The wild rollercoaster ride that is the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks season continued this past week. After ending the last stock watch cycle with an ugly 5-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Blackhawks began their next five-game stretch with two more major duds. There was a 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, followed by a crushing 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues that saw the Blues erase a 3-0 deficit with four straight goals within a 13-minute span in the third period.
They rebounded the next night with a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild before a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, their third loss to Colorado on the season. They finished the week off with an impressive 4-1 win against a talented Winnipeg Jets team on the back end of a back-to-back, bringing their record to 6-1 in second games of back-to-backs.
As has been the case all season, the good has been really good, and the bad has been really bad, without much in between. They hold a 14-16-6 record and sit in seventh place in the Central Division, four points behind the Nashville Predators. Some stocks are sky high, while others have taken quite the hit. Let’s take a look at who’s hot and who’s not.
It has been a rough, inconsistent season for Jonathan Toews, including shooting a career-low 7.5% and sporting a 50.9 Corsi for %, his lowest since his rookie year. Despite his struggles, the captain has been doing everything he can to help keep his team competitive.
After a one-goal, five-assist stretch in the last five games, including a two-assist game against the Blues and a three-assist game against the Wild, Toews finds himself tied for third on the team in points. He was also an impressive 66 of 98 at the faceoff dot, a 67% rate. If you take away his minus-two outing against the Avalanche, a game in which everyone struggled, Toews had a really strong week across the board to keep his positive momentum rolling.
Since the injury to Calvin de Haan, Connor Murphy has shouldered a lot of the defensive load, even with the return of Duncan Keith. The 26-year-old had two assists against the Wild, but his contributions have come more on the defensive end, an area where Chicago just can’t seem to find any consistency.
Murphy has averaged roughly 22:30 of ice time in the last five games and added 12 hits and 19 blocked shots in that span. He also hasn’t taken a penalty since October 20 against the Washington Capitals. The defense has lacked the grit they were searching for in the preseason, so Murphy’s increased efforts of late have been very welcomed.
It feels like one of these weekly spots is reserved for Patrick Kane. He had five goals and three assists in the last five games and has served as a source of energy, even when the rest of the offense is flat. He had a hat-trick against the Wild and willed his team to a win with a goal and three assists against the Jets, a game in which he double-shifted after Brandon Saad’s injury.
The winger passed Doug Wilson and moved into seventh place in team history for games played with 939 and also tied Wilson for the all-time franchise lead in shots with 3,064. While the Blackhawks seem to be fading, Kane’s star continues to shine bright. Goaltender Robin Lehner provided some great insight as to what makes Kane so special.
“He’s such a well-rounded player,” Lehner said. “I think as a goalie, going in practice every day against him, he has such patience with the puck and he’s so accurate with his shot. He doesn’t shoot in the conventional – just go high or try to go bar and in. He goes between the arms, between the legs, over the pads. It’s very hard as a goalie to get a read. He waits you out and then it’s in.”
Due to his $6.875 million cap hit, Brent Seabrook’s lack of production catches him a lot of flack, and rightfully so. He has provided little-to-no offensive production and is on pace for career lows in most statistical categories if you remove the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
He went minus-three in three games last week, was a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s game against Colorado, a move that was made in order to give head coach Jeremy Colliton a better look at the team’s youth, and then was withheld from traveling with the team to Winnipeg to be evaluated for injuries. He did contribute two hits and six blocks in those three games, but it’s clear that his value is at an all-time low in terms of his production and in the eyes of his coach.
Playing With An Edge
Whether it’s falling prey to an early scoring onslaught, or the inability to protect a lead, it’s clear that the Blackhawks are playing without an edge. The talent of the roster isn’t really translating into consistent production on the ice, and veteran defenseman Duncan Keith believes it goes beyond the Xs and Os and starts with their intensity.
“We have to get a little more emotion,” Keith said, “It’s not going to just turn around, it’s not going to just happen. We need to make it happen. We need to get a little pissed off. We can go over the Xs and Os and everything and all the stuff, but I think everybody, myself included, has to play with a little more energy, a little more grit, being a little mean out there.”
Colliton echoed those sentiments, believing that they’re handing their opponents opportunities as opposed to capitalizing on their own.
“We’d love to be able to … just have that urgency,” Colliton said. “There were a couple times we had it in the offensive zone and it’s 40 seconds so you’d love to see someone change so we can keep the energy level up. Instead of changing, you extend your shift and you wait until the very last second and it goes the other way and you take a penalty or you give up a chance or it turns into their zone time and they’re able to flip the game.”
Was the convincing win against the Jets a sign of good things to come? Only time will tell. The Blackhawks finish out 2019 with a shot at revenge in Colorado on Saturday, followed by a home game against the New Jersey Devils on Monday. After a short break, they take on the New York Islanders on Friday before traveling to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets two days later. They’ll close out the year with a New Year’s Eve game in Calgary against the Flames.