One Timers: Domi the Defender, Tank Losses, Kurashev, Toews, More

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One Timers: Domi the Defender, Tank Losses, Kurashev, Toews, More

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have played a competitive, tough, and generally entertaining brand of hockey through the first nine games of the season. And frankly, it’s been fun to watch. It’s kept the fans engaged in the infancy of the rebuild, and it’s doing wonders for the way the rest of the NHL sees the new-look Blackhawks.

It’s also creating a need for some clarity for some.

Tank Losses

There’s been some recent discussion among Blackhawks fans about the concept of tanking, particularly in these two instances:

  1. “The players aren’t tanking”
  2. “I hate tanking teams”

To the latter, I don’t know what to tell you. I, too, prefer watching a winning product, and if you read any of my work on the baseball side of things here, you’ll know that I’ve been an enormous supporter of teams like the Padres and Phillies, teams that have gone for it this season, and in general, I believe that they’re perfect examples of why going for it is almost always a good idea.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and in this case, the Chicago Blackhawks were a team at rock bottom a year ago. Hiring Kyle Davidson was a step in the right direction. His front office hires have followed suit, and the hire of Luke Richardson and his coaching staff has been nothing short of a home run. So much so, that it’s made the Blackhawks competitive out of the gate with a roster built to lose, and now people are having mixed emotions. I get it. It’s completely understandable to feel that way.

It’s important to remember that the bottom will fall out on this over-achieving start when Davidson begins to trade away the top-end talent on the roster. That’s still happening, don’t be confused on that front. If Davidson has proven anything in his short tenure here, it’s that he has a clear vision and he’s committed to building that from the studs. Winning early isn’t changing that, so I would recommend just enjoying it in the moment.

However, the competitive start is good for a few reasons. It’s enjoyable for the fans and keeps them engaged with the team and wanting more. It’s also good for the market value of the players that Davidson will be shipping off to continue to build out his war chest of draft picks and prospects. This is all good, and we should enjoy it for as long as it lasts while understanding the bigger-picture plan.

Everyone hated Stan Bowman for not picking a direction, and now that Kyle Davidson has chosen a direction and is committed to it, people are upset that it’s not the direction they want at the moment. We’ve got a cake in front of us and an appetite to eat it right now, but we know that’s not how it works. At least when it’s done right.

As for the former, the players aren’t tanking. Hell, no one is tanking. These guys are playing their tails off, Luke Richardson is coaching his tail off, and Kyle Davidson has never once even suggested in a public space that he wants them to do anything other than that.

But the reality for those that do not work at 1901 W. Madison St. is that losing competitively — however you want to term it — is the most streamlined path to the Blackhawks bearing the fruits of their labor.

Toews 2.0

Jonathan Toews scored his fifth goal of the season last night, which is awesome to see. The last few years have been rough for the captain, but he’s finally looking like a player on the other side of his physical and mental health issues.

Toews had 12 goals in 71 games last season; he’s on pace to match that mark near the 25ish-game spot right now. Extrapolated over 71 games, that’s about 40 goals. Expecting Toews to play 71 games this season seems fair, but expecting him to score at .5 goals per game contest probably isn’t realistic. If he can stay healthy all season and play a few more games than he did last season, he might be able to flirt with his 2018-19 season when he scored 35 goals.

Toews is also just three assists away from becoming the eighth Blackhawks player to reach the 500-assist club, but he’s okay with waiting for that achievement if it means he keeps on scoring goals and, more importantly, if the Blackhawks keep playing this brand of hockey.

Kurashev Coming Along

Philipp Kurashev assisted Toews on the captain’s second-period goal last night with an excellent net-front pass, notching his sixth point in nine games and putting him on pace for 55 points this season.

Kurashev has been the common theme between the Blackhawks top two performing lines this season. First, the line including him, Sam Lafferty, and Jason Dickinson, and now the second line with Toews and Taylor Raddysh.

When Ben Pope of the Sun-Times pointed out that fact to Luke Richardson last night, Richardson jokingly replied that that might be the new analytic theme for the Blackhawks; just plug and play Kurashev.

‘‘[Kurashev is] pretty much a complete player,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘He can go in on a more defensive line, like the Dickinson line, and he can go on a Toews line. They’ve created quite a bit the last few games.

‘‘We just want to keep building him up. We’ll show him a few things he can add individually; but he’s a smart guy and seems to take it all in and implement it into his game. He seems really confident, which is great to see.’’

Indeed, it is great to see the new mission statement in the Blackhawks dressing room positively impacting a young player who seemed destined to be on the outside looking in after a disappointing last season.

Jonathan Toews says that he has seen the skill in Kurashev in the last few years despite the numbers not following it, and putting it all together was a matter of time and circumstance.

‘‘We’ve seen over these last few years the level of skill [Kurashev] has at moments,’’ Toews said. ‘‘The biggest thing to become a top player, an elite player, when you have that kind of skill [is] . . . consistency.

‘‘He’s really finding that groove for himself. [He’s] also finding that competitive streak where he’s getting in there, he’s digging out pucks, he’s getting physical, and the plays develop from there. When he has empty space, he can make plays and is able to finish them off, too.’’

Domi the Defender

When Tyson Jost delivered a hit to Patrick Kane along the boards last night, Max Domi raced to his aid and gave Jost a message: don’t mess with 88.

For years, Patrick Kane and other Blackhawks skill players have been without that type of teammate, one that refuses to allow opponents to bully their stars. Not while Max Domi here, and he got the blessing of his head coach after last night’s game:

“We’ll never say anything about anybody defending a teammate, sticking up for a teammate or taking an aggressive penalty in our game plan for the game,” Richardson said. “If somebody takes an undisciplined penalty for no reason because they’re sucking out and can’t take it, that’s something we can’t afford to have here.

“We’ll kill off the ones that are looking after our own or saving a goal or diving, trip or something on a breakaway. Like something we have to do, we’ll definitely kill those off. The ones that hurt you are the ones that are undisciplined and unnecessary.”

Fun with Numbers

Check this out:

  • GF/GP: 3.44 (8th)
  • PP%: 27.6 (6th)
  • FOW%: (1st)

If you had the Blackhawks leading the NHL in face-off wins and the top eight in scoring and power play scores on your 2022-23 Hawks bingo card, you’re lying. Here’s what those categories looked like at the end of the 2021-22 season:

  • GF/GP: 2.60 (29th)
  • PP%: 19.2 (21st)
  • FOW%: 49.6 (16th)

Small sample size, indeed, but it’s a pleasant early-season occurrence nonetheless.

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Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is a Staff Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.