Losers of 6 straight, Blackhawks hope shuffled lines keep final weeks interesting
Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat have been united with former Erie linemate Taylor Raddysh, and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been united alongside Philipp Kurashev.
For months under interim coach Derek King, the Blackhawks played losing but respectable hockey.
The last few weeks, however, they haven’t.
“After the [All-Star] break, we were playing pretty good hockey,” King said Saturday. “We were still motivated to correct this. [We were] trying to build our values, culture, identity. And then all of a sudden, that faded. . . . After the trade [deadline], we just haven’t been the same.”
The Hawks have lost six in a row, including embarrassing home defeats against three of the NHL’s worst teams — the Sabres, Coyotes and Kraken.
One more Sunday against the Stars will give them twice as many losses (48) as wins (24). They’ve fallen to 26th in the league and are only three points out of 29th, although that drop would improve their draft-lottery odds.
Since the second intermission March 26 against the Golden Knights (a span of just over five games), they’ve been outscored 25-10. Since March 14 (11 games), the Hawks at even strength rank 31st in the league in shot-attempt ratio (42.9%), shots-on-goal ratio (41.9%) and expected-goals ratio (38.9%) and 30th in scoring-chance ratio (40.2%).
“It’s unacceptable,” Alex DeBrincat said after Thursday’s shutout loss, during which the whole team looked uninterested for stretches.
“Even though we’re out of the playoffs, we want to win games. It sucks to lose. It’s no fun. We’re battling hard for two of three periods, but it’s not enough, obviously. We’ve got to find a way to score some goals and play a full 60 [minutes]. That’s been our downfall most of the year, and that’s why we’re in this position.”
King said Thursday night that he’d “address” the lethargy, and in practice Saturday, he completely scrambled the forward lines, which had been stable for a relatively long time.
“I caved,” King said. “I didn’t want to [change the lines], but we’ve lost six [straight]. It rattled in my brain a little too long, but we decided to shuffle them up a little bit.”
The formerly red-hot first line of Dylan Strome centering DeBrincat and Patrick Kane is through.
Taylor Raddysh now skates alongside DeBrincat and Strome, reuniting the trio that formed a dominant line for the Erie Otters in 2016-17. DeBrincat had 127 points in 63 games, Raddysh 109 points in 58 games and Strome 75 points in 35 games that season as the Otters won the OHL championship.
They’ve spent only 5:10 together since Raddysh’s arrival in Chicago, but that number likely will more than double Sunday. King said he’ll see if “there’s any magic left” in them.
And Jonathan Toews now centers Kane, with Philipp Kurashev on the other side. During 148 even-strength minutes with Kane and Toews together this season, the Hawks have outshot opponents 80-75 but been outscored 16-7, indicating some bad luck during those situations.
Even the new third line — Kirby Dach centering Lukas Reichel and Sam Lafferty — is interesting. The Lafferty-Dach duo makes sense because Lafferty can take faceoffs while Dach handles the other center duties, but the Hawks have struggled (outshot 79-58 and outscored 12-3) during their 132 minutes together.
Perhaps Reichel, who has looked fine through his first six NHL appearances but is still searching for his first point, can add some spice. Playing wing instead of center is expected to free up the young German for more offensive opportunities, especially in transition.
Even if the new lines don’t work, they’re worth trying with 11 games left. These games might not matter in the conventional sense, but they matter for player evaluations entering the offseason.