The Blackhawks’ recent game brings back memories and could provide a glimpse into their future

CHICAGO — Close your eyes and imagine a Blackhawks team controlling the puck, forcing turnovers, creating breakaways and playing dominant hockey overall. Yeah, the kind of hockey the Blackhawks used to play.

But it hasn’t been a decade. It is now and it is under Luke Richardson as coach.

Richardson, General Manager Kyle Davidson and the organization have a vision of what the Blackhawks should look like in the near future. You will be fast. They will play disruptive hockey. You will play hard. You will score a lot of goals and give up a lot less.

Throughout this season we’ve seen elements here and there that Richardson hopes his team will have. The Blackhawks were certainly more competitive than most people expected, despite often having an underperforming roster, and had some unexpected victories as a result. But overall, the Blackhawks didn’t play great hockey. They did what it took to make ends meet and give themselves a chance.

The Blackhawks’ last two games have been different. They actually played outstanding hockey and outplayed their opponents. Yes, it’s important to note that those opponents were Tuesday’s Anaheim Ducks and Friday’s Arizona Coyotes, two of the other worst teams in the NHL, so don’t expect the Blackhawks to suddenly reverse their season. The Winnipeg Jets could very well throw them back to Earth on Saturday.

“It’s a different team and we’re not sure what to expect,” Richardson said of the Jets. “What we should be concerned about is what we have to expect from ourselves and it’s just another solid effort to play responsibly, to get pucks behind you. We need to get our legs moving tomorrow after some travel tonight and they are a dangerous team. They flip pucks, they’re an offensive team. We want to play with the puck more than give them the puck to earn it. Hopefully they’ve gotten some rust they need to poke at, they need to be ready to start the game.

Whatever happens on Saturday does not mean that these last two games do not matter in the present and especially in the future. Richardson’s system isn’t just a safeguard to ensure a team is competitive. Stealing from European football, he’s not just a manager deployed to keep a team from relegation. Richardson’s system can be much more. The Blackhawks have shown that in the last two games. They had better players, but they also executed their game plan better.

How are these two games different? For one, the Blackhawks had more puck than their opponent in the five-on-five game. Tuesday and Friday marked the first time this season that the Blackhawks had a Corsi percentage greater than 50 percent in consecutive games. Additionally, the Blackhawks also had an expected goal percentage of more than 50 in both games.

The Blackhawks certainly passed the analysis test, but they also passed the eye test. The Blackhawks have had more sustained offensive zone time than we’ve seen this season. They forced turnovers at the forecheck and through the neutral zone and quickly turned them into offensive chances. They had countless golden chances in both games. Had they had a few more finishers both games would have been decided much sooner rather than going into overtime. Only on Friday did Jake McCabe, Boris Katchouk, Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou have outliers that didn’t end positively.

“I just think we’re playing together,” said Blackhawks defenseman Caleb Jones, who scored the overtime winner on Friday. “I think we all know how to play, we all play in the system and I think that shows when all five guys play the same way.”

It also helps when the best players on the team play like the best players. Patrick Kane and his line were great against Anaheim. Athanasiou was almost unstoppable in the last two halves against the Coyotes whenever he had the puck. Most importantly, Seth Jones played like a No. 1 defender in both games.

In the last 10 games, Jones has played at a different level. In the five-on-five game, he had more shots on the ice than against him. He produced. He had a goal on Friday to give him four with seven assists in his last 10 games. As Richardson put it, Jones played under control.

“Yeah, he’s playing well,” Richardson said. “I think you don’t see that he’s making an effort and he’s climbing, so I think he really puts himself into being a solid defender like he’s almost impossible to beat anywhere. He’s so heavy on his stick when he’s approaching a guy. He’s going to be like that 200-foot defender you want this #1 guy to have. You can’t just be an offensive guy who scores points. I know sometimes he probably thinks he has to do this with his contract and his status. But look at Victor Hedman, he’s never out of control. He’s always in control. He’s on the ice at the right time and that’s how he gets his points and he never gets hit defensively and I think that’s what Seth is really turning his game around this year and is starting to become.

Fans shouldn’t get too excited about standing points either. There are still plenty of games left, especially after the close, for the Blackhawks to be in the Connor Bedard discussion. Like the Blackhawks, fans should allow themselves to enjoy these final games. That style of hockey may be short-lived in the present, but the Blackhawks hope to play it that way in the future.

(Photo of Blackhawks defenseman Caleb Jones, center, celebrating with teammates after scoring the winning goal in overtime: Jamie Sabau/USA Today) The Blackhawks’ recent game brings back memories and could provide a glimpse into their future

Russell Falcon

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