They say that good things don’t last forever. While being nothing more than an assumption, of course, it mostly rings true in the sports world and particularly, the National Hockey League, where parity reigns supreme and you are not the best until you are hoisting the Stanley Cup in June. There are no trophies or awards given out at mid-season, no bonus checks to earn and no extra income that facilities can take in.
So why do the Chicago Blackhawks, the darling of the league over the first two months of this shortened season and absolutely responsible for putting the league back on the radar of ESPN, create such a stir over back to back losses? They are a very good hockey team, one that is poised to threaten in the upcoming NHL playoffs. They have all the balance and coaching most general managers would love to have and be able to watch nightly from their perch in the luxury box.
One reason might be because as fun as it is it talk about great things that are happening; the negative stories most times seem to get the most attention. We are witnesses to it each and every night when we switch on our nightly news broadcast. Next time you watch, count how many stories would be considered negative, sad or ‘head scratchers’ before you see a ‘feel good’ or positive story. Same applies to the world of sports. Who’s slumping, who is injured and who is on the ‘hot seat’ of losing their job. It goes on and on.
In the case of the Blackhawks, it is not the two losses that were surprising. There was probably one hockey fan on the planet who thought they would go undefeated in regulation time over the course of a 48 game season. It was how they lost….defensive breakdowns and poor goaltending, two of the staples that carried the club to its record setting streak. A look further into the numbers suggest that they were fortunate to carry the streak as long as they did, making it even more remarkable and putting to bed any discussion between them and the Miami Heat of the NBA as to whom should be put higher on the pedestal.
During The Streak
– 26 games in 52 days
– 13 on the road (10 of first 12 overall) and 13 at home
– 78 goals scored (3.25 per game)
– 46 goals allowed (1.92 per game)
You can certainly argue that the offense was to be expected, with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp leading the way. To have expected the defense to over perform as they did would have been the kind of gamble that could have netted tons of money, if one was so inclined to have placed such a bet. And the numbers posted by Corey Crawford and journeyman Ray Emery between the pipes? If anyone would have called that, I would be on a desperate search for the infamous sports almanac from ‘Back to the Future’ as I would be convinced it truly does exist. In fact, all pre-season forms of hockey and Blackhawk media figured that was the team’s one glaring weakness.
After The Streak
– 2 games in 3 days
– 1 road and 1 home
– 7 goals scored (3.50 per game)
– 12 goals against (6 per game)
Small sample size? Absolutely. But telling in and of itself that everything is linked to the backline. The defense and goaltending are the two facets of the game that you cannot ignore when analyzing and trying to predict future success. Every successful Stanley Cup run has not been backed by teams coming out with guns blazing and setting offensive records. The days of the mid 1980s Edmonton Oilers are long gone. Now it’s all about systems, forechecking, backchecking, corner battles and goaltending that wins in the postseason.
Loss at Colorado
Breakdowns all over the defensive zone by the Blackhawks backline, poor man on man coverage and below average goaltending. In looking at the follow up loss at home to Edmonton, the same pattern repeats itself.
Loss to Edmonton
To look further into the numbers, the Blackhawks had 3 shootout wins, 3 shootout losses and 3 overtime losses and played 13 one goal games during the streak. That takes a lot out of a hockey club mentally and physically so a regression, whether fanatical fans wanted to see it or not, was clearly to be expected. It was echoed in the comments by the captain after the loss to Edmonton….
“We’ve got to take advantage, take care of our bodies and get ready for Thursday,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “It’ll be nice.
Leading scorer Patrick Kane went into a little more detail…..
“It was weird after [losing] the first one,” said Kane, who had two goals and an assist, giving him 30 points in 26 games. “Now we’ve got to be careful not to get too down on ourselves, especially after the start we’ve had. We did something really special and no one can ever take that away from you. We were very happy with the start to the season. [We’ve] just got to regroup and get back to that mentality of not wanting to lose.”
Is The Wind Changing in Chicago?
Should there be panic in the windy city? Absolutely not. It’s not like this team is going to fall apart. They could go 11-11 in their final 22 games of the regular season and still finish 32-13-3. They currently have a 99% chance of making the playoffs. In fact, our weekly power rankings still have the Hawks atop the NHL mountain.
They have only suffered one major injury, with Patrick Sharp expected to be out three to four weeks with a shoulder separation. After a rough stretch of 7 games in 11 days, the team will get their first 3 day break of the regular season. No game day preparation and one complete day away from the rink and no questions to answer to the press pre and post-game regarding the streak. The upcoming schedule has them traveling to Columbus, Dallas, Colorado and Anaheim over 14 days. The surprising Ducks, riding the magic that is Disney in California, are magically only 6 points back of the Hawks entering tonight’s action, with 2 games in hand. Of all four games, that looks to be the biggest test and measuring stick. This is the longest rest the club can expect to have until the playoffs end. And the Blackhawks playoff run will end. The only question that remains is when…..