Eleven games into the season, the Chicago Blackhawks’ rebuild is right where it needs to be. Though they lost Saturday at St. Louis 7-4, the Blackhawks sit at 6-3-2 in the Central Division and are fifth in the Western Conference.
Last year, Chicago finished 33-39-10 and out of the playoffs.
It hasn’t been smooth, but the team’s GPS continues to take the team toward the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Big Three
Offensively, it starts with gifted Patrick Kane. The slender, 29-year-old center has 17 points (11G, 6A) in 11 games, a points-per-game average of 1.54 that is a career best.
Add Jonathan Toews, another center who came into the league about the same time as Kane. Toews, 30, leads the Hawks in hockey’s best metric (the plus-minus rating) with a plus 6 and he’s scored 11 points on six goals and five assists.
Kane and Toews won Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
The bust-out star is Alex DeBrincat, all of 20 years old, who has 14 points on eight goals and six assists. He’s on a wing with Toews, and there is no better player than Toews to tutor DeBrincat on the art of professional puck. DeBrincat is 5-feet, 7-inches and weighs 165 pounds. His size might have spooked other clubs who passed him over 38 times in the 2016 NHL draft. Blackhawks management saw a player who shoots quick, skates well and plays bigger than he is. They saw right.
The Next Four
The core of the team is composed of four players with seven points each. Centers Artem Anisimov (2G, 5A) Nick Schmaltz (1-6), right wing Dominik Kahun (1-6) and defensemen Henri Jokiharju (0-7). Anizimov is 30, the other three players are in their early 20s.
Kane, DeBrincat and Toews are going to score. If Anisimov, Schmaltz and Kahun can contribute offensively and bring top efforts to the defensive side of their games, the Hawks have a good chance to get into the playoffs and make a run.
It Starts With Defense
Drafted defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith made the big club in 2005-06 and know the thrill of winning three Stanley Cups in this decade. Both are off to good starts. Keith is a plus 4 and has scored a half-dozen points. Seabrook is playing with Brandon Manning, formerly of the Flyers who wears the Chicago colors for the first time. To date, Seabrook found the back of the net once with five helpers. Keith is paired with Jokharju (cover photo), who is off to an impressive start in his rookie year.
Chicago has experience in net in Corey Crawford (2.44 GAA, .919 save percentage) and Cam Ward (4.25, 88.5). Crawford missed most of last season with a concussion, but he appears to have recovered five appearances into the 2018-19 season. The Hawks have to play better in front of Ward; they’ve surrendered 23 goals in five games with Ward in net. Ward’s career save percentage is 91, so that part of his game should improve as the season grinds on.
The 4th Line
Center Marcus Kruger continues to be the ultimate team guy who brings everything he has to every shift. Kruger is at plus 3 and has scored twice. John Haden lines up to the right of Kruger and Chris Kunitz plays left wing. Haden, 23, has scored once and has a future. Kunitz (minus 5) is on his sixth team. While Kunitz has won four Stanley Cups during his career (Anaheim ’07, Pittsburgh in ’09, ’16 and ’17), this is likely the last NHL stop for the 39-year-old wing.
The Blackhawks will live in the Western Division in their next four games. They entertain Edmonton tonight, then travel to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary for three games in four nights.
- St. Louis, which had won two of eight games, scored three times in the final five minutes to ice the Hawks 7-4 Saturday.
- The Blackhawks are 3rd in the league in goals scored and 29th in goals allowed.
- Chicago head coach Joel Quennville’s career mark with the Blackhawks is 452-246, or 63 percent.
- Following their next four games, the Blackhawks have four days off before hosting Carolina on Thursday, Nov. 8.
Cover Photo by Bill Boyce of the Associated Press
Roger Dier covers the Chicago Blackhawks for Full Press Coverage. Follow Roger on Twitter @rogerdier.
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