The Chicago Blackhawks have been able to defy expectations this season. They have been able to figure out how to beat every team in the Central Division. That includes the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Carolina Hurricanes. They went into the series with the Nashville Predators having swept the Panthers on March 13 and 15. If they can sweep the Panthers, who are one of the best teams in the NHL, then surely beating the Predators couldn’t be that hard, right? Think again.
The Predators are the one team that the Blackhawks always struggle against. Even in their dynasty days, Nashville was a consistent thorn in their side. This series continued to prove that. They got swept by them during back-to-back games on March 27 (1-3) and 28 (2-3). Safe to say, it was not pretty.. at all. Here are some takeaways from the matchup.
Power Play Woes
The Blackhawks’ “dominant” power play continues to struggle. They have been having issues for the past few weeks. This season, the one thing that seemed like a given is that they usually scored at least one power-play goal a game. That is what has helped them stay competitive and that is what ranks them third in the league with a success rate of 27.03%. After this weekend, I’m wondering how long they will maintain that third spot. Their power play against Nashville was putrid. They had five opportunities through two games and didn’t convert.
That’s bad enough. But what makes it worse is knowing the circumstances. The Predators have one of the worst penalty kills in the league. They are ranked 29 in the league with a 73.11% success rate. If there was one area that could lead the Blackhawks to victory in both of those games, it was the power play. When that failed them, you knew the series was lost.
The Blackhawks looked disorganized, sloppy, and frankly, it seemed like a lack of effort. When they faced the Panthers on March 15, they had one shot on goal through four power plays. That seems like a hard thing to replicate, but they did it again. During the second game against the Preds, they had one shot on goal through three power plays. Lastly, the Hawks have been on a streak of giving up short-handed opportunities to opponents. It seems like Nashville got more opportunities on Chicago’s power play than they did. Something needs to change on this unit because it’s simply not good enough right now. The team is already having issues scoring at five-on-five. So having the power play go down is a recipe for disaster.
The DeBrincat Show
The one player that stood out in the series was Alex DeBrincat. During the second game, the Blackhawks were down 2-0 in the third period. He went and scored two goals to tie the game at 2-2 in the span of two minutes. Wow, that’s a lot of twos. That gave the team 10 minutes to put the game away. They couldn’t do it. Predators’ defenseman Roman Josi responded to make it 3-2 off of a turnover by Kirby Dach. They couldn’t seem to hang on to any momentum at all.
I think this game by DeBrincat was needed. They needed someone to stand up and he answered the call. The last time he scored was on March 20 against the Lightning. So he was quiet for a three-game period. It was good to see him explode and help bring the Blackhawks back into the game. If only they could have built off of that. It would have made an awesome highlight reel. No doubt, he has been a bright spot during the series and this season. He currently leads the team in goals with 18 and is sure to have plenty more before the regular season ends.
Besides DeBrincat, one positive aspect came from the faceoff dot. There has been a lot of emphasis around the Blackhawks’ troubles in the faceoff circle. It has been an issue all season long, but that wasn’t the case against the Predators. In the first game, they won 52% of the draws. In the second game, they won 54.7% of the draws. It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem correct.
That’s because while watching it live, it seemed like the Hawks were losing most of the draws. So that was a very pleasant surprise. They are usually getting beat out by 60-70% of faceoffs a game, so this is a big plus. Hopefully, they can improve from that because possession means a lot in this league. If they can win more draws, it will lead to more success.
Overall, the Blackhawks ran into a hot Nashville team, who came in having won five of their last six games. Chicago remains winless against them, having lost all four of their matchups this season. With the sweep, the Blackhawks are now tied with them with 37 points. Nashville also moved into the fourth seed in the Central Division, knocking the Hawks out of the playoff picture. These four points were huge and it’s disappointing that it turned out this way.
They’re not “out” by any means, but they had a substantial lead in the fourth spot for a while. It makes it all the more difficult knowing that it’s going to be a dog fight the rest of the way for that final spot. They need to re-group quickly and gain some footing in their upcoming series against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 30 and April 1, or their playoff hopes could be in jeopardy.
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