Jeremy Colliton

Blackhawks 2018-19 midseason grades: Coaching

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks 2018-19 midseason grades: Coaching

After three Stanley Cups and 10-plus seasons with the Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville was relieved of his head coaching duties on Nov. 6, 2018 that signaled the end of an era nobody in Chicago will ever forget. 

As his replacement, the Blackhawks handed the keys to 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton, who had no previous coaching experience in the NHL but had been a head coach in Sweden for four years and then again for the Rockford IceHogs for a year. 

Colliton's top priority when he took over the team was to fix a power play that had been near the basement in the NHL. It took some time and patience, but it has turned into a lethal weapon for the Blackhawks.

Since Dec. 18, no team has been better on the power play than the Blackhawks, who are 19-for-48 for a conversion rate of 39.6 percent. It ranks eighth overall at 23.3 percent since he took over on Nov. 6. He can check that box off.

The penalty kill, on the other hand, remains a work in progress. It ranks dead-last this season at 74.1 percent and hasn't gotten any better under Colliton. 

At 5-on-5, the Blackhawks have a minus-18 goal differential since he took over, which ranks 28th. That's certainly an area they need to improve in also.

The one thing that hasn't been a problem this season is the Blackhawks' compete level. They've been in a bunch of close games, but don't have the personnel to get over the hump because they're relying too heavily on their top guns.

They're bought in to what Colliton is selling and have adjusted to the adjustments in the system he has installed. But the head coach isn't satisfied with where they're at, and that's what ultimately matters.

"I would like to be better," Colliton said. "I think I can do better and I will do better. We're not where we want to be. Told the guys a few times, as a staff, we're going to be relentless in trying to improve because we want to be at the top of the league, not where we are."

Grade: B

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Blue line finding consistency with Murphy and Dahlstrom

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USA TODAY

Blue line finding consistency with Murphy and Dahlstrom

Hearing a pair of young defensemen say they “take pride in defending hard” and “being reliable defensively” must be music to the ears of Jeremy Colliton.

But it strikes a much nicer chord when the play of those defensemen on the ice matches the words coming out of their mouths.

Those words came from Connor Murphy and Carl Dalhstrom, the Blackhawks most consistent defensive pairing of late.

“Him and Murphy have done a great job playing hard minutes against really good players,” said Colliton. “I view it as a huge positive - the progression they’ve shown. I think they’re a big part of why we’ve been getting a lot more points lately.”

Murphy returned early in December after missing an extended period of time due to a back injury, while Dahlstrom missed making the team out of camp and later was recalled from Rockford. They’ve been paired together since Dahlstrom made his season debut on December 12th against the Penguins and there is no doubt that their consistency has paid dividends on the Blackhawks blue line.

“Connor is a great guy and an even better player. I really like playing with him,” said Dahlstrom. “I think both of our type of games really suit each other, really trying to break up plays early.”

As a team, the Blackhawks allowed 3.7 goals per game in their first 30 contests of the season. Since Murphy’s return, they have allowed 3.44 goals per game as a team. A lot of it has to do with better defensive play all around, as the team gets settled in with Colliton’s new systems. But Murphy and Dahlstrom have played a big part. In 16 games, Murphy has a +8 rating while Dahlstrom owns a +5 in his 14 games.

“It’s nice to take pride in playing defensive roles. I think I’ve had good chemistry with Dahlstrom and playing against some good forwards,” said Murphy after the Winter Classic. “We just take pride in defending hard.”

And while they may not be putting up the offensive stats like fellow defenseman Eric Gustafsson has been, Colliton has noticed their play on both ends of the ice.

“They’re competing hard, they’re winning battles, they’re willing to be physical, they get us out of [the] d-zone, and then those are the times you can potentially create offense,” said the 33-year old head coach. “That’s a huge benefit to our team.”

For Dahlstrom, getting a taste of the NHL last season helped him boost his confidence, knowing he can hang with the game’s best. Dahlstrom spent a majority of last season in Rockford under Colliton, and that familiarity has helped his transition this season as well.

“I know what he wants from me, what the whole coaching staff wants from me,” said Dahlstrom. “It’s nice to get the trust from the coaches to play against the top lines.”

Dahlstrom even went as far as claiming that he has an even greater comfort level in the NHL than he did playing in the AHL with the IceHogs.

“I don’t know why I seem to find a better level up here,” said Dahlstrom. “Obviously the players up here are better, and you’re playing with better players, but you’re also playing against better players. Really just focusing on defense and being reliable defensively might be a big key from me.”

And the Murphy-Dahlstrom pairing has been a big key in steadying the Blackhawks blue line…just like everyone predicted.

For Blackhawks, it’s not how you start… well, actually it is

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USA TODAY

For Blackhawks, it’s not how you start… well, actually it is

Forget the old sports cliché it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.  In the NHL this season, the team that scores first goes on to win 65% of the time. It’s even more daunting for the team that wears the Indian Head sweater. The Hawks opponents have won 88% of the time when they score first this season.

The Blackhawks latest slide has seen them playing from behind almost all of the time. They have allowed the game’s first goal in seven straight and have gone on to lose six of those contests. Not only are they giving up the first goal, it’s usually coming in the opening minutes. Over the last seven games, the Hawks have allowed 5 opening game goals in 2 minutes and 11 seconds or less.

Back in the cup winning years, it wasn’t uncommon to see a couple slow starts each week. But, somewhere,  in the second or third period, the Blackhawks would find their game, flip the switch, and end up with two points. Those days are gone. This team doesn’t have the offensive firepower to rally from two or three goal deficits like they used to.

“It comes down simply to not being ready to play, that’s the biggest thing.” Patrick Kane said. “You’ve seen in the past several games, we are down and it’s tough to comeback in this league,  teams can “D” it up pretty good.”  “It all comes down to being ready to play and making sure we are dictating the pace right away, instead of waiting around feeling out the game.”

The Hawks hit the road this week for back-to-back games against Anaheim and Vegas. This will be the second meeting against these two Pacific teams. As you may have guessed, the club that scored first went on to win the initial meeting.

Brandon Saad scored a power play goal five minutes into their game against Anaheim in October, which led to a Hawks 3-1 win at the United Center. While the Golden Knights scored two minutes into their game against the Hawks last week and went on to win 8-3. 

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