Blackhawks vs Golden Knights: The Chicago Blackhawks need to play their game and have some of their impact players step up in order to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.The Chicago Blackhawks have a tough matchup coming up tonight as the Vegas Golden Knights are set to host. They are one of the best teams in the National Hockey League and are very deep. They are good enough to win the Stanley Cup so the Blackhawks are going to want to make sure they are on top of their game when they visit Sin City.
Chicago has been playing well since the calendar turned to the month of November, going 3-1-2 to the start of the month. They notched a point for the third straight game on Sunday, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 behind a monster performance from goaltender Robin Lehner. Patrick Kane had two goals and an assist while Lehner made 53 saves to help the Blackhawks stave off a late Maple Leafs rally and hold on for the win. Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, and Brandon Saad also scored for Chicago, which has now earned at least a point in five of their last six games.
A simple schematic change has sparked the Blackhawks ahead of their upcoming four-game road trip. The Blackhawks had some success last season after allowing their weakside forward to move higher into the zone while playing defense. After the change sparked their offense and a late-season playoff push last year, Chicago has once again adopted the strategy following their slow start. The result: the Blackhawks have scored 12 goals over their last three games after scoring just 33 goals during their first 14 games of the year.
That switch has led to the team earning five of six points since.
After the Hawks’ 5-4 victory Sunday against the Maple Leafs, which showed off both their increased offensive aggressiveness and looser defensive structure, Colliton went public with the decision. And after practice Tuesday, he described the changes in greater depth.
In the defensive zone, the Hawks have pushed their winger on the weak side — the side opposite from where the puck is — higher toward the point, so he has more space and a head start for a counterattacking outlet pass if they force a turnover.
That has switched them from ‘‘four low’’ to ‘‘three low,’’ meaning there’s less defensive coverage in the slot but two forwards above the puck to make defensive-zone exits and offensive-zone entries easier.
‘‘Before, we had four low a lot of times to try and overload in certain situations,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘The problem is, when you win the puck back, a lot of times you’re very close together, and it’s harder to make clean plays. It’s harder to exit with space.
‘‘There’s been a lot of talk about how we have been dumping too many pucks in. Well, we’re not trying to dump the puck in. But when you’re attacking and you don’t have numbers, you don’t have space in behind, you have to.’’
The idea is that this new system will give the Hawks more numbers and more space to execute offensive-zone carry-ins. So far, that idea has proved to be correct.
Of course, it has proved to be correct in games against the Canucks and Leafs, two run-and-gun, speed-based teams. It will be more difficult to execute in the next two games against the Golden Knights and Predators, when the Hawks will operate without the advantage of the last change on home ice — which can create more favorable matchups — and against two defensively stout opponents.
Still, even the best defense often can’t stop Patrick Kane on his ‘‘A’’ game, and he’s definitely on his ‘‘A’’ game right now.
‘‘It was a different game [before the switch],’’ Kane said. ‘‘There wasn’t as much flow to it, for whatever reason that was. We’ve tweaked a few things here and there, and all of a sudden it gives us more motion, more speed and more options coming out of our end, which helps move us up the ice a little bit faster.’’
The Hawks’ strong goaltending so far — Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford have combined for a .918 save percentage, the sixth-best in the NHL — gives Colliton more confidence to cut down on defensive support from the forwards.
‘‘We were trying to be tighter in our own end,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘So you push a weak-side forward down, you have that extra safety in the slot. And I think that area had been better. But now when you push him up, the guys that are down low have to do a better job.’’
When Colliton made a similar switch last season, the Hawks played some terrifying hockey but, in general, made up ground in the standings. The coaching staff hopes deciding to do so again will be equally effective with fewer side effects.
‘‘We kind of felt it was time,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘I think we can still hold on to those defensive gains we’ve made and score more goals.’’