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The Chicago Blackhawks are well into a new phase of the season: looking ahead.
Their loss Monday to the Carolina Hurricanes eliminated them from playoff contention, and their 6-3 loss to the Canes on Tuesday — despite a game effort from the Hawks — cemented the fact they have plenty of work to do to continue building and reshaping the team, even with three games remaining.
The Hawks don’t need to search for or feign motivation to play out a slate that has no bearing on the playoffs.
“It’s the NHL, right?” defenseman Riley Stillman said. “Everyone’s coming for your job every day. Guys are trying to keep jobs, guys are trying to take jobs.
“It’s just something that we’re trying to do it the right way, but it’s not happening.”
Here are five takeaways.
1. Kirby Dach aggravated his wrist injury — was it wise to bring him back?
Hawks fans might have seen the last of Dach this season. The second-year center was a late scratch because of “right wrist scar tissue aggravation.” MacKenzie Entwistle replaced him.
Dach broke the wrist in December while playing for Team Canada during the IIHF World Junior championship tournament, but he beat his original recovery timeline by at least a month when he returned March 27.
He took a while to get going and acknowledged he was playing through pain in the wrist. Doubts about his wrist’s strength made it hard to trust his shot, he said, but he recorded two goals and eight assists in 18 games, including a goal and four assists over the last six.
“I don’t know exactly what the plan is going to be here for the rest of the games here,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “It’s not totally unexpected to deal with some scar tissue. But it just kind of came to a head today. We’ll see what the next few days bring.”
Earlier this season, after Dach revealed how his wrist was feeling, Colliton said the Hawks stood by the decision to let the young center play, and Colliton repeated some of those reasons behind the decision Tuesday.
“Medically there was no issue,” Colliton said. “I mean, otherwise we wouldn’t have played him. It’s a scar-tissue situation. It’s been really important for him to get into these games. He’s still a very young player and (has) a lot of growth left.
“The games that he’s played are going to help him going into next year.”
2. Alex DeBrincat added punch to the penalty kill.
The best defense is … well, you know how the rest goes.
Since the Red Wings series in Detroit in mid-April, the Hawks have been deploying DeBrincat and Dach on the penalty kill (until Dach was scratched Tuesday because of his wrist problem).
Both have been regulars on the power play, so the thought was that not only could they anticipate what the opposing power play would do, but they would make those units a bit more cautious knowing that one wrong pass or loose puck could turn into a dangerous shorthanded rush.
“Alex and I both being power-play guys,” Dach said, “we know and understand the reads of a power play and know where to cheat it and take away their outs. It works well, and obviously if we get a chance to go score, why not?
“Coaches give us the green light to do that, as long as we’re not giving up too many odd-man rushes the other way, being responsible still.”
DeBrincat finally got the green light on the Hurricanes’ first power play about six minutes into the game. He scooped up a pass from Sebastian Aho to Dougie Hamilton near the blue line, shot up the ice and scored on a breakaway. It was his first-career shorthanded goal.
“He’s done a great job, and he’s getting better and better without the puck on the PK, but his instincts to create loose pucks, and know when to jump and pressure, that’s really going to help,” Colliton said. “Nice to see him put the puck in the net, but they’ve been creating a lot of chances.
“It was only a matter of time.”
3. Collin Delia’s game was stronger than the stat sheet indicated.
That probably shouldn’t be too hard to believe given how coverage lapses and other defensive miscues contributed to the score, such as Ian Mitchell appearing to direct Dylan Strome to pick up Steven Lorentz on the left wing as Nino Niederreiter slipped behind them both for a backdoor goal or when Nikita Zadorov’s block attempt redirected Andrei Svechnikov’s shot into the net.
On a basic level, however, it’s a goalie’s job to stop the puck however it gets to the net, even when it’s friendly fire.
All things considered, you can’t ask a whole lot more than Delia’s 22 saves on 26 shots — including seven on the penalty kill — especially given he sat more than 3½ months on the shelf after two starts in January. His last start was Jan. 17, though he relieved Malcolm Subban on Monday during a 5-2 loss, stopping all 19 shots he faced.
But Delia didn’t publicly complain about not getting another start for so long.
“It’s a weird year where every team’s carrying an extra guy and it’s hard to get that guy the reps they would want to have and game action you’d want to have, especially with the roster situation,” Colliton said. “No one wants to lose their third goalie to waivers.
“Tough situation for him but in the last month or so he’s done a really good job to prepare himself for the opportunity, and he’s played well in the chances he’s gotten so far.”
4. Mike Hardman has the perfect place for his first-goal puck.
Entwistle’s shot set up Hardman for a goal in the first period. It was Hardman’s first NHL goal and Entwistle’s first point.
“It was pretty surreal, great play by Kaner on the breakout there, Macker using his speed going wide, just shooting the puck off the pad, and I was lucky to be there and tap it in,” Hardman said. “It was an awesome feeling.”
