The Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals went into their Dec. 13 matchup on respective streaks. The Blackhawks were looking to snap a three-game losing streak, while the Capitals were looking to extend a four-game winning streak. While the Blackhawks put up a respectable effort for a portion of the game, it wasn’t enough to stop the bleeding, and the Blackhawks are now 1-11-1 in their last 13 games. Here are some takeaways from a historic night at the United Center in Chicago.
Blackhawks Couldn’t Contain Capitals’ Offense
The Blackhawks have had issues on defense all season. They have surrendered the first goal 22 times in 27 games this season, so struggling to contain opponents’ offense was no different against the Capitals. Alex Ovechkin scored 24 seconds into the game to give his team a quick 1-0 lead and then scored a power-play goal 12 minutes later. With a 2-0 lead, the game seemed over already as Chicago was getting outshot 7-0 at one point before they started to pick up the pace with a near-successful power-play attempt and a goal from forward Tyler Johnson to make it 2-1 with one minute left in the first period.
Going into the second period, Capitals’ defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk scored off of a rebound into an empty net to make it 3-1, but Jonathan Toews had the answer and scored a power-play goal to make it 3-2 seven minutes later. The Blackhawks managed to hang in there, but once Caps’ forward Nic Dowd scored to make it 4-2, it took all the wind out of their sails. Their pattern of allowing a goal after scoring one came back to bite them and made the game seem completely out of reach.
Then came Ovechkin again. In the third period, he scored off of a rebound from goaltender Petr Mrazek to make it 5-2 and made NHL history with his 800th career goal. He is now only one goal behind tying Gordie Howe for the second-most goals all-time. All the celebrating from the milestone led to two more goals from Anthony Mantha and Dmitry Orlov for the Capitals to score seven goals on the night. The Blackhawks’ defense is ninth-worst in the NHL, allowing 3.54 goals per game, and it was on full display in this game. They had plenty of breakdowns, one that head coach Luke Richardson described as “over-backchecking” in postgame remarks, rebounds galore, and not paying attention to the trailer.
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The five-on-five scoring chances were 37-29, and the five-on-five high-danger chances were 11-10, all in favor of the Capitals. The 37 scoring chances were the third-highest total given up by Chicago this season. Mrazek also had a dreadful .767 save percentage (SV%) on the night, which was not the return he was hoping for after missing the last three games with a groin injury. The defense and goaltending just could not pick each other up to get a stop.
Tyler Johnson Gave Blackhawks a Spark
Speaking of Johnson’s goal, that was one of the most positive storylines of the night. The goal he had at the end of the first period gave the Blackhawks some life, and they played with a lot of fire after that. Although it was short-lived, the team had a stretch where they were outshooting the Capitals. The Blackhawks have a habit of getting thoroughly outshot every game, so the fact that they were outshooting Washington 15-10 in the second period was a much-needed boost, and it all stems back to his big goal.
Unfortunately, Johnson missed the last 20 games due to suffering a high ankle sprain back in October. He was on a roll before getting injured, so missing him for a long period was hard for Chicago. However, he picked up right where he left off, and with his goal, he now has seven points in seven games this season. He also had two shots on goal, one blocked shot, and went 1-for-2 in the faceoff dot for a 50 percent success rate with 15 minutes of ice time. He was placed on the third line with Jujhar Khaira and Jason Dickinson instead of his usual second-line role with Toews and Taylor Raddysh but did not look out of place or “rusty” at all. His point-per-game pace should help the Blackhawks’ second-worst offense in the league. Let’s face it; it can’t get worse than 2.38 goals scored per game.
Blackhawks Growing More Restless
Something evident after the game is that the Blackhawks are restless at this point, and it is hard to blame them. They played a decent stretch of hockey for a bit until the wheels completely fell off in the third period, and they kept the shots on goal close, only getting outshot by one (30 to 29) in the end. Despite what the score indicates, they had a lot of scoring opportunities. Defenseman Seth Jones had a great chance on the power play, and Patrick Kane and Connor Murphy both had good looks in the second period. Moreover, Kane had the most shots on goal on the team with seven, and he, Toews, and Jones combined for 15 total shots on goal. Yet, nothing ended up in the back of the net. Max Domi scored a pretty goal with two minutes left in the game, but the damage was done, leading to a 7-3 final.
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Toews spoke after the game and hinted that the losing streak is getting to everyone. When asked how the team is trying to remain positive, he stated, “Same old, same old.. Show up every period. Keep talking, saying the right things. Keep putting in the effort and do what you can to be a positive impact.” Furthermore, when asked what the first thing the Blackhawks needed to fix was, he replied, “I don’t know what the first thing is. There’s a lot of things right now.” The team needs anything to go their way because the captain is right. Many things need fixing, but they don’t have the roster to do it, which adds to the losses. Management might want this losing trajectory to remain to get a top pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, but the more dissatisfied the team grows, the more things will spiral.
This game against the Capitals could have a lasting effect on the Hawks, as they got embarrassed while NHL history was occurring on national television. Unfortunately, their schedule doesn’t get any easier as they have an upcoming back-to-back series against the Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild starting on Dec. 15. But the reality is they are not good, and getting two points will continue to be a struggle with their talent deficit, so the team desperately needs some puck luck for morale purposes. At this point, all they can do is ride the wave and hope some good fortune comes their way.