Blackhawks: Do You Want to Step on Ice or Greens Come May?

Since February 15th, the Chicago Blackhawks have a record of 5 wins and 6 losses. This includes getting blown out and embarrassed by a score of 6-1 against the Minnesota Wild in the Stadium Series Game and getting pasted by the Dallas Stars 5-2.  The Blackhawks have also lost to the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues during this same 30 day period. So, that is an eye-popping 0-4 against Central Division rivals. The result: the Blackhawks have tumbled from first place in the Central Division, to third. Dallas and St. Louis now share top honors with the Blackhawks three points back. In fact, they only lead Nashville now by seven points for the first wild card position.

Like it or not, with the exception of their twelve-game winning streak from December 29th through January 19th, the Blackhawks are essentially nothing more than a .500 team. Sure, the team has had lulls before and righted the ship in time for a deep playoff run, but I cannot recall any other three-month stretch in the past six years with such inconsistent play. The good news is that team still has plenty of time to improve play before the playoffs begin.

Three Pressing Matters

I believe there are three pressing matters that require immediate attention:

1) The Penalty kill has been absolutely awful. The Blackhawks have given up sixteen power play goals in the last thirteen games. Since February 13th, their penalty kill rate is an anemic 66.7 percent (24 of 36). Overall, the Blackhawks are at a 78.3% kill rate, ranking them twenty-fifth in the league. They have given up game changing and momentum killing goals at the most inopportune time to their division rivals.

Coach Joel Quenneville said after the Blackhawks most recent loss to Dallas on Friday night: “Tonight’s game was not good at all. Special teams probably had about as bad a night as you can have.” Added Captain Jonathan Toews: “We definitely have to focus on it more. That’s what it comes down to. We know that when there’s something that’s really sticking out in our game, if we address it and put even more focus on it, work on it, there’s nothing we can’t rectify.” Well, good captain, your team has thirteen more regular season games to figure out. If you don’t, it could be a one and done playoff series.

2) Play 60 minutes. This may seem obvious at the professional level. Yet, there are periods, and sometimes entire games (Minnesota) where the Blackhawks seem completely disinterested in playing. I don’t care how much of a reputation the team has for turning it on and taking their play to another level when needed, sooner or later that well is going to dry up. It would be wise of Coach Quenneville to use the remaining practices to work these guys hard. Heck, bag skate if necessary. It is time to get serious.

3) Lastly, the Blackhawks need to stabilize the lines to provide time for chemistry to develop. The Blackhawks acquired Forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Andrew Ladd and Dale Weise at the trade deadline. They also added Christian Ehrhoff on defense. Centerman Teuvo Teravainen has been at home on the third line now for a few weeks, and he is now paired with Fleischmann and Weise. This line appears to have great chemistry and was the best line in Friday night’s loss in Dallas. Furthermore, with Marian Hossa back from injury, Andrew Shaw can return back to the fourth line where he is at his best. In fact, when Marcus Kruger returns from injury, the line of Kruger, Shaw and Andrew Desjardins will be reunited and ready to continue on with the success found in last year’s Stanley Cup Championship run.

It would be silly to dismiss the Blackhawks chances of a repeat. If anything has been learned about the Blackhawks, it is that they are very good at making adjustments and quickly fixing what is wrong. However, the playoffs are also a mind game. Confidence goes a long way. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks this year, and the last month, in particular, their Central Division rivals are all keeping pace. They know they can beat the reigning Stanley Cup Champions and are not going to be intimidated. It would be wise for the Blackhawks to fix their problems now while there is still time. Otherwise, they will be stepping on greens rather than ice come May.

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