Rookie defenseman Isaak Phillips looks like gem in Blackhawks’ mud
Phillips managed to stand out on another otherwise-depressing, winless Hawks road trip, which ended Saturday with a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jackets.
Isaak Phillips already looks like a fully capable NHL defenseman.
It wasn’t easy for a player to stand out on this woeful Blackhawks trip — a 4-1 loss Saturday to the lowly Blue Jackets sent the Hawks home with no victories and only two goals in the three games combined — but Phillips managed to do so.
And considering the irrelevance of the wins-and-losses aspect of this Hawks season, his strong December showing is a positive worth appreciating.
Phillips, 21, earned his first NHL point Saturday — in his ninth career game — with an assist on a first-period goal by Andreas Athanasiou that gave the Hawks a rare 1-0 lead.
After Sam Lafferty put pressure on the Jackets as they were trying to exit their defensive zone, Phillips made what coach Luke Richardson called a ‘‘nice little play’’ to intercept an attempted breakout pass, hold the puck in at the blue line and set up Athanasiou.
That provided a nice statistical reward for Phillips’ consistently strong play since his call-up Dec. 19, which has built on his incredible start to the season in Rockford of the AHL. He has been one of the Hawks’ better defensemen in the five games since and seems to be getting better as he settles in.
His pairing with Connor Murphy boasts a 53.5% scoring-chance ratio at five-on-five in those five games. The two regularly have been killing plays in the defensive zone, helping the Hawks transition the puck in the other direction and even jumping in offensively at the right times.
Richardson recently praised Phillips for being particularly effective and aggressive in the corners of the defensive zone, an area in which the rest of the Hawks have encountered problems.
Take out a poor showing Tuesday against the Hurricanes, and Phillips’ play looks even better — to the tune of a 57.9% scoring-chance ratio.
On Thursday against the Blues, the Hawks had a 10-7 advantage in scoring chances during Phillips’ five-on-five ice time and a 13-6 disadvantage when he wasn’t on the ice. On Saturday, the Hawks had a 4-3 advantage with him and a jaw-dropping 22-5 disadvantage without him.
Those differences are enormous. And while the numbers for Phillips are impressive, they’re rather embarrassing for the rest of the team.
Richardson was uncharacteristically critical of the Hawks’ performance after the game. Against a Jackets team that had lost seven consecutive games coming in, the Hawks were terrible in the second period — going from tied 1-1 to down 3-1 without generating a single five-on-five scoring chance — and never recovered.
‘‘[That was] one of our worst performances of the year,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘[We were] just disconnected. We’ve had a couple of those this year, not very many. Our guys, I’ve got to give them credit, they’ve pushed to the end most nights. [Today], we were just frustrated and disconnected and couldn’t get it back. We had a pretty good start, the first half of the first period, then we stopped moving our feet.
‘‘We need to settle down, get our minds straight, stop yelling at the referees or at each other, come together as a team and play like that.’’
Fellow prospect defenseman Ian Mitchell, who inexplicably was a healthy scratch for all three games on the trip, might be reinserted into the lineup at home Sunday against the Sharks as Richardson seeks a shakeup.
But Phillips clearly has jumped past Mitchell on the organizational depth chart. His future looks bright.
What the Hawks do with Phillips when veteran Jarred Tinordi returns from jaw surgery will be interesting. He clearly has proved his NHL ability, but he might be better served continuing to develop in Rockford rather than being part of this Hawks dumpster fire.