How Will the Blackhawks' Speed Play Against Connor McDavid's Oilers?

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How Will the Blackhawks’ Speed Play Against Connor McDavid’s Oilers?

Chicago Blackhawks

Back in July when the free agent market opened and the Blackhawks spent a few dollars to add veterans to their lineup, speed was among the attributes that was clearly prioritized. General manager Kyle Davidson and others in Chicago’s front office have said from the jump that they wanted this team to be faster and harder to play against.

So far, that goal has been accomplished. After mixing and matching lineups throughout the preseason to varying degrees of success (mostly a lack thereof), the Blackhawks put their lineup together and on the ice in Denver and have, with a few minor tweaks, been able to keep it together. And they’re defying almost every prediction with their hot start, a big part of which has come because of the speed dynamic added over the offseason.

Before the Blackhawks’ home opener, Detroit head coach Derek Lalonde talked about how much faster the Blackhawks looked as they scouted Chicago. That proved to be true as the Blackhawks came back and won a fun game against his Red Wings last Friday night.

The speed factor that was painfully missing last year is now all over the NHL roster. Playing fast and hard on the puck has become what these Blackhawks are all about. And it’s winning them games. I asked Sam Lafferty about playing fast on Thursday and his response incredibly simple.

“We definitely want to play fast, we want to skate,” Lafferty said. “When plays are there to be made, make them, if not let’s put it behind them and get to work.”

That feels like common sense. However, saying it, knowing it and actually doing it are three different things. So far this year the Blackhawks — especially Lafferty’s line with Jason Dickinson and Philipp Kurashev — have been checking all three boxes regularly. That’s why head coach Luke Richardson has started them a few times already this season.

Thursday night presents a unique challenge. The Blackhawks’ speed will line up against the ultimate measuring stick for that skill in the entire National Hockey League.

The Edmonton Oilers are probably the fastest team in the league, led by Connor McDavid — who many old time hockey guys will tell you might be the fastest player they’ve ever seen. What makes McDavid scary is he isn’t just straight line sprint speed; Viktor Stalberg could fly but it wasn’t functional speed.

It’s one thing to be fast, it’s a whole other game when you’re faster than everyone else and you can do things with the puck that very few others can even conceive, much less pull off. McDavid’s skill set is rivaled by very few, and his speed is unparalleled. He’s considered the best player in the world by almost everyone for a reason.

Functional speed is what the Blackhawks have shown this year. Tuesday night was a really good test against a team from Florida many feel will compete to win the Eastern Conference and could play for a Stanley Cup title this year. But (respectfully) Florida’s roster is full of Range Rovers. The Oilers are all Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

“We know they have a lot of big names guys in their top six who are highly offensive so I think for us staying above their speed and trying to limit their chances,” MacKenzie Entwistle told me before Thursday’s game. “[McDavid and Leon Draisaitl] are gonna get their chances — they’re the two best players in the world. And then you add [Evander] Kane and [Ryan] Nugent Hopkins. If we can stay above their speed and try to frustrate them we’ll be okay.”

My storyline to watch in tonight’s game is how well the Blackhawks skate. I’m not looking for them to “try to keep up” with the Oilers. And I’m hoping we don’t see them chasing the Oilers too much; they did that in the second period on Tuesday night and Florida spent half the period on the power play (and I don’t think Edmonton will miss as many good looks as Florida had two nights ago).

Tonight is another big early step for the Blackhawks, who are quickly forcing people to question their projections for this team.

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab