Dominik Kubalik’s surge continues as Blackhawks top Ducks
Kubalik is now tied for the NHL rookie scoring lead with 16 goals after scoring on all four nights of the homestand, including Saturday’s 4-2 win.
The Blackhawks’ four-game homestand was a mixed bag of results, and the Hawks will wish they came out of it with more wins than they actually did.
But for Dominik Kubalik, it was fantastic.
The Czech rookie, seemingly magnetized with the net, scored in all four games —including twice in Saturday’s finale as the Hawks won 4-2 against the Ducks, finishing 2-2-0 on the homestand.
“If you look at his goals, you’d be surprised how many he scores from just being at the net, just standing there, being in front,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “You can get a rebound or it goes off you. That’s one thing that’s really helped him this season.”
Kubalik is now tied with Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson for the NHL rookie scoring lead with 16 goals. Olofsson was well in the lead when he suffered an injury Jan. 2 that is expected to keep him out until mid-February; now, his lead is gone.
The 24-year-old wing had a few looks at an empty net that could’ve completed his hat trick, but couldn’t get a shot off and later joked “shaking nervous.” He didn’t seem to have any problem depositing his rebound attempts on Ducks goalie John Gibson earlier on, though.
“I’m just trying to work on it every practice,” he said. “Guys call them greasy, but I think they’re [the] nicest. When you’re standing there and the puck just drops in front of you, just put it home. I don’t know, but I like it.”
Colliton gave even more time to the Kubalik-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane superline that he briefly deployed Thursday as well, actually playing that trio more often than he played Kubalik and Toews with supposed linemate John Quenneville (who was sent down to the AHL after the game).
But the coach said after the game he’s not trending towards making that the permanent first line moving forward.
“I’m not going to commit to playing them together all the time,” Colliton said. “When we don’t spread it out, it’s problematic for playing a four-line game, and we can’t expect them to out-score the other team by two or three every night. But we can spot them in.”
Robin Lehner returned from a three-game injury absence and made 35 saves on 37 shots despite feeling “a little weird” while seeking to regain his rhythm.
Overall, the win over the last-place Ducks won’t move the needle for the Hawks much, but Colliton nonetheless pointed to the second period in particular —in which the Hawks out-attempted their visitors 29-14, out-chanced them 14-8 and out-scored them 2-0 —as a positive indicator moving forward.
“We did a lot of things [in that period] that could make it a lot easier on us,” he said. “We could generate more offensively [and] in transition. Thought we held it in the offensive zone for long stretches and were rewarded for it.”
Colliton changes morning skates
Colliton has reimagined the Blackhawks’ morning skate routine in hopes of generating faster starts.
Since the holiday break, Colliton has made all morning skatesoptional. That means veterans like Duncan Keith aren’t forced to expend valuable energy early on a game day.
But for those who do attend —and most players have continued to —the skates have functioned more like full practices than glorified warmups.
“From my perspective, we shouldn’t go out there if we’re not going to be ready to work and compete,” Colliton said Saturday. “Guys [who] don’t want to go on, want to stay fresh — perfect, come ready to play. And if you feel you need to go on, then we need to do things right.”
So far, ‘doing things right’ has materialized in the form of more intense mini-scrimmages and one-on-one puck battles, rather than the lighthearted passing and shooting drills the Hawks used to enjoy.
Saturday, it meant full forward line rushes, something the Hawks have almost never done in morning skates this season.
“Just like anything else you do, it evolves over time, and you check your work after and see how it turned out,” he said. “But for now, I’ve liked...the response.”