Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat

Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

Hawks 3 Up, 3 Down: DeBrincat Shining, Ward Awful

Alex DeBrincat is on his way to joining some elite company.

Jay Zawaski
January 16, 2019 - 11:04 am
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(670 The Score) Despite an embarrassing 8-5 loss to the Devils on Monday, the Blackhawks have actually been playing some competitive hockey against good teams. Score host Matt Spiegel is fond of the phrase "tank win," referring to a bad team showing signs of growth and competing but ultimately falling short of victory as it goes through a rebuilding phase. The benefit of the tank win is that despite a solid performance, the team’s draft lottery chances keep improving. Before Monday, the Hawks had played well in the five games since the loss to the Bruins in the Winter Classic. They beat the Penguins, lost to the Flames and also took the Golden Knights, Predators and the Islanders to overtime before losing each time.

Here’s a look at the good and the bad of the Blackhawks' recent stretch.

THREE UP

Rising Kane -- Patrick Kane is absolutely on fire. He has been the leading reason the Blackhawks have been competitive over the last month or so. He has multiple points in five straight games, totaling 13 points in that span. He has 21 points in his last 10 games. Kane is a threat to score every time he’s on the ice, and he’s on the ice a lot (more on that later).

Top cat -- It’s a shame most of the city hasn’t noticed Alex DeBrincat’s meteoric rise to stardom. A 21-year-old sniper, DeBrincat already has 23 goals this season after recording 28 in the entire 2017-'18 campaign.

Satchel Price of the Sun-Times shared some incredible stats after DeBrincat scored his 20th goal of the year.

Only 30 players in the last 20 years have scored as many goal as DeBrincat in their first two seasons. There are still 37 games left. Among those 30, here are the 13 who scored more goals per game: Alex Ovechkin, Patrik Laine, Austin Matthews, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Ilya Kovalchuk, Thomas Vanek, Dany Heatley, Jonathan Toews, Taylor Hall, Artemi Panarin and Rick Nash. Of those 30 players, only eight scored more goals per 60 minutes: Petr Prucha, Vanek, Matthews, Laine, Kovalchuk, Stamkos, Malkin and Ovechkin.

That's elite company, and the arrow is only pointed up for DeBrincat.

Real Delia -- After Corey Crawford went down with another concussion on Dec. 16, many assumed Cam Ward would carry the load in goal. Then Collin Delia had his say. First, he had 35 saves in a win against the Avalanche in which he allowed just one goal. In his next outing, he saved 46 of 48 shots in a win against the Wild. He beat the Avalanche again by stopping 30 of 32 shots and then posted 47 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders. It may be too early to say the Blackhawks have found their goalie of the future, but it’s hard to imagine Delia impressing any more than he has this season.

THREE DOWN

Colliton injection -- Overall, I’ve been fairly pleased with what first-year coach Jeremy Colliton has done. Once he cleared the hump of the brutal eight-game losing streak, which was largely the result of the Blackhawks learning a new system on the fly, everything has started to level out. The power play has actually been good, and games have been competitive again.

Over the last couple of games though, Colliton has perhaps been starting to overthink his decisions. In a 4-3 overtime loss to the Golden Knights on Saturday, all was well until Colliton put David Kampf, Dominik Kahun and Carl Dahlstrom on the ice in the extra session. None of those players offer a lick of offense. Kampf is 45 percent at the face-off dot, and Dahlstrom had been struggling in his last few games. The end was predictable, as Shea Theodore blew past Dahlstrom and Kahun, scoring the overtime winner after Kampf lost the face-off.

In the loss to the Devils on Monday, Colliton decided to dress seven defensemen and double-shift Kane. While that usually isn't the worst decision, the game got well out of hand and Kane logged 28:50 of ice time. That’s too much. Yes, he’s carrying the team right now and his play made Monday’s score respectable, but at what cost? If Kane runs out of gas, the Hawks are completely toast.

Log jammin’ -- As soon as Gustav Forsling comes off injured reserve, the Blackhawks are going to have some big decisions to make. Even before the Blackhawks acquired Slater Koekkoek from the Lightning last week, they had a problem. 

With Forsling, the Hawks have eight defensemen on the roster: Forsling, Koekkoek, Dahlstrom, Henri Jokiharju, Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, Brent Seabrook and Erik Gustafsson. One of those players will have to be sent down. While Koekkoek seems like the obvious choice, the Hawks might want to get a look at what they just traded for. They’ve had success reclaiming a former first-round pick in Dylan Strome, and perhaps they feel they can do the same with Koekkoek, who was chosen 10th overall in the 2012 draft.

If that’s the case, could Forsling be the player sent down? His development has stalled out, be it from injuries or simply a lack of development. Colliton knows him well, as he coached him at AHL Rockford last season. Or perhaps a trade is on the horizon? While Murphy has been the team’s best defenseman, it’s unlikely he’ll be at top form when the Hawks are ready to compete again, especially considering his bad back. Keith and Seabrook seem unmovable. Gustafsson is having a career year. Would the Hawks choose to maximize his return value? It’s hard to predict.

If it is Forsling who's sent down, that could tell us a lot about how Colliton and the Hawks feel about him overall. They’ve shown willingness to develop players on the fly. If the don’t do that with Forsling, maybe his days with the franchise are numbered. Remember, they pulled the trigger on trading Nick Schmaltz. No prospect not named DeBrincat is untouchable at this point.

DownWard spiral -- Any doubts that Delia should be the starter going forward were erased after Ward’s performance Monday, when he allowed six goals among the 25 shots he faced. The entire team was bad, but Ward was awful. 

Ward is carrying a 3.99 goals against average and a .884 save percentage this season. Both of those numbers rank dead last among the 48 goalies in the NHL who have reached the qualifying statistical thresholds. There’s no sugar-coating those numbers.

Want to blame the defense? Sure. It's not great. The Blackhawks are an NHL-worst minus-37 in goal differential this season, but we’ve mentioned Delia’s numbers. Crawford had a 3.28 goals against and a .902 save percentage in front of this fire drill of a defense. Ward’s numbers aren't NHL-caliber. If Delia isn’t getting 70 percent of the starts from here on out, there’s something wrong. Delia has done everything to prove he should be the goalie from here on out, and Ward has done nothing to justify receiving anything more than spot starts.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Bernstein & McKnight Show on 670 middays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m and a columnist for 670 The Score. He's also the co-host of the Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or your preferred podcast app. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.​​​