Ah, such is life. A comeback win Wednesday night was a thing of beauty for the Chicago Blackhawks. But another disappointing loss on Friday brought them back down to reality. While their playoff hopes are all but dead, this 2020-21campaign has been a pleasant surprise for the Blackhawks. We’ve seen a lot of growth and development, and more winning than we thought possible when this season commenced. There’s certainly never a shortage of things to talk about. With that in mind, our crew of Greg Boysen, Brooke LoFurno, Shaun Filippelli and Gail Kauchak embark on our weekly Blackhawks Banter discussion regarding the current state of the team. Let’s get to it.
Blackhawks’ veteran leader and superstar Patrick Kane has had some serious trouble finding the back of the net lately. To put things in perspective, in January he recorded four goals and in February he scored seven times. But he’s only notched two goals in March and two in April so far. To what do you attribute Kane’s goal-scoring slump?
Kane’s Scoring Slump
As we have seen with guys like Alex DeBrincat, sometimes the shots just don’t go in for a goal-scorer. It just happens. I would be more worried about Kane if he wasn’t producing at all, but the assists are still there.
Since March 1, Kane has 20 assists in 25 games, so he is still helping to drive the offense and create goals. If both the goals and assists were drying up, then I’d sound the alarm bells.
I attribute it to the supporting cast. Although the rookies have been entertaining, Kane is not surrounded by the Artemi Panarin’s or Jonathan Toews’ of the world this season. He doesn’t have a lot of help around him to help elevate his game in the way that he does for others.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Blackhawks have a winning record of 9-4-2, when Kane scores. While he’s known to be relied upon to be leading the team to victory, it seems there’s also a correlation the other way around, as well. February wasn’t only his most prolific goal-scoring month, it was also Chicago’s most successful of the season to date. They earned 19 points in that one month alone, going 9-3-1.
It seems that when the team is on, he’s right there at the top of their list. But, when they struggle, his production this year seems to align. Also, while he only has three power play markers thus far, a case can be made that his numbers have been affected by the team’s overall drop in conversion with the extra man, too.
A couple things are in play here. First, Kane has become more of a decoy these days. He’s still second in the league in assists (43) and third in the league in points (58), so we can’t complain about that. Opponents have to respect his ability to score, and this often leaves a teammate open for the goal instead. He’s also an excellent passer. Kane obviously recognizes all this and has adjusted his game and ability to help his team accordingly.
But, he also usually knows how to finish. He can create time and space for himself based on this elite skill, and has a knack for placing the puck exactly where it needs to be to find the back of the net. That being said, I think it’s only a matter of time before things even out for Kane, and the goals start coming again. It certainly would be nice to see that happen as the season winds down.
Finally, I firmly believe putting Kane and DeBrincat back together would be extremely helpful. Those two have some excellent chemistry, and I don’t understand why head coach Jeremy Colliton hasn’t jumped on this while attempting a playoff push.
I understand that the lines might not be as balanced this way, but it brings me back around to the argument we’ve had all season long that Dominik Kubalik isn’t being utilized correctly. Why is he on the third line and only averaging 15 minutes of ice time?! Put Kubalik on the second line, give him more responsibility and ice time, and this will allow you to have your top two weapons together in Kane and DeBrincat.
After their contest on Friday night, the Blackhawks haven’t allowed a power play goal from their opponent in the last seven games, going 17-for-0 on the penalty kill in that span. Discuss the importance of the penalty kill, and what you like about it in this last stretch of games.
Penalty Kill Prowess
I’ve always said I would rather have an elite penalty kill than a deadly power play. When you’re killing off penalties, it allows you to play more aggressively overall because you don’t have to be afraid to take a penalty. Plus, there’s something to be said about the momentum shifts that occur after successful penalty kills.
As far as the last few games go, obviously you want to see continued success while down a man. I would prefer we see the majority of the time given to the younger players who are going to be around after this season, so they can carry over the experience into next year.
The penalty kill is so important because it has been so problematic. But what I have liked about the penalty kill is the competitiveness. Before, they just stood around and hoped for the best. Now they’re confronting the players with the puck and being aggressive. It’s worked very well for them.
