The Blackhawks entered Saturday tied for a playoff berth.
This fact has no real meaning. The season is less than two weeks old; the Hawks have only played four games. But it’s still a feat for this team.
They have unquestionably exceeded expectations in those first four games. Systems coach Luke Richardson has set up the Hawks outperforming their talent level, and some of general manager Kyle Davidson’s low-key, low-risk pick-ups over the past year — guys like Sam Lafferty, Jason Dickinson and the goalkeeper Alex Stalock – left for hot starts.
Friday’s Game 1 home win over the Red Wings was one of the most memorable, surprising and enjoyable wins this Hawks team has had in years.
They’re not letting two comeback wins go to their heads, and rightly so. After practice on Saturday, Max Domi kept saying they were taking things one day at a time, admitting it was a cliche but an exact cliche.
But the internal self-confidence with which the Hawks entered this season — which no one else in the hockey world shared — received some validation.
“Players believe the message,” Richardson said Saturday. “They understand what they’re supposed to do on the ice. [Today we watched] all kinds of clips in the neutral zone where we have improved since the beginning of the season until now, already. [It] seems like it’s starting to become automatic.
“As the teams will start pre-scouting us, they’ll see it too. So we’re going to have to adapt to that. But if we have that base, it’s easy to adjust. If we’re not organised, if you don’t have a basic plan, it’s quite difficult to adapt. … It’s a good start, but [there’s] a long way to go.”
Richardson’s easy-to-understand systems are one of the factors behind this early success, but the sense of equality – where every player is treated equally – that Richardson has instilled could be an even bigger factor. .
Starting three-on-three overtime on Saturday not with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews or Seth Jones, but rather Lafferty, Dickinson and Jack Johnson was partially based on the game – Lafferty had checked Wings star Dylan Larkin the whole game – but also sent a message: The players who play the best will play the most.
Domi said it was used as “motivation for the rest of our team”, and two minutes later he scored the winning goal.
The same focus on equality also held true on holidays, such as during video review sessions.
“We want to make sure they feel like everyone is equally responsible, and everyone is going to get the [same] recognition when they do it well,” Richardson said. “[MacKenzie] Entwistle is a great example. He missed a check in one of the first games of the season, and I reported it in the video room. I said, “We’re not trying to embarrass anybody here, but you must have that check.”
“Then he had a great forecheck and tackled somebody…and we put him on video [Wednesday]. I remarked, “I know I showed ‘Entsy’ that his check was missing. Well, I want to show you when we’re doing something right. You can’t just take it for granted.
The Hawks’ unofficial new mantra “every man contributes equally” will be tested now, however, starting with goaltender Petr Mrazek’s groin injury.
The injury isn’t “as bad as they thought” and Mrazek is officially day to day, but it looks like he’s probably going to miss some time.
Stalock will start Sunday against the Kraken, but prospect Arvid Soderblom, recalled late Friday, will make just his third career NHL start this week against the Panthers or Oilers. The Hawks had wanted to give the 23-year-old Swedish goaltender another year of full-time development at Rockford, but that plan is now on hold.