The roar for Kirby Dach, when the third overall pick was announced in Sunday’s starting lineup, was as loud as anything heard at the United Center this season.
But Dach, while decent, didn’t finish his night with a storybook ending. Instead, the Blackhawks squandered a massive scoring chance advantage in a 5-3 loss to the Capitals.
“At home we want to get two points, but I think that was one of our better performances of the season,” Jeremy Colliton said. “Sometimes you don’t get rewarded, but over time, if you continue to play well, you do.”
Colliton gave Dach a big platform on a line with Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome, yet the trio didn’t produce anything together — Kane scored a temporarily crucial game-tying goal in the third period, but it was on a 2-on-1 with the wrong prospect forward (Alex Nylander). And the Capitals retook the lead for good just minutes later.
Ultimately, Dach played 13:41, went 1-for-5 on faceoffs and was the only Hawks forward without a shot on goal. His one moment in the spotlight occurred in unfortunate circumstances, when Alex Ovechkin blew a patented one-timer past both him and Corey Crawford.
“Could we have done a couple things to make that more difficult goal? Yeah, we could have,” Colliton said. “But credit to them, they made us pay when they got the opportunities.”
The Caps improved to 7-1 in their last eight matchups versus Crawford, even though the Hawks were the clearly better team possession-wise: they finished with an 84-49 advantage in shots on goal and 43-22 advantage in scoring chances.
The Hawks’ special teams did struggle, as the Caps scored once with the man advantage and once shorthanded and held Chicago without either.
Still, Drake Caggiula — who scored for the second straight game — went a step further than Colliton and proclaimed it the Hawks’ outright best performance of the year to date.
And he was probably right, making it even more frustrating than the hosts weren’t able to scrape a victory out of it. They now sit 2-3-1 with just two games left on the homestand.
“That’s the way hockey works sometimes,” Caggiula said. “You don’t always get the bounces, you don’t always get the results you’re looking for. … We didn’t get rewarded tonight, but this is something we can build off of heading into the next one.”
A key way they can build off it involves Dach, who looked as poised and skilled as billed back at the draft, even if his NHL debut didn’t go as planned.
Colliton said the coaching staff will “talk about” how to integrate Dach moving forward, but Kane, for one, seemed eager for Dach to get another shot alongside him.
“[Kirby is] pretty raw, but for his first game against…one of the better teams in the league, I thought he was noticeable, had some good shifts,” Kane said. “There’s some chemistry to be built there, so I think we can even be better.”
Dach himself said he didn’t feel nervous, despite having to learn on the fly the speed and physicality of the NHL. He had his head nearly ripped off on one high-sticking incident; afterwards, he mentioned “how heavy they are on their sticks” as a key lesson he learned, probably not coincidentally.
Nevertheless, Sunday was just one game for the 18-year-old center. He’ll almost certainly receive at least a few more nights to prove (or disprove) his professional readiness.
“I want to be a Blackhawk this year,” he said, bluntly. “That’s the goal.”