Hardman said he probably will keep the puck at his home in Hanover, Mass.
“I grew up there my whole life, I have a lot of hockey memories shooting pucks in the garage, playing mini-hockey with my friends in the basement,” he said. “I have (the puck from) my first college goal in the basement, so I’ll probably put my first NHL goal there as well.”
Colliton said Hardman plays with determination on each shift.
“We’re crying for a little more physical, straight-ahead, hard-to-play-against element to our team,” Colliton said. “We need more of that to compete with teams like this. Some size and some physicality and killer instinct to make contact and get stops and create loose pucks and do more off the forecheck. He’s taking advantage of his opportunity.”
5. The Hawks have had some amusing reactions to the TNT deal.
Last week, the NHL and Turner Sports reached a seven-year secondary-rights-deal agreement to broadcast regular-season and playoff games on TNT and TBS beginning next season. Hockey also returns to ESPN, now as the primary carrier, thanks to a seven-year deal announced in March.
The league’s 10-year partnership with NBC expires after this year’s Stanley Cup Final, so hockey will move to the cable network more associated with basketball wisecracks Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.
That has led to some observations, ranging from funny to insightful.
Brandon Hagel: “I’ve just watched hockey on the NHL app, so not too fond of those channels, to be honest. I don’t watch it back at home in Canada. I don’t know too much about it, so I’ll leave it that.”
Zadorov: “Can’t wait for Shaq breaking down our games.”
Joel Quenneville: “(Barkley) loves hockey. In Chicago, he used to love coming to our games. So (Barkley covering games) wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
Brett Connolly: “It’s good for the league and good to get some more eyes on our game, which is growing and is such a great game.”
Colliton: “NBC’s done a good job. It’s been a long relationship, but certainly ESPN has a huge platform. And TNT as well, they’ve got a lot of experience with big-time sports, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do with it. The financial side is huge for the game coming out of the pandemic.”
Here is more game coverage.
Alex DeBrincat scored twice, Mike Hardman and Mackenzie Entwistle notched their first NHL points and the Chicago Blackhawks showed a lot more fight in Tuesday night’s rematch, but they dropped their sixth straight game 6-3 to the league-leading Carolina Hurricanes.
Goalie Collin Delia also made his first start since Jan. 17. But any positives or negatives from the game were overshadowed by news that Kirby Dach was scratched because of “right wrist scar tissue aggravation.” Entwistle replaced him in the lineup.
“I don’t know what the plan’s going to be for the rest of the games,” Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. “It’s not totally unexpected to deal with some scar tissue. It just kind of came to a head today. We’ll see what the next few days bring.”
Dach returned from wrist surgery March 27 and played 18 games, but he acknowledged early last month that he was playing through pain and a lack of confidence in his wrist affected his shot.
Late last week, when asked how he felt about his game, Dach said, “Obviously with an injury it’s going to take time to get back into things and feel confident, using my body and my strength and my size.”
Dach has totaled 50 shot attempts (26 shots on goal), and his 7.7% shot percentage is about the same as last season’s rookie campaign.
The Hawks had been experimenting with having power-play specialists Dach and DeBrincat man the penalty kill since mid-April.
They hoped some of those offensive instincts would help them block shooting lanes, cut off passes, get to loose pucks and clear them. And if that led to a short-handed breakout featuring their leading goal scorer (DeBrincat) and their top center (Dach), so much the better.
Despite Dach’s absence, such a scenario finally materialized for DeBrincat in the first period. He picked off Sebastian Aho’s pass to Dougie Hamilton at the blue line and outraced everyone before sinking the short-handed solo breakaway against Petr Mrázek.
About six minutes later, Hardman scored his first NHL goal off an assist by Entwistle, which represented the first point of his career. Patrick Kane skipped the puck past Nino Niederreiter to a streaking Entwistle, whose shot bounced off Mrázek’s pad back to Hardman. Hardman roofed it through Brady Skjei’s legs to the back side.
The Hurricanes pushed back in the second period. Niederreiter tapped in Morgan Geekie’s backdoor pass. Then Hawks defenseman Nikita Zadorov tried to block Andrei Svechnikov’s shot from the high slot but inadvertently deflected it into the net.
Third-period goals by Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen gave the Hurricanes a two-goal lead before DeBrincat’s long-range blast off Kane’s backhanded drop pass made it 4-3. The Hawks pulled Delia for an extra attacker on a late power play, but Martin Nečas put in a short-handed empty-netter. Niederreiter added another empty-net goal a minute later.
Delia stopped 22 of 26 shots, including seven saves on the penalty kill. Mrázek saved 27 of 30.
“We want more,” Hawks defenseman Riley Stillman said. “We wanted to make the playoffs. Now with things out of reach, we’re building for next year. We want to win, do a lot of good things. ... We’re just going to regroup, get ready for Thursday.”