Blackhawks

Alex DeBrincat has played well all year, but now the goals are coming and that's good for the Blackhawks

Alex DeBrincat has played well all year, but now the goals are coming and that's good for the Blackhawks

Alex DeBrincat was coming off a great individual weekend, four points (including three goals) through two games that went in very different directions for the Blackhawks. And DeBrincat’s focus was more on the latter than on his own numbers.

“It’s nice to have. I mean, the first game (vs. Carolina) was a pretty big win for us and we had a good start to the second game (vs. New Jersey) but we kind of fell apart there,” he said. “It just would’ve been better if we had won both games, but it’s kind of a good start for me to keep moving from.”

Let’s be clear: DeBrincat has played well pretty much from the start. There’s a reason he made this team out of camp and even if he’s not scoring points, he’s shown a good all-around game that the Blackhawks have liked. Points, nevertheless, are always encouraging.

“Well, we’ve been encouraged every single day we’ve seen him this year. Out of camp, (the questions were) could he handle the pace, the size, the strength, the intelligence of different players? How he could play without the puck and defensively, was he strong enough to overcome that part of his game? On both sides of the puck he gives us great instincts, play recognition,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “The fact he’s starting to score a little bit more gives us an added sniper. But he does a lot of good things, not just scoring. He compliments your team game.”

Usually going on a scoring tear means moving up in the lineup, but for now DeBrincat remains on the Blackhawks’ third line — he skated there Tuesday with Patrick Sharp and Tommy Wingels. He and Sharp have worked together a good amount this season, so there’s familiarity there. Sharp’s been impressed with what he’s seen from DeBrincat from the start and said DeBrincat’s recent scoring burst should boost his confidence.

“Being a guy who’s scored in streaks and bunches, as well, I know what it feels like to get a couple. I think it started a week or two ago with those empty-net goals. They all mean the same at the end of the day; makes you hold your head up a little higher, feel good about yourself,” Sharp said. “You can see his confidence with the puck. He’s going to the dangerous areas, and guys that he’s playing with, they’re starting to find him now. He’s a good goal scorer, we knew that, and it seems like he’s hitting his stride right now.”

DeBrincat started this season on the right, went back to his more familiar left and has bounced back to the right. Doesn’t seem to matter anymore which side he plays, outside of one thing.

“It’s a matter of remembering what side you’re on to get back in the zone,” DeBrincat said with a laugh. “No, it doesn’t really matter. I think it’s pretty easy for me to change around. I’ve played every position, so it’s not too bad.”

The Blackhawks already knew what they had in DeBrincat. Still, racking up some points for a team that — outside of Sunday — has struggled to do so bodes well for the Blackhawks’ team game and his individual confidence.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

11-22_nhl-matchup_hawks-at-lightning_blank.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?