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Remember when the Chicago Blackhawks shut out the Dallas Stars 3-0? Yeah that happened this past week. But it’s hard to recall this victory after the team got shellacked by the Colorado Avalanche not just once, but twice over the weekend. It certainly wasn’t pretty. The Blackhawks are now 1-4-1 in their last six games. To quote Blackhawks’ netminder Robin Lehner, adversity strikes again for this team as they struggle to find their way.
Hello adversity my old friend, we meet again.— Robin Lehner (@RobinLehner) December 1, 2019
Let’s take a closer look at what transpired this past week.
Blackhawks Matchups of the Week
Vs. Dallas Stars, Tues. 11/26, Win 3-0
Vs. Colorado Avalanche, Fri. 11/29, Loss 5-2
@ Colorado Avalanche, Sat. 11/30, Loss 7-3
Blackhawks Injuries, Depth Is Tested
After being relatively healthy to start the season, the Blackhawks are currently dealing with their fair share of injuries. They’ve been without forward Drake Caggiula since Nov. 13 due to a concussion. They lost the services of center Dylan Strome last Tuesday, also due to concussion issues. Finally, defenseman Duncan Keith left the matchup against the Avalanche Friday during the second period. Head coach Jeremy Colliton indicated after the game Keith has been dealing with a nagging groin injury.
It’s been hard to replace these integral members of the team. Call-ups from the Rockford IceHogs have included forwards Matthew Highmore (Nov. 25) and Anton Wedin (Nov. 27), and defenseman Ian McCoshen (Nov. 29). But it’s clear the Blackhawks aren’t putting much stock in these call-ups. Highmore made two rather uneventful appearances before being sent back down. Wedin suited up for the last game against the Avalanche, but recorded the lowest ice time on the team. And McCoshen has been a healthy scratch so far.
Meanwhile, Colliton tried putting rookie Kirby Dach at second-line center in Strome’s place. But he was in a bit over his skates, especially in the faceoff department. Ryan Carpenter has since taken over that position.
On defense, Keith’s loss has definitely been felt. For the second matchup against the Avalanche, Colliton moved Olli Maatta and Connor Murphy to the top pairing. Keith’s former top pairing partner, Erik Gustafsson, moved to the third pairing, with seventh defenseman Slater Koekkoek called upon to fill in as his partner. The Calvin de Haan/Brent Seabrook duo remained unchanged.
Although nobody really picked up the lion’s share of Keith’s minutes; it was instead more evenly distributed among everyone. Considering the Blackhawks gave up 12 goals in their two tilts against the Avalanche, nothing appears to be working. Which leads me to my next point.
The Better Team
The Avalanche are a very good team. They’re currently second place in the Central division and seventh place in the league with a healthy 34 points. Not to mention they’re a tough matchup for the Blackhawks. Their speed is very difficult for the slower Blackhawks to keep up with.
In the first tilt Friday night, the Blackhawks had a tough start and found themselves down 2-0 and then 3-1 after a back-breaking power play goal in the first period. They were chasing the whole game.
In the second tilt, they were playing without their top defenseman in enemy territory without the benefit of last change. Not to mention an altitude adjustment that was next to impossible since they played in Chicago the night before. My point here is it’s probably very hard to stay motivated when you’re up against these types of odds.
Has Colliton Lost the Room?
Let me start this discussion with another quote from the outspoken Lehner. He was pulled from the second Avalanche game after allowing five goals on 14 shots.
Lehner on yelling at bench when pulled:— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) December 1, 2019
"I probably did, and it's probably rightfully so. It's nothing personal."
"If we weren't good enough, I wouldn't care. … That's not what it is. We've shown that we can play — we have to decide to play the right way, all the time."
Lehner is understandably frustrated with his teammates. Both he and partner goaltender Corey Crawford were hung out to dry in both tilts. The effort level of the entire team can certainly be questioned. Blackhawks’ broadcaster and former player Jamal Mayers said after Friday’s game that “Not enough players came to play tonight.”
Here’s what Colliton had to say after Saturday’s matchup.
We’re never going to be perfect. Not every shift is going to be perfect. But the intentions have to be perfect, and I don’t think we can say that.
It certainly does appear Colliton is having a tough time getting through to his players. He’s not getting the best out of them, having run out of ways to provide that spark. He’s calling them out, and they’re not responding. Will this scenario change in the coming weeks? Time will tell.
Positives for the Blackhawks
Let’s attempt to end this on a positive note. It might not seem like it right now, but there are actually a number of good things the Blackhawks can focus on moving forward.
- Crawford earned his first shutout of the season and the 26th of his career against the Stars last Tuesday night.
- Brandon Saad’s goal against the Stars was his 100th goal as a Blackhawk. He’s been one of the team’s most consistent forwards this season.
- Patrick Kane was named the NHL’s third star of November for his current 15-game point streak. He’s accumulated 11 goals and 13 assists in that span. While nice and all, I’m guessing Kane could care less about this right now.
- Veteran forward Zack Smith is finding ways to contribute. The former Ottawa Senator had a slow start to the season with zero points in his first 10 games. He’s since recorded one goal and four assists in his last nine games, including a goal and an assist in the last two outings against the Avalanche.
- I’m not sure we can exactly call this a positive, because fights don’t win hockey games. But Andrew Shaw dropped the gloves Friday night, and Alex DeBrincat did the same Saturday night. Both altercations sparked the team. At least it shows some spirit and emotion instead of just apathy.
- While the Blackhawks ended November with two brutal losses, their record for the month was 7-5-3. This is improved from a 3-6-2 outing in October. Their overall record of 10-11-5 (25 points) currently has them at second-to-last in the Western Conference, but their November success could be something to focus on instead.
The Blackhawks’ challenges continue. They begin their December campaign Monday when they host the defending champion St. Louis Blues in the last of five divisional matchups in a row. They’ll then head east to square off against the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils in back-to-back matchups Thursday and Friday. Finally, they meet the Arizona Coyotes back at the United Center Sunday night.
The Blues are currently in first place in the Central division. The Bruins sit in second place in the Atlantic division, and the Coyotes second place in the Pacific division. While the Devils currently only have 22 points, no team can be taken for granted right now.
Hang in there kids. It’s been hard to watch lately, but it’s a long season for the Blackhawks. There will be many more highs and lows as we go. Let’s hope for some of the former coming soon.