Was Sunday Night a Defining Performance From Sam Lafferty?

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Sam Lafferty’s Unassuming Value Was on Full Display Last Night … Good Timing

Chicago Blackhawks

On Sunday night, the headlines were easy. The stories wrote themselves. Patrick Kane dusted off the throwback machine and dominated offensively. Max Domi piled up four points. And Cole Guttman scored his first career NHL goal.

But another Blackhawks skater had one of his more impressive performances last night, even if most of the box score didn’t feel “special.”

On the surface, one shot on net, one blocked shot, and one hit doesn’t look like a lot. Winning five of 14 faceoffs isn’t exceptional by any means. But watching Sam Lafferty skate last night was impressive. And it might have been the showcase performance that makes him a must-have for a few contenders before the trade deadline.

After two periods on Sunday night, I noticed Lafferty had skated almost four minutes more than Domi, the team’s top line center. When the final horn sounded, Lafferty had been on the ice for 19:41 — by far his biggest ice time of the season.

In fact, before January, Lafferty had gone over 17 minutes in only three games. Since the start of the new calendar year, he’s skated better than 17 minutes seven times now. He’s gone over 18 minutes three times this season — including the last two games.

Lafferty skated 18:28 and scored a short-handed goal in Ottawa. His speed was apparent the entire night. But that’s been the case all year. What made Sunday more impressive was his assignment for the night.

Auston Matthews.

After the Blackhawks’ 5-3 win over Toronto on Sunday night, Luke Richardson spoke about why Lafferty’s ice time was so high. And the confidence he has in a guy who, on paper, is his fourth-line center continues to grow almost as quickly as Lafferty’s game has on the ice.

“We wanted to match him up against Matthews,” Richardson said. “[Lafferty’s] big and can skate so that’s what Matthews does as well as anybody or better than anybody in the league. I thought Lafferty did a great job. He was physical on him. Skated tight to him. He was heavy on him in the faceoff circle which is more of a battle for Matthews… Lafferty’s been gaining confidence the last 2-3 weeks, month. This is the perfect challenge for him against a really good team with really good players and he did the job tonight.”

And did he ever handle the assignment. Yeah, Matthews was credited with five shots on net and won 10 of 15 faceoffs in the game, but he was also minus-two in 17:14.

You might notice that Lafferty’s ice time exceeded Matthews’ by more than two minutes. A big part of that was Lafferty stepping into a newly-opened spot on the power play with Jonathan Toews missing from the lineup. Lafferty skated 3:27 on the power play — a role that hasn’t been his calling card this year. He’s been more of a penalty killing specialist.

With half of the league represented in the scout seats in the press box on Sunday night, Lafferty delivered a stellar performance. We’ll see if it was good enough to earn him a role on a contender down the stretch — and the Blackhawks a significant return — or if he’s playing himself into a more important role here in Chicago.

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