Chicago Blackhawks

Three Thoughts: Fourth Line Shines, Defense Struggles vs. Golden Knights

The Chicago Blackhawks had better hope that what happens in Vegas really does stay in Vegas after a lackluster 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Golden Knights on Tuesday night.

The Blackhawks, whose record now stands at 5-3-2 on the season, got off to a good start thanks to John Hayden, but they couldn’t slow down the aggressive Golden Knights attack as they lost the first ever game played between the two franchises.

So what went right and what went wrong for the Blackhawks in the game? Here are our Three Thoughts from the loss.

Vegas is REALLY Well Constructed

Even though the Knights have lost Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban to injuries already this season, they are still playing solid hockey, as players like James Neal, William Karlsson, and David Perron continue to drive possession and score goals.

Against the Blackhawks, it was immediately clear that the Golden Knights are an aggressive team, going hard after the puck and winning physical battles all over the ice. That is a testament to the team that George McPhee has put together in Sin City, and could bode well for them if they continue to hang around the Pacific Division playoff race.

No one really saw the Golden Knights getting off to this kind of start, but with a 7-1-0 record though eight games (the best start for an expansion team in NHL history), it’s hard not to be impressed with what they’ve accomplished.

Fourth Line Continues to Be a Strength

The Blackhawks’ fourth line had the potential to be an island of misfit toys this season, but they’ve frankly been one of the more remarkable parts of the team thus far.

Tommy Wingels has fit like a glove as the fourth line center, forcing Tanner Kero out of the lineup. Lance Bouma has played decent hockey at times, being far from the liability that some forecasted him to be when the team signed him over the offseason.

Finally, John Hayden has been as good as advertised, mixing a skilled physical game with some surprisingly quick and soft hands around the net. His goal on Tuesday was a thing of beauty, as he stole the puck on the penalty kill, reversed direction, and blew past two Vegas defenders before potting his first goal of the season.

There are going to be some changes coming to the Blackhawks’ line combinations, but it will be interesting to see if Joel Quenneville spares this line the executioner’s axe.

Defense….Not So Much

The Blackhawks’ defense, a question mark to begin the season, has hardly been able to answer questions about its effectiveness so far, as they’ve routinely had difficulty in clearing the puck and in containing offensive opportunities in their own end of the ice.

Two of the main issues on the back end have been Gustav Forsling, who has continued to play a very tentative game as his development has slowed, and Brent Seabrook, who has lost a step and is currently being played with Duncan Keith to try to shield him from the mistakes that he’s been making. 

The lone bright spot on the defense has been Jan Rutta, who has proven that he may have what it takes to be a top-two defenseman in the Blackhawks’ rotation. He has played a very smart game along the boards, containing pressure well and dealing with the speed of opponents better than could have been expected by a rookie in his first NHL season.

His play, along with Keith’s, has helped stem the tide a bit, but the Blackhawks need to get their back end situation figured out, or else they’re going to have to score a LOT of goals for this team to succeed this season. 

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