Dylan Strome, Patrick Kane, Brandon Hagel driving Blackhawks’ scorching-hot 1st line
Entering Monday, Strome had six points, Kane five and Hagel four over the Hawks’ previous two games.
The Blackhawks’ first line of Dylan Strome centering Patrick Kane and Brandon Hagel is so scorching hot, Chicago’s snow piles are in jeopardy.
“It’s [about] good chemistry,” interim coach Derek King said Monday. “All three players bring different elements to the game and to their line, and they just seem to be clicking right now. Touch wood — hopefully they continue to click on.”
“Both those guys are playing great,” Kane said. “Hagel is an easy guy to play with, with how hard he works and how good he is as far as getting pucks back. And I’ve always had some chemistry with Strome, as well. [We’ll] try to keep it going here, but it has been fun the last few games.”
They entered Monday having outshot opponents 46-28 and outscored them 5-1 (on five-on-five play) during their last five games together. But they hadn’t done anything too special until the second half of last week, when they completely took over against the Red Wings and Avalanche.
In those two games, Strome had six points (three goals, three assists), Kane picked up five points (two goals, three assists) and Hagel had four (two goals, two assists, with another goal taken away the day after).
Strome’s out-of-nowhere dominance Wednesday in Detroit — three goals, one assist and 10 faceoff wins — was one of the Hawks’ best individual offensive performances of 2021-22.
Then Kane’s performance Friday topped it, with two goals and an assist on eight individual scoring chances (and a ridiculous 10 shots on goal).
And Hagel’s combination of grit, speed, relentlessness and underrated offensive instincts glues it all together. When Strome’s suddenly terrific faceoff skills aren’t generating offensive-zone possessions, the forechecking strategy of Hagel leading the charge and Strome and Kane finding open space behind him often does.
“They’ve been really effective on the forecheck, turning over pucks and getting pucks back,” Kane said. “Obviously, we know Hagel’s good at that, but Strome’s been really good at stripping pucks and creating chances off that, [too].”
“We just feed off each other pretty well,” Hagel said after the game Friday. “Strome and Kane help me out on the forecheck. They’re coming in, [and] the second guy’s in quick.”
Strome’s key role in the line’s success is particularly notable considering his tribulations earlier this season. He entered Monday with 15 points in his previous 17 games (since Dec. 5) after getting only three in his first 14 games.
The typically soft-spoken Hagel talked passionately Friday about his admiration for Strome’s persistence.
“Hats off to him for being able to mentally stick together and be able to get out of that,” Hagel said.
“He has been unbelievable. Even when things are going wrong, he never has his head down. That’s why he’s a good NHL player: He’s able to keep his head up and keep moving forward and try to get better [despite] his circumstances. He may not be happy with it, but he keeps that out of the dressing room and [isn’t] negative to anyone on the team. It has been really, really good to see.”
King still doesn’t seem to appreciate what Strome brings on the ice as much as one would expect. He said he “wouldn’t say [he] fully trusts him yet” before acknowledging that Strome is recently “playing well without the puck, at times, for the most part.”
That came after King said he didn’t “know how long he’s going to be lasting with us” after Strome’s hat trick last week, not-so-deftly confirming suspicions that the Hawks have been shopping Strome for nearly a year.
And given the Hawks’ place in the standings, the Kane-Strome-Hagel hot streak might accomplish little of significance other than raising Strome’s trade value.
But it has nonetheless been impressive to witness.