The Chicago Blackhawks put together their best effort of the young 2021 season on Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers, but the final result remained the same. Now 0-3-1 on the year, the Blackhawks are the lone NHL club without a victory (aside from Dallas, who have yet to play because of COVID-19) and have the league’s worst goal differential (-11). Although, despite yet another loss, there are plenty of reasons to believe this team is heading in the right direction.

“We reached a better level of desperation and pressure on the puck, and the details of our game were improved,” head coach Jeremy Colliton said in his post-game interview. “Still lots of work to do. Tighten up some areas no question… that was probably our best effort and we’ve got to continue to go that direction.”

Dominik Kubalik Shines

Following a fair amount of controversy surrounding Kubalik’s usage through the opening three games, the 2020 Calder Trophy finalist FINALLY saw time on the power play in Tuesday’s contest and cashed in for two goals. Kubalik skated with the Blackhawks’ second power-play unit and displayed his enormous one-timer on both tallies. The former MVP of the National League now has six career multi-goal games in the NHL.

Kubalik also recorded a primary assist and led the Blackhawks with seven shots on net. However, even with a three-point night, Kubalik had just 14:16 of ice-time, which was significantly lower than Lucas Wallmark (16:12), Mattias Janmark (18:31), and David Kampf (14:42). Uh…. why? For whatever reason, Colliton remains reluctant to trust the 25-year-old forward in a top-six role.

Blackhawks Power Play: ROLLING

Thanks to Kubalik’s pair of goals on the man advantage, the Blackhawks’ power play is now fourth (!!!!) in the NHL at 41.7 percent. Only Colorado (47.1 percent), San Jose (45.5 percent), and Toronto (42.9 percent) have converted at a higher rate so far.

The Hawks also have power-play goals in all four games to start the season, which is the only reason they have been able to stay competitive. Out of their nine goals scored, only four have come at even strength. I never thought I would say this, but the Blackhawks’ power play is the strength of this team right now.

Patrick Kane: Still Good At Hockey

In case you missed it, Kane scored another highlight-reel goal last night to tie the score 3-3 late in the second period. Even at 32 years of age, ‘Showtime’ has still got it.

With the goal, Kane now has points in three consecutive games after being held off the scoresheet in the opener against Tampa Bay. Without Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach in 2021, the Blackhawks will rely heavily on Kane for offensive production, and he has shown no problems carrying the load so far.

Through the first four games, Kane has averaged 19:53 of ice-time and has regularly double-shifted with all four forward lines. Kane has already topped the 20-minute mark three times, and he likely will continue on that pace for the rest of 2021.

Rookies Make An Impact

Kevin Lankinen made his NHL debut in net for the Blackhawks, and forward Brandon Hagel slotted into the lineup for the first time this year in place of Matthew Highmore.

Lankinen, 25, stopped just 23 of 28 Panthers’ shots on goal, but he did not receive much help from his defense. Florida scored two goals on the power play and another two on breakaways. Even Frank Vatrano’s overtime-winner was due to a defensive-zone breakdown by Duncan Keith. Lankinen may have surrendered five goals, but he made all the saves he was supposed to. The Finnish netminder performed well enough to earn a few more starts in the near future.

Hagel, 22, skated on the Blackhawks fourth line and was a noticeable presence throughout the contest. The former sixth-round pick (No. 159 overall) of the Buffalo Sabres laid a couple of big hits and recorded an enormous blocked shot to help force the game to overtime. Highmore is likely to return to the lineup on Friday against Detroit, but Hagel certainly proved his worth against Florida.

Forward Philipp Kurashev also tallied his first NHL goal early in the third period to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 lead. Their first lead of 2021, in fact. Kurashev has been impressive so far in a top-six role and it was nice to see him rewarded for his efforts on Tuesday.

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Born and raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Diehard Blackhawks and Cubs fan. Former high school baseball player. Studied Mass Media Communication and Psychology at the University of Missouri.