Blackhawks Weekly: Cutting Their Losses

The Chicago Blackhawks are three more brutal losses into their 2017-18 season and will want to put this week behind them. They were trounced on the road 4-2 by the upstart Vegas Golden Knights earlier in the week, and then by the Colorado Avalanche 6-3 on Saturday. Between these two tilts, they gave up a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday night at the United Center.

Things look pretty bleak right now, but there’s always a silver lining. What can we take away from this week of doom and gloom?

Winner of the Week: Michal Kempny

The defenseman didn’t play in the Vegas game. In fact, he hadn’t suited up since Oct. 18 until he played in both tilts over the weekend and he’s doing his best to stay in the lineup. According to Satchel Price of The Athletic, the “Hawks had an 18-6 advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts” with Kempny on the ice against the Predators (from ‘Blackhawks Report Cards’, The AthleticChi – 10/28/17).

Against the Avs, he recorded two assists.

Kempny played mostly on the third pairing with Connor Murphy and then Cody Franson. But an injury to Gustav Forsling against the Avs allowed him some time on the second pairing with Brent Seabrook. Depending on the severity of this injury, Kempny could see more playing time. He’s the winner because of his solid play capitalizing on being added to the lineup.

Loser of the Week: Patrick Sharp

Last week I noted that the third line is in a rut and that hasn’t changed. Coach Q made some lineup adjustments to try to address this. While Artem Anisimov and Sharp have been the constants on the third line, the second winger position has been a revolving door. Anisimov was credited with two goals in the last two games and faceoff numbers are surprisingly impressive. He seems like a good fit as the third line center.

Sharp’s efforts leave a lot to be desired. He managed four and then six shots on goal against Vegas and the Preds, but only one shot on goal versus the Avs, even with substantial power play time. The quality of shots isn’t there, as he’s earned zero points. You could point a finger at all the big names; Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Seabrook, and Duncan Keith all need to step up but the opposition usually concentrates on shutting down these guys.

Patrick Sharp needs to step up his efforts on the third line for the Hawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sharp’s a veteran playing against lesser competition on the third line. Because of this, he has more of an opportunity to capitalize. There are a lot of other players knocking on the door among the bottom six. If Sharp doesn’t start producing soon, he could be replaced.

What Went Right

Believe it or not, the Blackhawks have had more shots on goal than the competition in two of their last three games. In Vegas, the shot differential was a close 33 to 31 for the Knights but against the Preds, the Hawks were credited with 44 shots to Nashville’s 30. In Colorado, they had a substantial 42 shots vs. the Avs’ 28.

Faceoffs have been a positive as well. In Vegas, the Hawks won 51% of their faceoffs. Against the Preds, they only won 48% but in Colorado, they were an impressive 61% at the dot. Toews continues to be the leader in this department, but Nick Schmaltz, Anisimov, and Tommy Wingels have all been holding up their end of the bargain.

Artem Anisimov is working hard to improve in the faceoff circle. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If they can keep this up, the Hawks will break through at some point. With these kinds of positive possession trends, it’s a bit of a surprise they’ve come out on the losing end the past three games.

What Went Wrong

The Hawks can’t score right now. Good golly, they’ve been credited with 117 shots on net in the last three games yet they’ve only managed six goals and four of those were garbage goals after the score was already out of hand.

Slow starts have been a factor in their losses as well. With the exception of a strong first period on Friday against the Preds, the Hawks found themselves up by one short-handed goal. Against the Golden Knights, the Hawks scored first, but then gave up four unanswered goals. Colorado lit the lamp five times before the Hawks managed a single tally on Saturday.

Goals usually come in bunches and after three straight losses, the Hawks should come out hungry the next couple of games. All signs point to the end of this losing streak.

Food for Thought

Coach Q and company have brought out the line blender over the last few games to try to spark some offense. Richard Panik spent time on the second line, before being reunited with the first line. John Hayden’s been on the fourth line, the third line, and even the second line. Ryan Hartman’s been relegated to the fourth line instead of the second.

Then there’s Alex DeBrincat. In the last three games he’s played on the third line, then the first line, and then the fourth line but at no point has he been paired with Kane on the second line, because it’s too soon for that.

Alex DeBrincat Blackhawks
Should Alex DeBrincat be playing on the same line as Patrick Kane? (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Should Quenneville be shown the door because of all this craziness? Heck no! He’s shuffling for a reason. He’s figuring out strengths and weaknesses in his players, as well as how they match up against certain competition. He’s forcing his guys outside of their comfort zones to see how they respond. He’s testing the chemistry of certain linemates, all while trying to get the best out of every single player.

At some point, DeBrincat and Kane will be together and it will probably be a good thing. But in the meantime, DeBrincat is learning and growing from all these changes and challenges. Besides, why would Q want to show his hand to the league this early? It’s a long season, and there’s a method to the madness.

Related – Blackhawks Will Face Adversity in 2017-18

Wrapping It Up

No doubt about it, it’s been a rough week. The Hawks now have a record of 5-5-2. The idea is to rack up points early, and 12 points out of a possible 24 doesn’t accomplish that. But then again, there’s 70 more games to be played. There’s still plenty of time. Let’s all try not to panic.

This coming week brings the Philadelphia Flyers to the United Center on Wednesday. The Hawks then travel to Minnesota to take on the Wild this Saturday and finally, they return home to host the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday. While the Flyers are tied in points with the Hawks, the Wild and the Canadiens sit below them in the standings. It should be a good week to pick up some points.

Onward and upward!