HAWKS FAC­ING MUST-WIN GAME TONIGHT

Hawks need more pro­duc­tion from strug­gling cag­giula

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN POPE BPOPE@SUNTIMES.COM | @BENPOPECST

En­ter­ing the play­offs, wing Drake Cag­giula was the Black­hawks’ worst-kept se­cret. Team­mates, ex­perts and re­porters uni­ver­sally her­alded Cag­giula as the Hawks’ likely post­sea­son X-fac­tor.

It all made sense: Cag­giula played well dur­ing the healthy por­tions of his in­jury­plagued reg­u­lar season, had re­cov­ered fully dur­ing the time off, plays a gritty game that seems per­fectly suited for post­sea­son hockey and would be mo­ti­vated by his about-to­ex­pire con­tract.

Even Cag­giula him­self joined in the hype. ‘‘You can have a good season and a bad play­offs, and ev­ery­body will re­mem­ber you for the bad play­offs,’’ he said July 30. ‘‘That’s where I think my game fits in. Play­offs are tough hockey, dirty hockey, and I like to play in those types of games, those types of ar­eas. Play­off hockey suits my game very well, and I just want to make sure I do what­ever I can to show­case that I can play this kind of style and play in these big games.’’

Six games into the Hawks’ post­sea­son run, how­ever, the most no­table thing Cag­giula has done is play in only five games be­cause he was sus­pended for Game 2 against the Oil­ers af­ter an il­le­gal check to Tyler En­nis’ head in Game 1.

Other than that, the X-fac­tor has been a non­fac­tor.

Cag­giula has zero goals and zero as­sists. He has 17 hits, but that’s mainly be­cause he rarely has had the puck. Af­ter all, it’s hard (il­le­gal, ac­tu­ally) to hit guys when in pos­ses­sion.

Dur­ing Cag­giula’s 54 min­utes of five-on­five ice time so far, the Hawks have been out-at­tempted 68-38. That’s the worst Corsi rat­ing (35.9%) on the team. They also have been out-chanced 35-21. Only two play­ers grade worse than Cag­giula’s 37.5% rat­ing in that cat­e­gory.

Even be­yond the statis­tics, he hasn’t been a no­tice­ably im­pact­ful player in the way many ex­pected. In­stead of ris­ing amid the chaos, phys­i­cal­ity and in­ten­sity of play­off hockey, Cag­giula has looked more ir­rel­e­vant than he did dur­ing the reg­u­lar season.

Cag­giula is lucky the Hawks only have been outscored 2-1 in his 54 min­utes. Asked

Fri­day about his strug­gles, how­ever, he seemed up­beat and un­per­turbed.

‘‘Points will come if you do the right things,’’ Cag­giula said. ‘‘It is what it is. I’m not the guy to sit out there look­ing for points. I know what I have to do to make play­ers around me be suc­cess­ful.’’

That pos­i­tive at­ti­tude about his per­for­mance was echoed by his coach, too.

‘‘He’s a ver­sa­tile player,’’ coach Jeremy Col­li­ton said. ‘‘He can do dif­fer­ent things for you. He can play with good play­ers be­cause he gets on the forecheck and pres­sures the puck and forces turnovers and is will­ing to go to the net . . . . He’s a nice guy to have in your lineup to move around.’’

In fact, Col­li­ton el­e­vated Cag­giula to a big­ger role in the Hawks’ 4-3 loss Thurs­day against the Golden Knights in Game 2. Cag­giula played 15 min­utes, 39 sec­onds — a sub­stan­tial in­crease — on a line with Pa­trick Kane and Kirby Dach.

That line still was slaugh­tered by the Knights in terms of shots, but Cag­giula at least helped the Hawks score a goal.

Early in the sec­ond pe­riod, he drove the net on a tran­si­tion at­tack and planted him­self in the crease, oc­cu­py­ing Knights de­fense­man Nate Sch­midt so that Dach could stand alone at the back post and tap in a re­bound.

‘‘I was able to get in front of the net, park my butt there and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for the other guys,’’ Cag­giula said. ‘‘We have a good blend of dif­fer­ent skill sets on that line. Hope­fully we can build off that for the next game.’’

He can’t sim­ply hope; he has to. The

Hawks trail 2-0 in the se­ries en­ter­ing Game 3 on Satur­day, the first leg of a week­end back-to-back that po­ten­tially could end their season.

And while a num­ber of play­ers must im­prove if the Hawks wish to rally and ad­vance, Cag­giula sits atop the list. It’s time for him to prove his tal­ents re­ally do trans­late well to the play­offs. ✶

JEFF VINNICK/GETTY IM­AGES

Hawks wing Drake Cag­giula reaches around Golden Knights wing Jonathan Marches­sault in an ef­fort to steal the puck dur­ing Game 2 on Thurs­day.

PAUL BEATY/AP

Cag­giula (91) cel­e­brates with Pa­trick Kane and Kirby Dach (77) dur­ing the reg­u­lar season.

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