Zawaski: Observations From Hawks' Loss To Sharks

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton outsmarted himself in his team's 5-4 loss.

Jay Zawaski
October 11, 2019 - 10:30 am

(670 The Score) The Blackhawks dropped the puck (hockey reference) on their home season at the United Center on Thursday night. After a promising first period, the Blackhawks quickly fell apart, looking a lot like the 2018-'19 Blackhawks that missed the playoffs.

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Here are my takeaways from their 5-4 loss to the Sharks. 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

The David Kampf-Brandon Saad-Dominik Kubalik line was absolutely dominant in the first period. Kubalik scored the first goal of the game -- and his NHL career -- and had five shots on goal by himself in the opening frame. The line dominated every shift and had a huge possession advantage in the first period. Then coach Jeremy Colliton outsmarted himself. He broke up the line, placing Kubalik on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. I have no problem with rewarding a player who’s performing well, but that line was so dominant that it was foolish to mess with the chemistry. As soon as that move was made, the game changed. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Maybe it’s a result of the Hawks' bad penalties. But it didn’t work. 

Situational awareness

Alex Nylander really struggled in the game and had a shift in the first period in which he had the puck for an extended period of time. He was controlling the shift, working the puck to teammates and keeping the puck in the zone. In his final pass attempt, his pass was off the mark. Had Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson not been at the end of a shift, it would've been a breakaway. Those are the times that Nylander, whose defensive commitment has come in to question, can help himself by making a smarter play and "live to fight another day," as analyst Eddie Olczyk put it.

Andrew Shaw -- who had another very Andrew Shaw game -- took a very Andrew Shaw penalty at a horrible time. Earlier in the game, Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon put a solid check on Kane behind the net. It was a vicious-but-clean hit. Kane was looking behind himself, and Dillon took the opportunity to catch him off guard. Now, I have no problem with responding when a star player is hit hard, clean or not. The trouble is Shaw chose to exact his revenge right after the Sharks had tied the game at 4-4, at center ice behind the play and out in the open where literally everyone saw it. When your penalty kill is horrible (50 percent on the season so far) and the opponent has all the momentum, it would be smarter to find another time for retribution. Dillon played 23-plus minutes Thursday. Shaw knew he’d get another shot. He should've waited.

Gustafsson, Keith struggling 

The Blackhawks' "top pair" has gotten off to a really bad start. In their first shift last night, Duncan Keith and Erik Gustafsson were divided like the Red Sea, leading to a quality scoring chance for the Sharks. The Hawks then took a 1-0 lead. On their next shift, Keith and Gustafsson jumped over the boards and the Sharks had another great scoring chance.

Their metrics tell the story too. Their 5v5 Corsi rating is ... wait for it ... 29.41 percent. If you don’t know, that’s horrible. That means the opponent has 70 percent more shot attempts than the Hawks when that pair is on the ice. Not only is that awful, but the pair has begun 80 percent of its shifts in the offensive zone. The Brent Seabrook-Olli Maatta tandem has bad Corsi numbers too but has started in the offensive zone only 37.5 percent of the time. I wrote earlier this week that Colliton called out Gustafsson’s commitment to defense. Gustafsson’s game looked exactly the same Thursday -- and possibly worse.

Crawford must be better

The defense has been horrible in front of goalie Corey Crawford, but the numbers are what they are. He has an .875 save percentage and 4.63 goals against average. He has to be better, excuses be damned.

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