Hoo boy where do we begin after this weekend? Maybe the Blackhawks’ best period of the season and then hang on to win against the Panthers and then back to the quick-goal-let-it-slip-away script against the Devils (without Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier). A good win followed by a disappointment. The Blackhawks have been consistently inconsistent this season, and it isn’t about young guys making rookie mistakes. It’s everyone being inconsistent, which is why the Blackhawks held a players-only meeting after the game to clear the air and make sure everyone is skating in the same direction. Which is great because this team has potential and they know it.
Which brings me to my Monday morning beef. Maybe we’ll make that a thing? Seth Jones talked after the game last night. He had previously talked after only two games: in Denver and in Arizona, both flat losses at the end of trips. Last night he spoke to the media first and initiated the conversation about the meeting that took place. Jones mentioned there are little things they need to clean up, like shift length and staying on too long. That’s something head coach Luke Richardson spoke about after the game as well. According to Natural Stat Trick, Jones is one of the biggest culprits of the extended shift issue. He leads the team with 10 “extra long shifts” (tied with Kevin Korchinski — his partner recently). And his performances in both games this weekend were not good (see his GameScore card from last night — UGLY).
I fully acknowledge that he leads the team in ice time and is expected to play a heavy role on the blue line. But there have been a number of instances this season where his effort has eft a lot to be desired, and I’ve been advocating for him to be replaced by Korchinski on the top power play unit for 10 of the Blackhawks’ 11 games. Korchinski is the better offensive player at this point, and Jones has been incredibly valuable on the penalty kill. So let him continue excelling there while you fully hand the keys of the power play to Korchinski and Connor Bedard for the next 10-15 years.
Okay (steps off soap box) let’s move on…
After a tough start to the season, I feel like Wyatt Kaiser really rebounded incredibly well this weekend and probably played his best two games back-to-back. That’s the guy we loved watching at the end of last season when he jumped from Minnesota-Duluth to the NHL. Give me more of that please!
Which is a reminder that Korchinski (11), Kaiser (20) and Alex Vlasic (30) have 61 combined NHL games of experience. Half of your blue line are effectively playing their rookie seasons right now (though Vlasic isn’t technically considered a rookie). That is why the guys skating with them — especially Jones — doing their jobs so important. Effort and commitment to structure are critical with the vets because the young guys are going to make mistakes. And, frankly, I think Vlasic has been the most consistently error-free defenseman on the roster this season.
One more thing on the players’ meeting (then I’m done, promise): the guys who were brought in this season — Corey Perry, Nick Foligno — care and are invested in this team. It sticks out like a redwood in a cornfield after watching last year’s “when will I be traded” vibe in the room — these guys are trying to build something. Respectfully, we never heard Max Domi talk about “this being a brotherhood” the way Perry did last night. He knew he was in it for a trade and chance to get paid after the one-year deal. So he was invested to the extent that he should have been: play well, get moved, get paid. Foligno and Perry are LEADING.
After the game I asked Richardson what he’s thought of Andreas Athanasiou since moving him back to the center on Lukas Reichel‘s line. He had a nice night in the faceoff circle last night (won 8 of 14 faceoffs) and had an assist on Ryan Donato‘s goal. But he only skated 12:35 — which was more than only Donato and MacKenzie Entwistle. Richardson said they want to see more from AA. The consistency in effort and attack still isn’t there. His struggles further complicate the move of Reichel to the wing because the Blackhawks need centers who can skate heavier minutes to help take some of the load off Bedard.
I thought Reichel was good last night. But he needs someone on his line coming along for the ride.
A few prospect nuggets from a good weekend. Earlier this morning I broke out this week’s three stars from the college ranks. Frank Nazar and Oliver Moore are doing their thing despite their respective teams getting swept by Wisconsin on consecutive weekends.
Antti Saarela scored his first goal in the AHL on Sunday. I absolutely love the firsts we’re seeing because the flood of talent is coming to Chicago soon.
Speaking of which, Martin Misiak stayed hot for Erie with another goal on Sunday.
Finally, shout out to the Cubs for making history last night. For the first time in their long history, three players won a Gold Glove Award for their performances this season. Now re-sign Cody Bellinger, grab a couple arms and go for it!