The Chicago Blackhawks are officially halfway through preseason, with three games under their belts and three games remaining. They’ve won two of the three games by large margins, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets with a score of five to two and then besting the Red Wings with a score of six to one. They did fall to the Blue Jackets at the United Center last night, but only by a one goal difference.
Preseason is a time for players to show how they have improved over the summer. For some of the younger and newer guys, it’s a chance to show why they should be part of the team. Laurent Dauphin, a forward that the Blackhawks picked up from the Arizona Coyotes, has been doing just that. He had a goal during the Hawks’ first game against the Blue Jackets, as well as three blocked shots. With Niklas Hjalmarsson, who had a stellar record of blocking shots for the Hawks, now gone, they’ll need someone who is not afraid to get in the line of fire. Dauphin may not be on the backend, but his confidence is a strong asset that will help him earn his spot on the roster. He also had three hits during the game and spent half of his time on the ice during the penalty kill. With the Hawks looking for someone to replace their former star penalty killer Marcus Kruger, Dauphin could be just the guy to take that spot.
The Hawks are also looking for a back-up goaltender after they traded Scott Darling to the Carolina Hurricanes and Anton Forsberg gave them a strong look during training camp. Forsberg was picked up by the Hawks in their trade with the Blue Jackets and was originally supposed to be Corey Crawford’s backup for this season. However, he has competition from another goalie that the Hawks picked up, Jean-Francois Berube. Berube was part of the New York Islanders for the past two years and appeared in 21 games, which is 11 more than Forsberg. However, Berube struggled in his preseason experience yesterday. The Blackhawks outshot the Blue Jackets 54 to 21, yet Columbus walked away with the win after three of their shots hit Berube and went in. Two of the goals went in one after the other with less than thirty seconds between them. Forsberg, on the other hand, looked calm and collected during his time on the ice in the preseason opener. He faced forty shots throughout the game, only allowing two goals. He also stood tall during the Hawks’ ten penalty kills, only allowing one goal during the twenty minutes that Chicago spent shorthanded. With his strong performance that night, he earned the first star of the game and will likely take the top spot for backup goalie during the regular season.
Though a lot of focus is on the newest members of the Blackhawks, many of the older players showed strong performances as well. Brandon Saad, who returned to the Blackhawks this summer after being previously traded to the Blue Jackets, earned himself a hat trick against the Red Wings on Thursday night. Patrick Sharp also returned to the Hawks this year after spending some time with the Dallas Stars and has four assists in two games played. He and Nick Schmaltz lead the team in points with four each, while Saad and Richard Panik are not far behind with three points each.
Seeing strong performances from players like Forsberg and Dauphin has helped the Blackhawks to narrow down their roster. Though they still have time before the regular season hits, they’ve already made some choices, including sending forward Alexandre Fortin to the Rockford IceHogs. Fortin has a lot of potential to join the Hawks in the future, but he needs some time to mature and improve his level of play to be a standout player. Defenseman Luc Snuggerud will also be unavailable for Chicago. The prospect was injured when the Hawks faced the Detroit Red Wings and will be out for three weeks, given an upper-body injury. He played well during the first preseason game, so the Hawks will hope that he has a quick and complete recovery.
Chicago will also need to become more aware of their penalties. In the Hawks’ first preseason game alone, they racked up 17 penalties. Many of them were due to slashing, which the refs have become much more intent about stopping, as well as face-off violations. With the rules following all the teams into the regular season, it’ll be important that the Hawks get their mistakes under control so as not to limit their full line potentials.
Given the three games that they have played thus far, the Blackhawks are looking like a decent team. However, last year’s ending was pretty disastrous and the regular season will have a much different tone than preseason. With three more games to be played, Chicago will want to crank up the heat and really find their best level of play. They’ll need to be a solid team and come out with their best look when opening night hits on October 5th and they face-off against the reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins.