In the first three games of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2021 regular season, the franchise has not only gone 0-3, but have also given up 5 goals against in every contest. To date, they have a -10 goal differential (worst in the league) and have yet to hold a lead at any point this year.
Three games down, fifty-three more to go.
As in all three of their losses, Chicago started the game well, seemingly scoring the first goal of the game before a challenge by ex-Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. Rookie Pius Suter made a fantastic spin-o-rama pass to Patrick Kane, but Kane was ruled to be offside on the play.
The best assist that never countered.
— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) January 18, 2021
After a scoreless first period, Florida wasted no time in the second, with Aaron Ekblad scoring just 12 seconds into the period. Keith Yandle would make 2-0 five minutes later, after Blackhawk goalie Collin Delia got tangled with his own defenseman in Adam Boqvist, leaving Yandle with a wide-open net. Alex Debrincat would cut the Florida lead in half with his second power-play goal in consecutive games, slapping a one-timer from Duncan Keith late in the period.
Defenseman Connor Murphy would tie the game early in the third period, wristing a shot from a faceoff win by Suter over goalie Chris Driedger’s glove hand. The tie was short-lived, as Panther center Eetu Luostarinen would score 22 seconds later to regain Florida’s lead. Luostarinen scored on a quick transition with center Carter Verhaeghe, as Duncan Keith was unable to match the former’s speed. The goal was Luostarinen’s first in the NHL.
Eetu Luostarinen scored the first goal of his NHL career just 22 seconds after Chicago pulled even to help the @FlaPanthers improve to 9-0-2 in 11 all-time season-opening games at home. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/8UlF00EEWO
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 18, 2021
Patric Hornqvist and Jonathan Huberdeau would add two more goals for Florida, with Huberdeau scoring on the power play, sealing the 5-2 victory. Since their first two games were canceled, this game was Florida’s first of the season. The Panthers were initially scheduled to play the Dallas Stars, but the Stars suffered a coronavirus outbreak and were unable to play.
The game also marked Collin Delia’s second straight start. Although Delia gave up five goals last night, at least three of the goals that were scored were not his fault. Two of his goals against went off of his own teammates in Alex Debrincat and Calvin de Haan; and Luostarinen’s goal was a breakaway. Delia may have lost his net at times, but overall, he was not the reason the Hawks dropped their third straight game.
Chicago’s overall team defense has been lacking, with Duncan Keith and Adam Boqvist struggling especially. Boqvist is the most worrisome, as his struggles date back to the playoffs last year. Coach Colliton limited Boqvist to just 13:08 in ice time last night, whereas rookie defenseman Ian Mitchell averaged 17:49. On the flip side, rookie Pius Suter has been one of the Blackhawks’ best players in the first three games. Although Suter has yet to score, he’s generated grade-A scoring chances in every game so far; and his beautiful pass on Kane’s disallowed goal may be a taste of his potential offensively.
The Blackhawks will end their four-game Florida trip and their back-to-back series against the Panthers on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see if Colliton goes back to Delia in net, or if he elects to go back to Subban or even Kevin Lankinen. Regardless, unless the Hawks are able to correct their overall team defense, they are bound to suffer the same fate no matter who is in goal.