An exciting 6-5 loss came off the heels of the trade deadline.
The Hawks started horrendously but then managed to jump out to a 3-1 lead. However, in true Blackhawks fashion, they had multiple breakdowns that led to 4 x 3rd-period goals by the Blues.
From here on out, the fact that they are making these games exciting is high on my list. But the biggest thing I will be evaluating is the 20 game tryout that everyone will be going through up and down the lineup – excluding the core players, obviously.
This encapsulates what I'm talking about:
Matthew Highmore scoring a big goal and building on his game as a pro.
Can Alex Nylander finally take his game to the next level? Is Lucas Carlsson ready for the NHL? What about the goaltending – which will be the biggest focus.
Depending on what happens, the Hawks could have a new GM, a new coach… orrrrrr… they could have neither.
Not making the playoffs for the 3rd straight season though, that will be unacceptable for Rocky, McDonough and Co. and any smart person would predict that big changes are coming.
I hinted at a couple above, but here are some storylines to keep an eye on:
* Alex Nylander - Can this kid take the next step in the final games this season? I don't have a lot of hope based on what I've seen to date, however, I think I would like to see Colliton push him in more of a top 6 role (again) to see if he can make an impact. This is where the Hawks need him to be and where – I believe – they envisioned him when they traded a top 4 RHD for him.
* Dylan Strome - At the start of this season, I would have said there is NO CHANCE that the Hawks part with Strome. Now, I'm not so sure that, as well as, where his next contract may net out based on his season. The fact that the Hawks C depth right now is Toews-Carpenter-Dach-Kampf is telling. Do they not see Strome as a C? Or are they happy to just keep him there to keep his value down? I believe Colliton should put him back in the middle, play him with his bud, DeBrincat and let him play out the year in his natural position. Strome has already dealt with a lot of adversity in his early days as a pro, don't mess up his development.
* Top 6 – Which leads me to the top 6. Start to figure out who you have heading into next year and stop playing Ryan Carpenter at 2C. I like the guy and think he's a hell of a bottom 6 guy, but just play your best in the top 6. I mentioned on Twitter last night that Kirby Dach is the C that Patrick Kane has been dying to play with for years – big (will get bigger), right-hand shot and plays a solid two-way game (already at just 19-years-old). With the Toews line set, start playing #77 and #88 together and build that chemistry NOW. Then you have some momentum heading into the off-season (for hockey ops to know that they have) and next season for the players.
* Ian Mitchell – Sorry for this next comment, Ian; I really hope the University of Denver gets put out of the Frozen Four Tournament early. I want to see what this kid has and would like him to get a few games with the Hawks at the end of this year.
* Goaltending – I saved the best for last. I'm not sure exactly how Subban, Delia, and Lankinen will "battle it out for the backup" role as Stan Bowman suggested, however, I'm down if the outcome is to see all 3 of these guys in multiple NHL games. This can be done by carrying 3 goalies at times – as Subban requires to go through waivers – so Delia or Lankinen could be recalled to play spot duty. Also, by rotating through these 3, it will ensure that the Hawks don't kill Corey Crawford. He's played split duty this year platooning with Lehner all year, there's no need to overplay Crawford now.
The Hawks take on the Lightning on Thursday. I would toss Malcolm Subban in there to see if he likes a lot of shots. Also, Crawford had an up-and-down night vs. the Blues so give him a break.
In closing, toss the kids in and let 'em play.
See ya out there!