The Chicago Blackhawks are on a seven-game losing streak dating back to March 26. There are a lot of aspects that have gone wrong in those games: offensive struggles, defensive breakdowns, goaltending, etc. Anything that could go wrong has gone wrong during the last couple of weeks. However, there is a story that is missing from this past week: three out of the seven losses came against opponents coming off the second game of a back-to-back, including their 6-3 loss against the Dallas Stars on April 10.
Back-to-back games are usually a gift for opposing teams because they can face a tired club that is out of sync. But if you have been watching how the Blackhawks played against these teams, you would never know. So what has been going so wrong for them during these games? Let’s take a look back.
Blackhawks Playing Down to Competition
The start of the trend came against the Buffalo Sabres on March 28. The Sabres came into the game after a 5-4 overtime loss to the New York Rangers the night before. The Sabres at the time had 56 points, while the Blackhawks had 58 points. Although that’s not a huge point gap, the Sabres were a team below them in the standings, nonetheless. The Blackhawks also had history on their side because they had gone 15-1 against them in their previous 16 meetings.
Though it didn’t turn out that way. The back-to-back curse seemed to be on the Blackhawks’ side to start the game, as the Sabres did look tired and sloppy. The Blackhawks took a 4-0 lead in the early part of the second period, and then everything fell apart. They gave up four straight goals to Buffalo for them to tie the game 4-4. Alex DeBrincat broke the tie and made the game 5-4. Within the last few minutes, the Sabres’ Alex Tuch tied the game 5-5 with the extra attacker.
Shortly after, Dylan Strome took a tripping penalty, and the Sabres scored a power-play goal with less than 20 seconds left to win the game 6-5. The shots were 37-21 in favor of Buffalo.
Then came the Seattle Kraken on April 7. The Kraken came into the game having lost 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues on April 6, and they are another team at the bottom of the standings, third-worst to be exact. It was the perfect opportunity to break their five-game losing streak as the Kraken suffered a bad loss the previous night. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The Hawks got shutout 2-0 in one of their worst games of the season. They also had four power plays that they didn’t convert on as they were gifted three penalties in a minute when Ryan Donato got called for interference and Carson Soucy got a double-minor for high-sticking.
As a result, the Blackhawks had a four-minute powerplay that included a 5-on-3, in which they failed to score. They were also unable to get a shot on net in that timeframe. In fact, they could not convert in any situations with the extra attacker. It included a 5-on-3, 5-on-4, and 6-on-5 at the end of the game when the Blackhawks pulled the goalie. Seattle is ranked seventh-worst in the league on the penalty kill, which was a gut punch. The shots were 31-29 in favor of the Kraken.
Lastly came the Stars on April 10. The Stars came into Chicago after suffering an embarrassing 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on April 9. The Blackhawks were in a position to win the game as well as they were up 2-1 in the first period thanks to Philipp Kurashev and a power-play goal by Jonathan Toews. They showed some fight, and then it went off the rails when Dallas quickly tied the game 2-2 with a goal from Joe Pavelski. It got worse when they scored three goals in the second, despite Boris Katchouk scoring his first goal of the season for the Chicago in that period.
During the third period, the Stars added another goal. Two minutes later, Kirby Dach scored to make it 6-4 with less than four minutes left in the game, but by that point, the damage was done, and they couldn’t recover the score. For the most part, the Hawks played okay, but played down to another opponent by coughing up a lead.
What all these games had in common was that the Blackhawks played down to their opponents. Plain and simple. Getting an opponent who is not doing well in the standings and coming off of back-to-backs would have been a nice confidence win. Instead, they showed they weren’t much different from them.
They were outshot in all three games, gave up 14 goals, and the effort was abysmal. Giving up a four-goal lead to the Sabres is unacceptable for any team, but especially for the Blackhawks in that circumstance. There is no reason that Chicago shouldn’t have been able to muster up one goal against the Kraken, considering all their opportunities and the fact that Seattle”s goals-against average is 3.11. The Stars are in a playoff push, yet that game wasn’t their best. The Blackhawks looked decent for a good portion of the night, but they didn’t have the gas to close it out. They made too many mistakes in quick windows that ended up in the back of the net. They outshot them 40-30, but goaltending and special teams were still an issue.
Blackhawks’ Special Teams Failed
The Blackhawks’ special teams have been a problem all season long. The power play goes in spurts of being hot and cold, but the penalty kill has been a consistent issue the entire time. Their power play ranks 17th in the league (21.1 percent success rate), while their penalty kill ranks 27th (74.9 percent success rate). When the Hawks faced the Sabres, they went 2/2 on the power play but went 1/3 on the penalty kill. During the Kraken game, Chicago went 1/1 on the penalty kill but went 0/4 on the power play. The lack of power-play success is what cost them the win in that game.
Finally, Dallas went a perfect 2/2 on the power play during their game. It was a significant letdown considering that they had only scored two power-play goals in their last nine games going into the match. That was a chance for the Blackhawks to make a statement, and they failed. Whenever they lose, it can be attributed to the power play or penalty kill, and it seems like the penalty kill during those games is what sealed their fate and by extension, the season as a whole.
Blackhawks’ Lack of Effort Showed
During the games against the Sabres, Kraken, and Stars, the one main component in Blackhawks head coach Derek King’s postgame comments was the lack of effort from his team. When looking at how the scores came about, it’s clear that that lack of effort and/or focus was a major problem. Having lost games against two teams who are not in a playoff spot, which is the same position Chicago is in, seemed like there would be no issue from an effort standpoint. Because everyone is out of the race, it seemed like a good time to show off for next season and that never came to fruition.
Coach King described the outcome perfectly after their loss to the Sabres, stating, “We stopped playing the game the right way. We just decided upon ourselves to go and do what they wanted to do. Didn’t do anything we asked them to do. I’m very surprised, disappointed. And they should be disappointed. We’ll find out come next game how disappointed they really are about losing a game like that (from ‘Blackhawks blow four-goal lead, suffer embarrassing loss to Sabres’, Chicago Sun-Times, 03/28/22).
After the Kraken game, King noted that there was no urgency and too many passengers. This seems to be a recurring theme and it’s troubling. Although they did put up a better effort against the Stars, that kind of performance comes in waves. They can dominate some periods or shifts but then go right back to being sloppy. It has been tough to watch, but here’s to hoping that they can build off of a better effort from the Dallas game. It can’t get much worse, can it?
These matchups show that you can’t take anyone lightly in this league. The Blackhawks and their fans may have thought that the games against the Sabres and Kraken were automatic wins. However, each game has to be fought for in this league, and even if teams are “bad,” they are still professional teams that can beat anyone on any given night.
The Blackhawks have taken clubs and their circumstances for granted this past week. Being able to take care of squads who are coming off of back-to-back games is what you want to see for development purposes, and it seems to have haunted the Hawks. This losing streak falls a lot on those three games. The good news is, this may be a reminder for other teams not to take Chicago lightly either. There may be more anger and purpose in their game with a prolonged losing streak like this. After all, NHL teams who have their backs against the wall can be the most dangerous.
It will be interesting to see if the Blackhawks are capable of putting this forgettable streak behind them before the season comes to a close in a few weeks.
Just a small-town girl with Midwestern charm, combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. I have covered the Chicago Blackhawks since 2020 and am passionate about sharing in-depth analysis within the team and highlighting the fun because, after all, hockey is fun! You can quickly connect with me on Twitter: @brooke_lofo.