This is a team that has been at the bottom of the league, as far their penalty goes, all season long. Even through their impressive streaks that saw far more winning than they have been of late, this was an area of their game that consistently struggled. Fortunately for them, they were often bailed out by other factors that compensated during those such runs, like their powerful power play. Well, as we know, that fountain of production has dried up in recent weeks.
With that said, it makes success on the penalty kill even that much more vital for this team as they don’t have a safety net of bonus goal-scoring to fall back on anymore. They seem to be playing a more confident game when down a man, while getting timely saves that could otherwise have ballooned that stat the other way. An unpredictable combination, but it’s working lately.
Thank goodness one aspect of special teams is going right, as the power play is still a conundrum. Kudos to Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, David Kampf, Ryan Carpenter, Calvin de Haan and Nikita Zadorov for being the workhorses all season long on the penalty kill.
But I’d also like to recognize some newcomers. Defenseman Riley Stillman, who recently came over from the Florida Panthers, has taken some of the pressure off the regulars. And how about the additions of forwards DeBrincat and Kirby Dach? I wasn’t too sure about this at the beginning. But hey, the D-men are tasked with helping out on the offensive end. Why not the other way around?
I believe these added reinforcements have breathed some new life into the shorthanded situation, as well as further brought the team together as a whole.
The Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks are the only two teams left in the United States that are not hosting fans in their stadiums. But the Sharks plan to have fans in their building starting this Monday, April 26. Meanwhile, in a press conference this past Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot hinted that fans should be able to return to the United Center before the end of the season.
What is your stance on this situation? Do you agree with fans taking in a few games this year, or should they hold off until next season? Would you go to a game?
Fans at the United Center
At this point of the season, I don’t see the need to bring fans back right now. It seems that every time we feel we are close to turning a corner, something happens that brings us right back to square one. I am lucky enough to have received both vaccination doses, so I would go to a game. However, if I hadn’t had my shots, I wouldn’t attend. The risk just isn’t worth it. Hopefully by next fall, we are all ready to head to the United Center for a game.
Yes, I agree with fans being in the arena before the season ends. As far as Chicago goes, fans have been allowed at Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field. Every other NHL team has been able to safely incorporate fans back into their arenas and it looks like it has worked out okay so far. I would attend.
As the lone Canadian on the panel, I think it’s important to note my bias based on what I’ve experienced with games out of the Scotia North Division all season long. From the get go, it was made pretty clear that Canadian teams wouldn’t be having fans. Whether to start, throughout, or even to cap off the 2020-21 campaign.
And I think that was the right call to make. There is a pandemic among us and much is still unknown and far from being under control. Why confuse matters by involving anything that could cause even more risk than is already assumed with these types of activities in the first place? While I, too, miss being at sporting events, I’d much rather hold off on all that we need to until the world is back to some sense of normalcy.
As such, I say keep fans away for at least the rest of the season and then re-visit this discussion when the time is more appropriate to.
They’ve figured out a way to do this safely all over the rest of the country. As the last team in the United States to do so, I’m confident the powers that be in Chicago have a good plan in place if they’re going to pull the trigger on this.
We know the Blackhawks are out of the playoff race. I guess we should change the above linked title to “6 Keys to Winning a Few More Games”. But even so, it would be a huge boost for the fans and the team to close out the season with spectators in attendance. I’m all for it! I think it would be a great way to wrap up a surprisingly successful season, and lead the way into the 2021-22 campaign. And yes, I would (will!) go to a game. As long as I don’t have to take out a second mortgage to do so, because these tickets are guaranteed to be pricey.
The Blackhawks may be out of playoff contention, but they still have eight games left in the season. They will be looking to make the most of them. Can Kaner score some goals? Will the penalty kill maintain it’s success? And who knows, perhaps some of us will get to see things live at the United Center before it’s all said and done! Be sure to tune in to The Hockey Writers YouTube Channel or our Facebook Page for our weekly Blackhawks Banter show, which drops on Tuesdays. We will further discuss the above and much more! Our latest episode is featured below.