Chicago Blackhawks fans went into their series against the Vegas Golden Knights knowing that the team faced an uphill climb against the top-seeded team in the Western Conference, and they weren’t dissuaded from that notion after a Game 1 loss Tuesday night.
The Blackhawks, who kept the game close in the first two periods, gave up a pair of goals to Reilly Smith in the third, falling 4-1 and dropping the first game of the best-of-seven series.
Even though there were plenty of negatives on the ledger for the Blackhawks in the game, including the play of Alex DeBrincat and Corey Crawford, there were a few bright spots in the mix, and to help brighten the mood of Hawks fans disappointed with Tuesday’s result, we’ve come up with three of them that are worth keeping an eye on for the remainder of the series.
Special Teams Were an Advantage for Blackhawks
One area that the Blackhawks were certain to have an advantage in during this series was on their power play, as the Golden Knights had one of the league’s worst penalty killing units during the regular season.
Even though the Blackhawks didn’t score a power play goal in Tuesday’s loss, they had plenty of opportunities, generating 11 scoring chances on the man-advantage despite having only two power plays in the entire game.
The power play wasn’t the only area that was kind to the Blackhawks in the game, either. Their penalty kill, a top-10 unit in the league during the regular season, limited Vegas to three scoring chances, and even threw in a short-handed goal for good measure thanks to David Kampf.
If the Blackhawks can continue to exploit those special teams matchups, they should get some opportunities to get on equal footing with the Knights.
Connor Murphy, Calvin de Haan Helped Keep Vegas’ Top Line in Check
During the first period of the game, the Golden Knights’ top line was a holy terror, racking up scoring opportunities and wreaking havoc on the Blackhawks in terms of puck possession.
In the second and third periods, however, things changed, as Vegas was forced to rely on other lines for scoring punch and opportunities. That’s because head coach Jeremy Colliton began to deploy Connor Murphy and Calvin de Haan against that line, limiting their number of scoring opportunities and even generating some chances for the Blackhawks in the later stages of the game.
Shutting down an opponent’s top line is key, and even though the Golden Knights roll out other really good lines, the usage of Murphy and de Haan against that particular grouping is at least a good sign for a Blackhawks defense that is facing some serious questions in this series.
Brandon Saad Continues Strong Postseason
The Blackhawks only had three players who were positive Corsi players during Tuesday night’s loss, indicating that the Golden Knights ended up dominating possession and generating a ton of scoring opportunities in the contest.
One of those three players that was able to create chances and limit chances at the other end was Brandon Saad, who had one of his most complete games of the playoffs as he put together a team-best 54.2% Corsi rating and added an assist in the contest.
That assist was also a thing of beauty for the winger, as he stripped Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore of the puck and found David Kampf racing through the middle of the ice, setting up a short-handed tally and getting the Blackhawks back to within a goal in the second period.
If the Blackhawks do end up deciding to break up their top line for Game 2, then Saad is going to be a key player in trying to get another teammate, perhaps Alex DeBrincat or Patrick Kane, going again in this postseason.