“Fifteen goals in two games, the Blackhawks are back, baby!”
Although that statement holds some truth, there’s more to the story. A more correct reaction would read:
“Fifteen goals for, two goals against in two games, the Blackhawks are back, baby!”
Sports fans tend to drool over the highlight reel scores and dominant offensive displays. However, this means quality defensive efforts are often underappreciated, and I think that’s been the case with the Blackhawks over their first two contests. Despite going up against two of the league’s top offenses, Chicago held their ground defensively.
Freezing the Penguins
Pittsburgh emerged from the 2017 campaign not only as back-to-back champions, but as the top offense in the league. They led the NHL in both goals per game, averaging 3.39, and shots on goal per game, with a 33.5 average. Corey Crawford and a renewed Hawks defense scoffed at those numbers, limiting the Pens to just 29 SOG and of course, 1 goal.
Multiple defensemen made their Blackhawks debut on Thursday, and though collectively the unit played well, a couple players stood out. Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling each registered three hits, while Brent Seabrook tallied a goal and two assists, making an impact on the opposite blue line. Here’s Murphy obliterating Pens’ star Evgeni Malkin:
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) October 6, 2017
Corey Crawford was simply wonderful, saving all 24 even strength shots. The lone Pittsburgh goal was an easy put-in off a beautiful threaded pass on the power play. Impossible to blame Crawford for that one, and difficult to blame the defense.
Straightening the Jackets
Not many of us thought the Hawks would dominate on both sides of the puck two games in a row. I mean, every team starts the season a bit rusty, right? Not the Blackhawks, as they handled Columbus easily, 5-1, in their second contest.
Victims of the schedule-makers, the Chicago defense was facing yet another top-ten offense from 2016 in the Blue Jackets. Columbus averaged 3.01 goals per game and 31.0 SOG per game, good for sixth and ninth respectively. Despite allowing a decent amount of shots, the Hawks again limited their opponent to one score.
Jan Rutta shined again, this time knocking in his first NHL goal and posting a hit and a block on the defensive side. General manager Stan Bowman knew Rutta was an offensive-minded Defenseman, and Rutta started proving that yesterday.
Rutta first NHL goal. pic.twitter.com/VDKOiH6KRo
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) October 8, 2017
In relatively short ice time, Connor Murphy led the defense with 4 hits, also reinforcing his punisher label. Forsling posted the only assist from the D-men, while earning another +3 rating night.
But again, the true star was Crawford. The 32 year-old netminder stopped 32-33 SOG for a spectacular .970 save percentage. If Crow plays even close to this level for the rest of the season, Chicago is in great shape.
Just kidding, that’s not the kind of takeaway this section is about.
Overall, the Hawks’ defense looks solid, especially for a unit consisting of four newcomers that has had to gel over the course of a few weeks. As of now, the one player who has been underwhelming is Kempny, with a comparatively low +2 rating, one penalty, and five giveaways.
Other than that, the group has excelled, participating on the offensive side while locking down their own zone. Rutta even leads the league in rating with a +7 mark. Granted, four of the next five guys are Chicago defensemen, but it’s still cool to see.
A unit that was near the league middle in both shots and goals allowed last year, the Blackhawks defense is off to a surprisingly wonderful start.