Blackhawks hammer Red Wings after adjusting to shot-blocking tactics
The Hawks learned from Thursday’s loss and responded with a 4-0 win over the Wings on Saturday, pulling within two points of a playoff spot with a game in hand.
For the first time in seemingly weeks, everything went right for the Blackhawks.
Malcolm Subban was terrific in a spot start, saving all 29 shots he faced Saturday. The Hawks’ 30th-ranked penalty kill suddenly became flawless, going 6-for-6.
The Hawks moved the puck swiftly in transition, creatively in the
offensive zone and capitalized on the resulting opportunities.
The result was a 4-0 win over the Red Wings that, combined with the Predators’ 3-1 loss in Carolina, pulled the Hawks within two points of a playoff spot with one game in hand and 11 to play.
“It was obviously an important win for us,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We scored on our chances at really important times. The goal at the end of the first [period] was huge for us mentally.”
In Thursday’s 4-1 loss, the Wings stymied the Hawks with a defensive system that clogged up the Hawks’ shooting lanes with not one but two shot-blockers. Defenseman Connor Murphy broke down the system in-depth Saturday morning.
“It wasn’t just their top forward that was blocking it,” Murphy described. “They had a D-man or a low centerman that would stay in the slot. Instead of picking up one of our guys [or] boxing out in front, he would try to front that shot, too.”
The Hawks adjusted smartly.
They frequently took shots immediately after receiving the puck (before the Wings were able to set up the double-block), exploited the extra space on the sides of the offensive zone and used low-to-high puck movement to move defenders out of position.
“Our main goal for tonight was get the puck behind their ‘D,’ ” said Vinnie Hinostroza, who tallied three assists. “When we do that, and then we switch sides behind the net or find the slot or point guy, it’s huge.”
The play leading to Alex DeBrincat’s second-period rebound goal, which extended the lead to 2-0, provided two great examples.
First, Murphy — whose lane was clogged by up to four Wings — made a pass to Riley Stillman, who had a clearer lane and forced goalie Jonathan Bernier to make a save.
Seconds later, Kirby Dach and DeBrincat both made great plays: Dach protected the puck and lured Jakub Vrana out of the slot before feeding a wide-open Murphy at the point, while DeBrincat circled the net to pull Wings center Dylan Larkin out of the slot, too. Murphy had no one in his shooting lane, Brandon Hagel perfectly screened Bernier and DeBrincat ultimately scored.
Wyatt Kalynuk and Pius Suter added third-period goals to seal the comfortable victory.
The end result was 64% of the Hawks’ shot attempts (29 of 42) ending up on-goal, compared to only 41% (25 of 61) on Thursday.
Subban undeterred by layoff
Subban knew for the last 10 days he would be starting this game.
Despite not having played since March 28, that knowledge allowed the Hawks’ backup goalie to focus all of his mental effort toward Saturday.
“It helps to get ready for the game and [I was] just doing everything you can to get to it,” he said. “Obviously it’s not easy when you’re playing once every few weeks but I’m just trying to give my team a chance to win every time I’m in there.”
Subban robbed Darren Helm with a cross-crease glove save late in the second period en route to his second shutout of the season.
“You can’t really overstate what a great teammate he is,” Colliton said. “Multiple times this year he’s stepped to the plate and done a great job. You just love to see him be rewarded.”