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A Half Dozen Blackhawks Thoughts: Show Patience with Reichel

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CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks 5-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights wasn’t so much about what they didn’t do as much as what they missed on. Let’s not miss the point that in their first six games, the Blackhawks have tangled with some heavyweights and all but two of those teams (Montreal) made the playoffs last season.

Of those four teams who made the playoffs, one won the Stanley Cup (Vegas), one made it to the second round (Toronto) and the other two were bounced in the opening round. Of those two, Colorado were the defending Cup champions at the time, and Boston squandered a 3-1 lead in its best of seven series against Florida. Those same Panthers would make a run to the Final only to bow out to the Golden Knights. Oh–and that same Vegas team is on a record setting pace as a defending champion.

So being 2-4 and fighting to the bitter end is a great look for a Blackhawks team currently in a full rebuild. So what’s next? Here are a half dozen thoughts on the first six games of the season.

#1. Lukas Reichel Will Come Around

Whether it’s being full time at center or perhaps just the beginning of the season jitters, Reichel has yet to score a point in the early season and this is hardly the time to be concerned. He had a couple great passes that could easily have been goals, which would have ended those concerns. He also pushed back after a vicious hit in the corner at the end of a shift where he was tired. Perhaps a little exhaustion and frustration rolled into one, Reichel showed some fight.

Expect him to get on track–and maybe as suggested before, a little time with Connor Bedard might help? Head coach Luke Richardson wants him to do what the crowd implored many Blackhawks tonight: shooooot

“I’d still like to see him shoot more, take charge,” Richardson said.  “He had a real good shift in the second period when he sped through the neutral zone and drove the net and I think it just rolled off the end of his stick. Same thing for him, kind of like our power play.

If he keeps getting and creating chances and he gets a couple of goals or a couple of points one night, he’s the type of guy his confidence grows. We saw it last year at times, too.”

So in short–more time is needed.

#2. Bedard is who we thought he was

That power play goal sure settled that one, eh? Oh yes, there’s still a chorus on social media waiting to point their fingers and laugh at any sense of misfortune or lack of video game numbers from the 18-year-old center. But the goal he had tonight shows again the talent he possesses. At times, it looks like he might be trying to do too much–but what rookie doesn’t? There’s always an adjustment period and the comparison with Auston Matthews last week leads me to believe that Bedard, like Matthews, will only get better as the season wears on.

#3. Goaltending Has Been Great

Be it Petr Mrazek or Arvid Soderblom, the tandem has stood tall through the six games, even in the contests where it appeared more lopsided on the scoreboard. Take tonight for example–on those five given up–it can be argued that Soderblom didn’t have much time to react to all three of the Vegas goals in the third. Simply put, the Golden Knights were ruthless down low and took it to Chicago as soon as the puck dropped in third. 13 seconds in, they got the go-ahead goal. The next two, scored in similar fashions.

Natural Stat Trick provides a far more colorful view.

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick

The Blackhawks had it taken to them low, and eventually, Vegas made them pay. No one is going to fare well if the high-danger chances are that relentless.

#4: Young Blackhawks defensemen are holding their own

Wyatt Kaiser certainly had his fits early on–specifically against Boston. But the young defensive corps has settled in nicely into what could have been an absolute gauntlet with a five-game road trip and contests against some of the NHL’s best. There have certainly been mistakes, but Chicago has been competitive in all but one game (Colorado) where they just seemed overwhelmed midway through the first period.

#5: Richardson getting the most out of roster

Let’s be honest: not even the most diehard of fans had the Blackhawks sitting with a pair of wins after running through this. Many (including yours truly) marked Toronto as a loss, and Chicago flipped the script on that one. In fact, they made the Penguins look old and slow during their rally less than two weeks ago. Credit Richardson and his staff who are putting players in spots to succeed, and like tonight, made tweaks here and there to generate chances. Reese Johnson is an example of that.

This is an audition year for a lot of people on the roster. Which leads us to the final point.

#6: The Next Six Games Don’t Get Any Easier

Yeah, a glance at the next six contests doesn’t make for an easy road for the Blackhawks. Tuesday they get the Bruins at home and then head off to Vegas to see the Golden Knights again. One of the more intriguing matchups: Arizona on October 30th. A treat for those looking to see Logan Cooley and Bedard on the ice against one another but a potential tricky matchup for two teams in the middle of rebuilds.

From there, it’s a break before they get the Panthers and Devils at home on consecutive days and then the Lightning in Tampa.

The first dozen games are certainly going to push the Blackhawks. But it will continue to help figure out who the main contributors are in a roster where many player are fighting for spots.