Zawaski: Observations From Blackhawks' First Win

The Blackhawks ramped up the physicality in a 3-1 win against the Oilers.

Jay Zawaski
October 15, 2019 - 10:51 am
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(670 The Score) It took four games, but the Blackhawks finally picked up their first win of the season, the previously unbeaten Oilers, 3-1, at the United Center on Monday night.

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The Hawks had previously had a difficult time putting together a 60-minute effort before Monday, when they produced their most complete game of the season. The reward was a well-deserved two points.

Here are the observations of the evening.

Hawks are suddenly physical

Entering free agency, there was universal agreement that the Blackhawks were too easy to play against. They had too many East/West, perimeter-oriented skaters and not enough players who went North/South. The Hawks addressed those needs with a pair of trades for Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith and the signing of Ryan Carpenter. The results are showing. The Blackhawks had a 36-31 hit advantage against the Oilers and have outhit their opponents in all four games.

36-31 against Oilers
36-29 against Jets
31-29 against Sharks
29-16 against Flyers

The concept of physicality can be easily dismissed as "meatbally," but it matters. Like I mentioned on my Locked On Blackhawks Podcast (shameless plug), if you’re getting checked every time you try to pick up a puck in a corner, chances are you’re going to hesitate to go into that corner eventually. Or if you’re hearing footsteps behind you, you’ll rush a pass. Playing physically doesn’t mean dropping the gloves. It means finishing checks when the opportunity arises and being difficult to play against. Shaw got it started with a massive check on Joel Persson on Monday, and the game immediately changed. The Hawks outworked the Oilers, and it’s a huge part of why they won.

Caggiula doing his job

When forward Drake Caggiula was promoted to the top line with Jonathan Toews, he was tasked with providing energy and speed. He has delivered. In the two games he has played with Toews and Alex DeBrincat, he elevated the line’s performance. When the three are paired together, they carry a 52-percent possession rate. Without Caggiula, Toews and DeBrincat have a 36-percent possession rate. I’d like to see Caggiula get more ice time, as it seems good chances emerge when he's out there.

Crawford bounces back

Goalie Corey Crawford was named the game’s No. 1 star, and he deserved the honor. He stopped 27 of 28 shots from the Oilers, many of which were prime scoring chances. I was concerned with how bad he had looked Monday and was critical of the decision to start him against Edmonton. Robin Lehner had a solid start in a loss to the Jets on Saturday and had been the better goalie. Instead, coach Jeremy Colliton went with Crawford, and it worked out. 

Nylander strikes again

As long as winger Alex Nylander is on the Hawks' roster, his performance will be a story story to me all season long. That's because the Hawks traded their top defensive prospect (at the time) in Henri Jokiharju to acquire him, and he needs to show he's worth the deal. 

It’s been a mixed bag for Nylander so far. He scored the Blackhawks' first goal of the season in Prague, then laid an egg in a loss to the Sharks. Colliton scratched him against the Jets on Saturday, then Nylander returned to the lineup Monday, this time on the fourth line with Smith and Carpenter.

Despite only playing 8:20, Nylander scored the game-winning goal, benefiting from a turnover he caused at the Oilers' blue line. His offensive skill is undeniable. It has been his play in the other two zones that have been questioned. He was effective and working hard in all three zones Monday. I’d expect him in the lineup against the Blue Jackets on Friday unless rookie Kirby Dach is back from his rehab stint in Rockford. That’s something to keep an eye on as the week goes on. 

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.​​​