3 things to watch as the Chicago Blackhawks start a 4-game trip against the expansion Seattle Kraken, including Dominik Kubalík trying to rediscover his scoring touch

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Chicago Blackhawks left wing Dominik Kubalik (8) fails to score on Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) in the third period at the United Center on Feb. 27, 2021. Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

Derek King is trying not to hear talk about being undefeated as the Chicago Blackhawks interim coach.

“I don’t want to just keep bringing stuff up like that. It’s like telling the goalie at the third-period intermission, ‘Hey, keep the shutout.’ It’s bad luck,” King said with a laugh. “If it starts to creep in and I sense it, we’ll address it at the time.”

The Hawks have won three consecutive games since King replaced Jeremy Colliton, but there’s no getting around the fact they are last in the league in five-on-five goal differential (0.39) — even worse than the team they just beat, the Arizona Coyotes (0.51).

The Hawks head west looking for the true measure of themselves, starting with their first meeting Wednesday against the expansion Seattle Kraken, who also will be making their debut on “NHL on TNT.”

Then it’s on to Edmonton for Saturday’s game against the Western Conference-leading Oilers and Connor McDavid, who’s doing hypnotic things with the puck.

Sunday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks — who have lost four straight and face the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday — might be considered a “trap game” if the 4-9-2 Hawks dared to utter such a term.

The Hawks wrap up the trip next Tuesday against the Calgary Flames, who were fourth in the league in goal differential at plus-16 heading into Tuesday night’s schedule.

Here are three things to watch on the trip.

1. Don’t expect the Kraken to play like an expansion team.

Alex DeBrincat was asked if he ever has visited Seattle, much less played there.

“Nope. Should be a good one,” he said.

For Dominik Kubalík, too, “it’s going to be my first time, so I’m pretty excited. Heard great things about it, so I’m very excited to be there.”

The Kraken have at least four Chicago-related connections: Player personnel director Norm Maciver was the Hawks assistant general manager before he was bumped down to vice president of player personnel; pro scout Cammi Granato is a Downers Grove native; amateur scout Eddie Olczyk Jr. is the son of Hawks color analyst and former player Eddie Olczyk; and assistant GM Ricky Olczyk is Eddie Sr.’s brother and Eddie Jr.’s uncle.

There’s not a lot of crossover on the ice between the Hawks and Kraken. The Kraken selected John Quenneville in the expansion draft, but he’s playing in Switzerland for the ZSC Lions.

But there are Kraken players who are quite familiar with the Hawks.

Former Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer is 2-2-1 against the Hawks in his career with a .919 save percentage and 2.63 goals-against average. Former St. Louis Blues forward Jaden Schwartz has played 34 games against the Hawks, and former Florida Panthers center Alex Wennberg had three goals and three assists in eight games against the Hawks last season.

Yanni Gourde feasted on the Hawks as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, racking up 10 points (six goals and four assists) in eight games — his most points against any opponent.

“What I’ve seen over the years, the expansion teams are pretty good,” King said. “Back in the day, when the expansion teams came in, they struggled. But these teams are pretty good right now.

“And we’re in no position to look at any team and think, ‘Oh, we’re going to have a point night because they’re an expansion team.’ Every game is a hard game for us. ... We have to be prepared and be ready to work for three periods against them.”

2. Dominik Kubalík and other ‘guys who score’ are trying break out of slumps.

The Hawks have spread around the assists, but other than DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, the goals aren’t coming from where you’d expect.

Kirby Dach has gone the last eight games without a goal, Kubalík has gone nine and Jonathan Toews has yet to score through 15 games.

DeBrincat, who plays on a line with Dach and Kane, said they naturally want to help Dach get better, like any teammate, but added: “Kirby’s been great. He has so much speed up the middle.

“We want to get that out of each other, and it starts in practice with competition and just trying to get everyone on the same page and battling hard to be better in that next game and build off that.”

Kubalík said he has discussed his drought with King.

“Everybody knows I’m a shooter more than a passer. That was the conversation,” Kubalík said. “I feel like I’m still getting those chances, they just didn’t go in, so I’ve just got to find a way to be in those shooting positions, be around the net ... (where) you can have easy goals.”

Kubalík joked about goalies getting wise to his preference to shoot the five-hole.

“Even my friends call me, like, ‘It’s enough,’” he said. “I know, I know. But sometimes when you’re in the scoring chance, you don’t really think, you just do some moves you’ve been doing and (that) get you the success.”

Give it time, King said.

“I like their games, it’s just sometimes you get a little snakebitten,” he said. “Kuby goes eight games in a row with a goal, you never even look at that; the other eight games he hasn’t scored. I talked to Tazer yesterday and he’s playing both ends of the ice. He’s playing some minutes too. They’ll go in.

“It’s like riding a bike. Skilled guys, guys that can score goals, they don’t lose it. They’ve just got to get that first one, break the ice, and then it just snowballs into some positives.”

3. Will we see the effects of the Blackhawks’ ‘bonding trip’?

The Hawks have talked at length about how an extended trip can bring teammates together and have it translate to the ice.

The first trip didn’t go so well.

After getting outscored 13-7 and going 0-2-1 in three away games to open the season, the Hawks were just trying to keep the season from spiraling out of control.

Now the team seems more settled after a three-game winning streak, and players and coaches can think about bonding while they’re away for a week.

“It’s just them being together on the road and battling together on the road and even our staff, just getting to know everybody again,” King said.

It’s well-established that the Hawks have a lot of new faces and still are getting familiar with each other.

“Anytime you get on the road, you get to go on some dinners, get to know some new guys,” DeBrincat said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to really bond as a team and right the ship.”

Defenseman Calvin de Haan said the schedule, combined with players going into the COVID-19 protocol, has kept the Hawks from getting “to bond as a team outside of the rink.”

“This is kind of our first road trip to really get to know each other, get to know guys away from the rink,” de Haan said. “Obviously we do that (in Chicago), but away from Chicago is a different time zone, different zip code, everything. So it’s nice to get out of the city and be with the guys.”

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