It’s been a tough, tough week for the Chicago Blackhawks, and conducive of their season as a whole. After winning four games in a row they’ve lost their last two, essentially eliminating any lingering playoff aspirations. Let’s face it; this has always been a fragile team that’s never really found their identity. Here are four factors that have led to the Blackhawks’ present dismal situation.
Blackhawks’ Recent Games
Vs. Anaheim Ducks, Tues. 3/3, Win 6-2
Vs. Edmonton Oilers, Thurs. 3/5, Win 4-3
@ Detroit Red Wings, Fri. 3/6, Loss 2-1
Vs. St. Louis Blues, Sun. 3/8, Loss 2-0
To begin with, the Blackhawks never had a lot of depth this season. Which is why injuries have hurt them so badly. For their defeat at the hands of the lowly Red Wings, the team was without defensemen Lucas Carlsson (concussion protocol) and Adam Boqvist (right wrist). Now Carlsson has only been with the Blackhawks for five contests, and Boqvist is a 19-year-old rookie. So, one would think neither would be too big of a loss. But both players have made positive contributions of late.
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Despite his lack of size and skating ability, Carlsson is a very good puck mover and this has transferred rather nicely to the NHL level in his small sample size. The 22-year-old was doing an admirable job helping the Hawks get out of their defensive zone and generating offense. He and Connor Murphy were making a solid second pairing before a puck hit Carlsson in the head and knocked him out of the game last Thursday night. Heck, he even earned his first NHL assist in the previous tilt against the Ducks. His radar was pointing up.
Boqvist was beginning to hold his own defensively while also contributing offensively. As of the Oilers’ game, he had five assists (three of them primary) in the last three games. While he missed a game with his wrist injury, Boqvist returned for the Blues game. But a controversial hit to the head in the second period caused him to join Carlsson in concussion protocol.
To add insult to injury, Drake Caggiula took offense to this hit. He in turn engaged in fisticuffs with Vince Dunn after an energetic scuffle between both teams. You certainly have to commend Caggiula for sticking up for his teammate, but he should NOT be fighting considering his concussion history. Along with Boqvist, he also did not return to the game. It was later reported he sustained a hand injury in the fight.
Down a defenseman and a forward, the Blackhawks once again had trouble generating offense and ended up being shut out by the Blues. And let’s not forgot they lost defensemen Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan to season-ending injuries in late December. Gritty forward Andrew Shaw is officially sidelined (concussion issues) and hasn’t played since the end of November. And depth forward Zack Smith underwent back surgery on Mar. 6 and has been out since Feb. 12.
All in all, that’s a lot of damage! Unfortunately the Blackhawks just don’t have the depth to rally around all the injuries that have arisen. It’s taken its toll.
Powerless Power Play
While the Blackhawks’ power play enjoyed a resurgence not too long ago, it’s back to underperforming once again. In the last six games, they’re 1-for-20 on the man advantage.
#Blackhawks PP last six games:— John Dietz (@johndietzdh) March 9, 2020
1. 1-for-6; 6 shots on goal
2. 0-for-3; 2 SOG
3. 0-for-2; 2 SOG
4. 0-for-2; 2 SOG
5. 0-for-3; 4 SOG
6. 0-for-3; 0 SOG
The Blackhawks had one more power play Sunday night following the above tweet where they only managed one shot on goal. One shot on goal in four tries. Ouch!
Unfortunately, the Blackhawks have really only found sustained success on the power play in two ways. The first was when Patrick Kane fed the puck to Alex DeBrincat. But teams figured that out and shut it down. So, the Blackhawks adjusted. This time it was Kane feeding the puck to Dominik Kubalik. And teams went to school on that as well.
The Blackhawks need to find ways to be more creative on the power play. They’ve become way too predictable. We shall see what kind of adjustments they make as the season winds down.
Kubalik’s Gone Quiet
Kubalik had a stretch starting in mid-February where he registered seven goals and four assists in eight games. He’s also second overall on the team with 29 goals. The Blackhawks have come to count on the young winger to contribute.
In the last four games, he’s only managed one assist and just four shots on goal, As a matter of fact, he hasn’t registered a single shot on goal in the last two tilts, both losses. Now don’t get me wrong. Kubalik is a very talented and well-rounded hockey player. He’s earned his elevated role on the first line and the top power play unit.
But with that comes the added responsibility to produce. While Kubalik has a very high ceiling and the potential to be a great player, he’s still only in his first NHL season. He needs to learn how to be more consistent with his talents. It will be something to watch moving forward.
Nylander Isn’t Working Out
If you read my work on a regular basis you’ll know I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I don’t pretend to understand the finer aspects of the financial and business side of things. While it would be easy to criticize general manager Stan Bowman (and it’s getting easier and easier as we go along), I prefer to say it must be a really tough job. Many people are on the “fire Colliton” train. I’d still like to believe he’s an incredibly talented mind that’s simply in over his head right now. With time and more experience he has the potential to be an excellent NHL coach.
But somebody dropped the ball big time when it came to the Henri Jokiharju for Alex Nylander trade. Yeah, I get perhaps Stan thought a change of scenery might make the most of Nylander’s raw talent, aka Dylan Strome. And rumor has it Colliton didn’t feel Jokiharju fit in well in his defensive system. But I’m afraid the gig is up. No matter how it came to be, it was just a bad, bad decision.
Let’s focus on Nylander since he’s the one currently in the organization. The kid has nine goals and 15 assists in 64 games with the Blackhawks. Those are nice numbers if you’re a bottom-six forward. But Nylander’s “skill” dictates he should be part of the top-six. Sure enough, this is the only place he really has produced. In very sporadic spurts. Nylander has been given every chance with other skilled players, most recently on a line with Kane and Strome. And Kane can make anyone look better with enough time.
But Kane shouldn’t have to babysit Nylander, and Nylander doesn’t deserve to be babysat. Oh, and don’t even get me started on his horrific turnover and lack of effort that led directly to a Blues’ goal Sunday night (he’s No. 92 below).
Ugh, the whole sequence just makes me cringe! Nylander is a weak link and a bad signing, and the Blackhawks need to cut the cord.
The Blackhawks have been a precarious house of cards all season, and it’s finally toppled over. There’s definitely some good. And I’d like to revisit that in a different post. I’m not one to stay negative for long.
But there are many reasons the team hasn’t been able to sustain any type of long-term success. I believe the above are some of the main contributors. And especially the ones that have stood out most recently.
We shall see if adjusting the foundation will help in the future. And it will be quite interesting to observe how the organization goes about it. But for now, we’re left to watch this team flail for 13 more games. Fortunately, it’s almost over.
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Let’s put it this way; she’s probably reading and writing about hockey instead of cooking and cleaning. Shh, don’t tell her husband!
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.