What Did I Learn From the Blackhawks' 4-Game Homestand?

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What Did I Learn From the Blackhawks’ 4-Game Homestand?

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks wrapped their season-opening four-game homestand with a hard fought loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night.

Despite everyone outside the room telling the Blackhawks they’re supposed to be bad this year, the players on the roster really, truly don’t give a damn. Neither do the coaches. They’re going to do their jobs and play as hard as they can every night, and they’re absolutely buying into what head coach Luke Richardson is selling. Which is tremendously encouraging.

But the reality is still that the Blackhawks are in a rebuild. And their goal is to build organizational depth and add enough talent that the Chicago Blackhawks can get back to the mountain top and stay there again.

So after the current team won three of their first four at the United Center, what did we learn about this team? Here are some of my big takeaways from the past week of hockey.

  • Since the start of the summer when he was introduced as the new head coach, Richardson has told us he wants a team that will play hard and play fast. In the Blackhawks’ wins against Detroit, Seattle and Florida they did precisely that. Before the Hawks hosted the Oilers, I wondered how their speed game would play against the standard in that area.
  • The answer to that question is… well, pretty good I guess. It’s pretty hard to get a clean read on how the Blackhawks might have competed against the Oilers had the game been more “normal” because of the overwhelming amount of special teams play, but the Blackhawks definitely skated with them. They just didn’t quite finish the deal. Richardson talked about learning how to be closers after the game.
  • What the Blackhawks did do really well was piss off the Oilers skaters. From the mid-point of the first period, the Blackhawks relentless attack was clearly annoying Edmonton and they easily lost their composure (Evander Kane has a history of doing that).
  • What the Blackhawks lacked was the top-end skill necessary to beat a team loaded with elite talent like the Oilers. But let’s take a step back and appreciate that the Oilers needed a goal from Leon Draisaitl (a former MVP) with under 40 seconds left in regulation to escape with a win. The Blackhawks — with a roster full of castaways and unknowns surrounding Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews — competed to the end against a team some feel could win the Western Conference this year. What that tells me is the coaching staff is doing a great job and these guys have the will to win. They want it. And I appreciate that.
  • Over the past 15-plus years we’ve all watched as Kane and Toews elevated their games against the best competition time and time again. On Thursday night, 19 and 88 dusted one off and gave us a virtuoso performance. Toews was physical and a dog on the puck. Kane was electric, making plays and scoring a big-time game-tying goal late in regulation. If you want to doubt that they have anything left to give, go ahead. The evidence we’ve seen early this season is to the contrary.
  • Lots of people were more than happy to tell Toews he was washed up over the summer. They told him to ask for a trade to make room for someone else. They wanted him to retire. Well, I am sorry to tell those folks that 19 is back. He’s engaged, active, physical and — most importantly — having fun and healthy.
  • Alex Stalock is fun to watch. He wanders away from the blue paint to play the puck, he chirps at guys, he’s playful and active. He handles the puck really well and loves to take chances. There will be times he might make you want to scream, but he’s putting it all out there every night. This is a second — maybe third — chance at being an NHL netminder for him and he’s relishing the opportunity. His enthusiasm for the game embodies what makes this team likeable.
  • Finally, my biggest takeaway from this homestand to start the new season is a big one. These Blackhawks aren’t scared of anyone or anything. They stared down the Florida Panthers, did everything they could to give the game away with bad penalties in the second period, and still found a way to win. Two nights later, the Oilers arrived with their high-powered offense and the Hawks went toe-to-toe with them. Lots of teams that are told they aren’t very good allow good teams to walk all over them. They’re quick to back away from the table when the stakes are raised. That isn’t these Blackhawks.

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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