Blackhawks Sustain Big Wins, Bigger Losses in Defining Week

Things were looking so good! The Chicago Blackhawks started out the week with two high-scoring matchups that led to two big wins. They headed into the weekend having won 10 of their last 12 games, and were right in the thick of the race for the last wild card spot in the Western Conference.

But the weekend brought two tough losses to the Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars. What’s worse is both these teams are division foes. So not only did the Hawks leave much needed points on the table, but both losses resulted in four-point swings in the standings. Put simply, these were the worst games to lose at this point in the season.

Alright, is there anything to salvage from this past week? Let’s break it down.     

Blackhawks’ Week 21 Matchups

Vs. Ottawa Senators, Mon. 2/18, Win 8-7

@ Detroit Red Wings, Wed. 2/17, Win 5-4 (OT)

Vs. Colorado Avalanche, Fri. 2/22, Loss 5-3

Vs. Dallas Stars, Sun. 2/24, Loss, 4-3

Overall Record:  26-28-9, 61 points

Repeated Themes: Slow Starts and Bad Defense

These were problems in the previous week, and they didn’t get much better these last four games. Slow starts continue to be a concern. The Blackhawks gave up the first two goals of the game to the Senators, the first goal to the Avalanche and the first three goals to the Stars. Their matchup against the Red Wings was the only contest in which they scored first, and held a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period.

Artem Anisimov, Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks Artem Anisimov scored first against the Red Wings, but the opponent scored first in the rest of this past week’s matchups. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I guess you could say the Hawks got a little better in this department. They trailed at the end of the first period in all three matchups from the previous week. This past week they were winning at the end of the first in two tilts and tied at the end of the first for one tilt. Baby steps?

But the defense continues to be a huge issue. There’s a good chance you’re gonna win when you score eight and five goals in a game as they did against the Senators and then the Red Wings, respectively. Yet the Blackhawks almost lost both of these matchups because they gave up seven and then four goals, respectively. Turnovers and bad defensive decisions allowed the other team to get back into the games.

Much like the Boston Bruins and the Columbus Blue Jackets from the week before, the Avs and the Stars exploited the Hawks’ weak defense and therefore stifled the offense. They kept the Hawks way too busy defending to find the energy and rhythm they needed on the other side of the puck. Until the Hawks can tighten up defensively, better teams are going to do this, and therefore score more goals than the Hawks. Which leads me to my next point.

The Blackhawks’ Magic Number

In the last two losses, the Hawks only managed three goals in each game. For the entire month of February, they’ve won eight games while notching four or more goals. The four games they’ve lost? They scored three goals or less. Apparently their offense-to-defense ratio requires them to score at least four goals for a chance to win.

Granted, the Blackhawks generated more scoring chances in the last two games. They recorded 44 and 47 shots on goal, respectively. More baby steps? They came awfully close to getting that fourth goal numerous times. Maybe next time they will. But it seems this just isn’t sustainable in the long run.

Streaking Stories

Unfortunately, Patrick Kane’s impressive 20-game point streak came to an end as he failed to record a point Sunday afternoon against the Stars. But it certainly was fun while it lasted! During his streak, he notched 17 goals and 26 assists for 43 points. As head coach Jeremy Colliton said in his post-game presser, “I’m sure he’ll start a new one next game.”

Here’s a look at Kane’s last point of the streak, which incidentally was a lovely goal.

Kane’s goal was assisted by none other than Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who is on a six-game point streak of his own. He’s recorded four goals and four assists for eight points in that span. On a smaller scale, defenseman Erik Gustafsson has a three-game point streak going, in which he’s picked up seven assists. Five of those helpers were of the primary variety. And fellow blueliner Duncan Keith is on a two-game point streak, with three assists.

The Playoff Picture

As of Monday morning, the Blackhawks sit five points outside of the final wild card spot, which is currently held by the Minnesota Wild (66 points). The Avs (65 points) and the Arizona Coyotes (63 points) are ahead of them, each with a game in-hand. And the Vancouver Canucks (60 points) are only one point behind, also with a game in-hand. The Blackhawks need these teams to start losing, and right now they’re not.

The good news is the Hawks meet both the Avs and the Coyotes two more times in the regular season, and the Canucks one more time. These head-on matchups could again be four-point swings for the teams involved. Things might look bleak right now, but it’s not over yet.

Blackhawks’ News and Notes

Just a few final points of interest from this defining week for the Blackhawks.

  • Alex DeBrincat scored his fourth career hat trick last Monday against the Senators. He also contributed two assists, making it the first five-point game of his career.
  • Goaltender Corey Crawford is hopeful to pass his final concussion protocol and join the Blackhawks on the upcoming three-game road trip. His addition could provide a much-needed boost for the Hawks.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Could Corey Crawford possibly return for the Chicago Blackhawks this coming week? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
  • Defenseman Henri Jokiharju was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs on an emergency basis Friday after Brent Seabrook (abdominal strain) and Carl Dahlstrom (flu-like symptoms) couldn’t play. Considering the Hawks’ defensive issues of late, many were hopeful this would be Jokiharju’s chance to get back in the lineup. But alas, he was promptly reassigned Saturday after playing a measly 9:14 minutes against the Avalanche.

Related – Blackhawks Buyers or Sellers at the Deadline?

After hosting three of the last four tilts at the United Center, the Blackhawks hit the road for the next three games. They head west to meet the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night for a lovely 9 p.m. start. Get your naps in beforehand!

The team will have a few days off in the warm weather before taking on the LA Kings and the San Jose Sharks in back-to-back matchups Saturday afternoon and late Sunday night. The goal from this road trip should be nothing less than six points, because they’re going to need them!