SUNRISE, Fla. — Connor Bedard is fantastic. The Blackhawks, on the whole, are subpar.
Neither of those two statements are new realizations, and the abundant confirmations of both provided during the Hawks’ 4-3 loss to the Panthers on Sunday don’t really change anything.
But it is becoming increasingly apparent, as Sunday showed, that Bedard is already dominant enough to singlehandedly make up for the rest of the team’s deficiencies on many nights. He is as good as the Hawks are bad, and that is a new realization.
“I’ve played with a couple [stars] like that. You call them ‘game-breakers,’” veteran forward Nick Foligno said. “They either win you the game or they keep you in a game — like tonight, where maybe we didn’t deserve that, but he’s able to do it.
“You can see the game is starting to slow down for him, which is scary.”
Both of Bedard’s goals Sunday — giving him four goals in two games on this Florida road trip and eight goals in eight games dating back to Oct. 21 — were instant highlights, as fans have probably come to expect.
On the first, he caught Panthers forward Kevin Stenlund by surprise, lifting his stick to steal the puck. Then, before anyone else processed what had happened, he roofed a shot over Sergei Bobrovsky’s shoulder from a tight angle along the goal line.
“I got the puck and saw [Bobrovsky] was kind of crouching down, maybe [going for] a poke-check,” Bedard said. “[I] just tried to elevate it quick. It was nice it went in.”
Foligno noted that most NHL players, after stealing the puck, would’ve instead circled the net and looked for a teammate to pass to. Bedard’s instinct to glance at the net first exemplified his hockey IQ.
On the second goal, after Seth Jones sent the puck up the boards into the neutral zone, Bedard grabbed it in stride while racing down the left wing, curled toward the net late, evaded a real poke-check by Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and picked the far bottom corner on Bobrovsky.
Both goals temporarily tied the game as the Hawks battled back from 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 deficits, but they weren’t able to do so for a fourth time after Carter Verhaeghe gave the Panthers their ultimately decisive 4-3 lead early in the third period.
And, as the Hawks acknowledged after the game, the Panthers earned that lead and that victory.
They hounded the Hawks on the forecheck, preventing them from cleanly exiting their defensive zone more than a handful of times. Their power play was far more threatening than the Hawks’. They finished with a lopsided 31-11 advantage in scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. Even Bedard was swamped statistically; the Panthers held a 15-3 scoring-chance advantage during his five-on-five ice time.
What Bedard has proven he can do, however, is magically transform nondescript moments into scoring chances and transform run-of-the-mill scoring chances into high-danger scoring chances.
His skill can overcome the odds and equalize the numbers. The Hawks might be able to survive allowing three chances for every one they generate if it’s Bedard generating that one chance.
And a sizable portion of the time, it is him. He now boasts 55 individual scoring chances on the year; no other Hawk has more than 29. He also boasts 5.38 individual expected goals — easily exceeding second-place Tyler Johnson’s 3.75 — and even that number might underestimate things, considering his otherworldly shooting ability. After all, he now has put nine actual goals on the board.
His game-breaking ability wasn’t enough to get the Hawks a win Sunday, although it was enough to keep them competitive in what easily could’ve been a blowout.
Over the course of 82 games, though, he appears destined to pilfer quite a few questionable wins for this otherwise overmatched Hawks club.