels.

•   There is so much work to be done to make the sport, as great as it is, an environment for EVERYONE to thrive in.

•   Speaking of, ESPN’s Kristen Shilton brings this story to light of Canadian Hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser working to create more women-specific hockey equipment for the next generation of players.

•   It’s incredible that in 2022, women’s hockey players are still forced to make-do playing with all equipment that is geared towards men’s players.

•   It would be awesome to one day see hockey sticks and other equipment modeled after top women’s players like Wickenheiser, Kendall Coyne-Schofield, Hilary Knight, and Marie-Philip Poulin.

•   I just can’t get over this story from former Bears center Olin Kreutz about being offered $15 an hour to be a team consultant.

•   This would seem like a crazy story, but these are the Bears, after all.

•   That will do it for today. Hope you all enjoy your Saturday!

•   We will see you later, way later, tonight for Blackhawks-Golden Knights at 9:00 p.m. CT.



Author: Mario Tirabassi

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