The Blackhawks went into the 2020-21 season prioritizing the development of their younger players and were very clear about it after sending a letter to their fans in October. But that didn't mean they were deprioritizing winning hockey games.
The Blackhawks were projected to finish near the bottom of the standings this season by many experts and their goal was to prove those critics wrong.
"A lot of people are doubting us this year," Dylan Strome said before the season. "It would be nice to turn it around and kind of quiet some people up."
Whether they truly believed they could is a different story, but the Blackhawks are doing just that in the early going.
Since dropping three straight games in regulation by a combined score of 15-5 to open the season, the Blackhawks have picked up at least a point in seven of eight games and did so again in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday at the United Center.
The bad news is, the Blackhawks have four overtime/shootout losses over those last eight games and have left some valuable points on the table. The good news? They're not leaving empty-handed in a season that has only 56 games on the schedule.
"It's frustrating," said Strome, who was happy with the point but disappointed the Blackhawks couldn't get the second. "Four overtime and shootout losses now, those are valuable points even at this point of the season with a short schedule. I feel like our record could be better than indicated, but we've got to find a way to come out on top. It was nice to get a point."
Kevin Lankinen has been a big reason for the team's success, but the Blackhawks deserve credit for battling as a group. It would've been so easy to feel sorry for themselves after going into the season without Kirby Dach, Alex Nylander, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews and then losing five more players because of COVID-19-related situations but they refuse to let those absences creep into their psyche.
The Blackhawks trailed 2-0 and 3-2 against a Hurricanes team that's as good as any in the league at possessing the puck but they found a way to force overtime and come away with a point. That shouldn't go unnoticed.
If the Blackhawks don't make the playoffs this season, that's fine. But building a culture centered around competing hard no matter who's out of the lineup and who the opponent is will turn them back into one down the road and that's what the Blackhawks are doing right now.