Blackhawks Weekly: Is There a Fix for the Future?

It’s their fifth consecutive loss, and their ninth loss in 11 games. Not good times for the Chicago Blackhawks. They fell 3-2 to the Calgary Flames Tuesday, 4-2 to the Dallas Stars Thursday, and were shut out 3-0 against the Minnesota Wild Saturday. Could it get any worse than this?

Don’t answer that question. Because it actually could get worse. The Hawks just can’t find a way to win. Minnesota holds the final wildcard spot in the West, and the Hawks are now 10 points behind them. Remember when it was five points out and we thought it was dire? Yeah, those were the days.

You simply can’t gain any traction in the standings if you don’t win. Let’s face it; the playoffs are a pipe dream. Is there anything good to take out of this past week? Any hope for the future? Let’s discuss.

Winner of the Week: The Other Team

I tried to find a winner; I really did! Sure, Alex DeBrincat had a goal, and six shots on goal against Calgary, but then he went quiet for the last two games. Ryan Hartman played well on the fourth line after being a healthy scratch, and earned himself a promotion to the second line. But he didn’t do much with his opportunity. Brent Seabrook had a two-point night against Dallas for the first time since opening night. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s something to celebrate. Lance Bouma was named the high-flying Hawk Saturday night for the energy he provided. Really?! That’s the best they could do?

Brent Seabrook Blackhawks
Brent Seabrook is one of the Blackhawks that can’t find much consistency this year. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s the other teams that are the winners this week, because, well, they won. Meanwhile, the Hawks keep finding ways to lose. They have no purpose, no fight. It’s just too easy for the opponent to earn a victory against this struggling team. It’s almost as if the Hawks expect to lose. Even if they score first, as they’ve done in four of the last five contests, they still manage to give up the lead.

Defenseman Connor Murphy had this to say on the subject. “That’s big to score first in a game and usually stats go your way after that. But for whatever reason we’re not bearing down. You look at [the Stars]. They get the lead and they do the right things to hold on to it — whether it’s taking care of the puck or blocking shots or battling down low. To be a better team, we have to be able to do that.”

Loser of the Week: Brandon Saad

Eenie, meenie, miney, mo. Ok, let’s go with Saad. No one is playing at their best, but hopes were so high for Saad at the beginning of the season, he tends to stand out. He’s struggling so much that last Tuesday, he was demoted to the fourth line against Calgary. He was on the ice for less than 10 minutes, with no power play time. He didn’t record a single shot on goal. For the next two tilts, he played on the third line, and recorded only one shot in both games combined. He topped things off with a bad holding penalty on Saturday.

Brandon Saad Blackhawks
Brandon Saad is not living up to expectations for the Blackhawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What is going on with this young winger? It’s a confidence issue for sure. I mentioned in an earlier post that Saad might benefit from playing on the third line, but even that’s not working. Hey, he won three-out-of-three faceoffs on Saturday. Could Saad play center for this team that struggles with depth down the middle? At this point, it’s worth exploring every option. The Hawks have nothing to lose.

What Went Right for the Blackhawks: Shots and the Penalty Kill

On paper, the Hawks are winning the shot battle. Against Calgary, they registered 36 shots on goal to the Flames’ 23 shots. Against Dallas, it was 39-30 for the Hawks. In Minnesota, Chicago was shut out even with a shot differential of 44-19!

The problem is they’re not quality shots. John Dietz of the Daily Herald gives us some good statistics about shot quality below.

“The Hawks average the second-most shots on goal (34.3) in the NHL, but they are 14th in high-danger chances per game (11.12), according to (They are 28th in high-danger chances allowed (12.16), behind only the Islanders, Capitals and Rangers).”

It should also be noted that the Hawks killed off four penalties against Calgary, one against Dallas, and three out of four in Minnesota. It’s a small bright spot in the middle of a bunch of muck, but it’s something.

Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews is playing a lot in all situations for the Hawks, and it’s taking it’s toll. (Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)

Are you ready for the problem? The heavy lifters on the penalty kill include Duncan Keith, Seabrook, Jonathan Toews, Saad, Artem Anisimov, and Nick Schmaltz. All these guys play a big part in the power play as well. No wonder they can’t get anything done during five-on-five play; they’re tired!

What Went Wrong for the Blackhawks: Defense

I know, we’ve already been over this. It’s like beating a dead horse. Not one defenseman is immune. Keith is finally showing his age. He doesn’t get it done like he used to. A prime example was against Dallas, when he couldn’t clear the zone and his backhand pass to Vinnie Hinostroza was intercepted for a goal. At the time, there were only 11 seconds left in the second period. It broke a tie game, and took the wind out of the Hawks’ sails.

Duncan Keith
Duncan Keith has lost of step from his former glory days. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Jordan Oesterle keeps on pinching when he shouldn’t, which leads to goals on the other end. Earlier in the season, it looked like Coach Quenneville was cutting back Seabrook’s playing time,  and he looked better for it. But he’s playing heavy minutes again, presumably because no one else can be trusted.

Murphy went from a healthy scratch to playing on the top pairing (that didn’t go so well), to babysitting a rookie on the third pairing in the span of the last three games. Erik Gustafsson is up and down in his play. Michal Kempny is in an eternal dog house (he might as well hire a contractor to get it painted). Jan Rutta is on injured reserve, and now the Hawks are trying out Carl Dahlstrom. Well, why not? I’ll say it again; they have nothing to lose at this point.

What the Blackhawks Can Do to Improve

This is definitely a low point for the team after many seasons of high points. Nobody is used to all this losing. So, what can the Hawks do to salvage some dignity? What can they do to improve? Here are some thoughts.

The top line of DeBrincat-Toews-Duclair hasn’t done much of late. Should they be split up? It seems like it’s a jinx to play with Toews. I’m sure if he wasn’t the only player who could win a faceoff, he would have been demoted by now. Meanwhile, Hinostroza is wallowing away on the bottom six. He’s has more potential than that. Maybe it’s time he got a crack at the top line instead of Duclair. But wait, leave Duclair there until after they play the Arizona Coyotes. He probably has a bone or two to pick against his former team.

Put Kane and Schmaltz back together for goodness sakes! These two can make things happen. For a team that needs a spark, why would you separate them? And if Anisimov is going to be a part of this team, he plays best with Kane. Schmaltz-Anisimov-Kane is a line I’d like to see.

Dahlstrom made his NHL debut Saturday night. He played on the third defensive pairing with Murphy. Dahlstrom recorded 16:48 minutes of ice time and one shot on goal. He also wasn’t on the ice for any goals against. All in all, not a bad start for the rookie. Why not see what the prospects have to offer?

Keith has zero goals off 133 shots so far this season. That can’t last forever. Just think how happy we’ll all be when one finally gets through!

Corey Crawford is expected to join the team in Arizona and will practice with them on Monday. Obviously, this means he’s getting closer to returning. Not that this matters much, but it’s good for Crow, and could give the team a spark for morale purposes.

There’s 27 games left in the season. That’s not enough to climb back into the playoff race. But it is enough to gain some confidence. The Hawks should still be focusing on winning, but not on making the playoffs. Take the pressure off these poor guys! Let’s just stop talking about it, and focus on improvement.

The Hawks are right back at it this coming week. They travel to Arizona to take on the Coyotes on Monday, and to Las Vegas to meet the Golden Knights on Tuesday. Then they head home to host the Anaheim Ducks Thursday, and the Washington Capitals Saturday.

We’re in this for the long haul, right? For better or for worse. There are reasons to keep watching this Blackhawks’ team. Let’s see what they can do with the time they have left.