Five thoughts on Blackhawks’ loss to Kings: Landon Slaggert’s debut, Lukas Reichel’s return


CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks returned to reality Friday.

After lighting up the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks for seven goals each in wins, the Blackhawks took a step up in competition Friday against the Los Angeles Kings and it didn’t go well. The Kings scored four goals on their 14 shots and put the game away in the first period. The Kings added another goal later and completed a 5-0 win at the United Center. At least there was a lot of Irish music (and alcohol) to distract everyone on a Friday night.

Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson was asked the difference between Tuesday’s win over the Ducks and Friday’s loss. He was as honest as can be.

“Uhh, the L.A. Kings? That’s one thing,” Richardson said. “I think it was a little bit of both tonight. I think we didn’t probably have our best game, but they really played well. They’re a big, heavy team. We had a hard time winning puck battles and I thought that was a big difference.”

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Goalie Arvid Söderblom will undoubtedly be rained on with blame from a lot of fans for the loss. I’m not here to defend Söderblom’s season. He hasn’t been great on most nights. But that said, Friday night wasn’t his fault.

Söderblom could have probably stopped the first goal.  On the power play, the Kings attempt a shot, it ricochets off the boards and Söderblom is caught high in the crease and can’t react quickly enough to get back to the point. But from there, Söderblom’s teammates did him no favors.

The Kings scored their second goal off a redirect from Alex Laferriere in front of the net. The third goal was a defensive breakdown against the rush. We’ll dissect that further in a moment. The fourth goal, which led to Söderblom being pulled, was another where a Kings player was left wide open. The Kings’ Quinton Byfield deserves props for the pass and it initially gets past Alex Vlasic, but Seth Jones should be in position to defend Anze Kopitar at the back door.

Here’s that goal:

Blackhawks forward Jason Dickinson felt bad for Söderblom.

“I can’t think of one of those goals that are his fault,” Dickinson said. “Those are plays on the back post that we can’t give up because the goalie’s got to honor the shot. We have to be responsible to take those pucks on the back side for them.”

Richardson said he made the goalie change after the fourth goal just to see if he could spark something in his team. He didn’t blame Söderblom either.

2. Let’s take a closer look at the Kings’ third goal. Here’s the whole sequence in video form.

How did that play break down so poorly for the Blackhawks? Let’s look at it frame by frame.

In this first frame, the Kings’ Adrian Kempe is carrying the puck through the neutral zone. The Blackhawks have three players in good position to defend the rush.

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In the second frame, Kempe carries the puck into the offensive zone on the left side. Philipp Kurashev (23) is the forward defending the puck and Kevin Korchinski (55) and Jaycob Megna (24) are the defensemen. Kopitar has gotten behind Korchinski and Megna, but he shouldn’t be a threat if the defensemen keep an eye on him.

 

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In the next frame, the play begins to go sideways for the Blackhawks. Byfield has joined the rush as the trailer and has a ton of space in front of him. Kurashev continued to follow Kempe deep into the zone, and the Blackhawks found themselves defending two players below the dots with three players.

Richardson went into detail about the breakdown.

“There should be communication,” Richardson said. “Sometimes that’s the D. Because the D are skating backwards, they see everything. So they can see a guy coming off the bench right down the middle and call Kurashev off and Kurashev can kind of stop, turn around and pick that up. Part of it is the forward being a little bit aware on his own.”

Richardson would have preferred if Kurashev left Kempe to Megna and began pursuing Byfield.

“Leave them to our D, which was Megna there, and then turn around and take the top guy and Korchinski can take the other guy driving the net,” Richardson said. “We got two D which were on that side, which is fine, but Kurashev tracked early at the blue line, which is fine, but once it got in deep, we have to sort it out. We’ve been doing a better job of that lately, but that was a unique type of entry. You don’t normally see that guy up like that, but you have to be ready and sort that out.”

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The Blackhawks didn’t sort and Byfield had an open lane. Korchinski is left defending two players.

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Korchinski steps up to defend Byfield, and Byfield moves the puck to Kopitar for the wide-open shot.

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3. It was a tough game for Landon Slaggert to make his NHL debut, but he held his own. Aside from not being on the ice for any of the Kings’ goals, Slaggert played 15 shifts and 10:32 of ice time, attempted two shots, had one hit and blocked two shots.

This was one of the shifts where I noticed Slaggert, who is No. 84. This is the type of game the Blackhawks will be seeking from him. They want him to play fast, play hard and cause some havoc.

Here were Richardson’s thoughts on Slaggert’s debut:

“Good, same as practice,” Richardson said. “It’s just a sample size for him. Definitely energy and gets in on forechecks and not afraid to bump people. He got out there once in the penalty kill and seemed fine and comfortable with it. Obviously more to come and looking forward to seeing it.”

Slaggert’s first NHL shift came on the penalty kill. You don’t often see that.

“I was a little surprised, but maybe it’s a better way to get the feet wet out there and just go to work,” Slaggert said.

One of Slaggert’s most memorable moments from his first game will be his rookie lap during warmups. His Notre Dame teammates were along the glass, and he also forgot to take a puck out with him.

“Yeah, it was a pretty cool experience,” he said. “I actually forgot the pucks when I was going out, so I didn’t get a rookie shot, but it’s cool when I was winding around the net I got to see all the guys sporting my jerseys, too. So it was definitely awesome to have them support me and here in Chicago.”

4. Lukas Reichel’s next chance in the NHL has arrived quicker than probably expected. He was recalled Friday afternoon and was listed as a scratch for Friday’s game. It doesn’t sound like the Blackhawks just want him to be sitting around. He should be in the lineup soon.

In nine games with the Rockford IceHogs, Reichel had one goal and six assists. If you missed it, I talked to him after one of those games. Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson talked about Reichel after the trade deadline last week and why they decided to send Reichel to Rockford.

“Just another way of trying to kick-start whether it be confidence, whether it be the play, getting more puck touches, more play, just trying to get some positive momentum going,” Davidson said on March 8. “It’s been a tough year for him, but he responded very well. I’ve watched one live game and a bunch of them on video. I think it’s trending the right way, so there’s some positive momentum there. So, we’ll look to carry that on a bit longer. We’ll just kind of keep an eye on him, and when the time’s right, we’ll make a decision on where he needs to be.”

The time appears to be right. Richardson gave some context after the game, too.

“I guess he’s been playing really well as of late,” Richardson said. “Points were coming early and not the goals, and I think he scored the other night, which was great. I think playing at a high level again, so this is a good time to get him back here while his confidence is back at a higher level compared to when he left. I think he was a little bit down on himself and unconfident, so this is the time to get him back up here. As we’re a little healthier a unit now as well, we can get him with some players who can kind of complement him and help him out here.”

5. Sunday’s game against the San Jose Sharks won’t be one that probably draws much attention around the league, but it could matter who finishes with the best odds to win the NHL draft lottery.

Entering Sunday’s game, the Blackhawks will have a .306 points percentage with 15 games remaining. The Sharks are in 32nd place with a .300 points percentage. They’ll play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday before traveling to Chicago.

Must-see TV, of course.

(Top photo: Jamie Sabau / USA Today)





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