We know this was supposed to be a transition year for the Chicago Blackhawks, but what’s going on with them right now is hard to believe.
The Blackhawks, who won the Stanley Cup three times from 2010-15, are virtually unrecognizable. Sure, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are still running the show, but coach Joel Quenneville was unceremoniously dismissed a few weeks ago and the team has gone into a total death spiral.
On Sunday, the game was handed to the Blackhawks on a silver platter by the visiting Montreal Canadiens, who took eight penalties and surrendered a 2-0 lead with close to 33 minutes left on the clock.
But the boys in red and white couldn’t find a way to close the deal and ended up losing for the 18th time in their last 21 games, surrendering a goal to Tomas Tatar with 1:17 remaining.
It sure is odd to scroll down the NHL standings to find Chicago sitting in dead last. After watching them play this game, we’re not exactly shocked to see they’re dead last on the power play, too.
Anyway, let’s get to some takeaways on how the Canadiens snuck out of United Center with a 3-2 win.
Carey Price stole the game
Price may have had a 33-save, 2-0 shutout in Boston earlier this season—it was a very impressive performance against the Bruins to vault him past Patrick Roy and into second place on the all-time wins list for a Canadiens goaltender—but he hasn’t played a better game since the puck dropped in October.
In Price’s seventh consecutive start, he made 37 saves. He stopped 13 of 14 shots the Blackhawks notched on the power play.
When you think about how much time Price spent chasing around the puck with his eyes—Chicago played close to 15 minutes on the power play and had the puck in Montreal’s end for the majority of it—it really hammers home what kind of performance he authored. He was world class in this one.
Because of him—and the players who put up back-to-back 5-2 wins over the Ottawa Senators this week—the Canadiens have won three in a row for the first time since mid-October.
A tale of broken power plays
Patrick Kane did manage to score one of his two goals on the night on a Blackhawks power play, but the team that came into the game having scored on just 10 of 87 chances couldn’t buy another goal with the man advantage.
Part of that had to do with the Canadiens blocking 20 shots. Heck, they stopped 12 in front of Price in the first period alone.
The other part was the incredibly strange shot selection from the Blackhawks. For example, Seabrook kept shooting when he didn’t have a clear lane to the net, which led to nine of his 11 attempts being blocked.
But at least Chicago was in Montreal’s zone enough to get shot attempts. The Canadiens couldn’t complete a zone entry on their first three power plays and failed to score on a 55-second five-on-three advantage in the third period.
They have converted on only 14 power plays this season despite getting the NHL’s fifth-most opportunities (103).
Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s game is rising
On Saturday, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin held court with the media in Chicago.
When he was asked about the possibility of the NHL’s youngest player being loaned to Team Finland for the upcoming World Junior Championship, he said there was a five per cent chance of that happening.
Bergevin talked about how impressed he was with Kotkaniemi, admitting he’s filled an important role down the middle of the ice for his team and saying that he’s often blown away by some of the plays he’s capable of.
On Sunday, Kotkaniemi made the play that landed on birthday boy Jeff Petry’s stick and won the Canadiens the game after Tatar tipped Petry’s shot through Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford. He made several others throughout the night that almost assuredly reduced that five per cent chance of him being loaned to Finland down to zilch.
With three goals and 12 assists in 30 games, the kid ranks fourth in points among NHL rookies. His hockey sense has given his general manager—and anyone else watching—ample evidence to justify his selection at third overall this past June at the NHL Draft.
And everyone—including Bergevin—agrees that when Kotkaniemi fills out that 6-foot-2 frame and gets stronger as time goes by, he’s going to be a force to reckon with.
The Canadiens got a big one in this game.
As a line, Kenny Agostino, Nicolas Deslauriers and Michael Chaput made a big play to set up Montreal’s second goal, which was blasted into the net by Shea Weber on a shot so fast you could only see it on a slow-motion replay.
The assist gave Agostino his seventh point in 15 games. Considering the 26-year-old has played mostly fourth-line minutes with Montreal and never appeared in more than eight NHL games in a given season prior to this one, that’s found money.
With all the special-teams work the Canadiens had to put in Deslauriers played less than eight minutes in the game. But he still had a bit of an impact—making a play on Weber’s goal without getting an assist, helping the fourth line play mostly in the offensive zone, and registering a big hit on Toews.
And Chaput, who has pretty much earned a full-time job as Montreal’s fourth-line centre, was one of Montreal’s best penalty killers in this one. He played 6:38 shorthanded and also collected an assist on Weber’s goal.
Max Domi approaching his career high in goals
Domi opened the scoring at the 6:05 mark of the first period, finding some dead space in the slot to score his 14th goal of the season.
He’s got 52 more games to reach his career high of 18 goals, which is the total he managed in his rookie year. We’ll place a toonie on him getting there before he officially gets selected for this year’s NHL All-Star Game.
Domi now has 31 points in 30 games.