Blackhawks Falter in Playoff Push

This past week was a bit of a blip on the radar for the Chicago Blackhawks. They managed just one win out of three matchups, gaining only two of a possible six points. The Hawks didn’t do themselves any favors in their race for that final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

Although their two losses were also against very good teams. Playoff caliber teams. These defeats could be a precursor of things to come if the Hawks do miraculously gain that aforementioned wildcard slot. But I get ahead of myself. Let’s get to our weekly updates.

Blackhawks’ Week 20 Matchups

@ Boston Bruins, Tues. 2/12, Loss 6-3

Vs. New Jersey Devils, Thurs. 2/14, Win 5-2

Vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Sat. 2/16, Loss 5-2

Overall Record: 24-26-9, 57 points

Related – Blackhawks Add to Wins & Achievements

Defense Stifles Offense

Can we talk about defense for a minute? The Bruins did what recent teams hadn’t been able to do on the Hawks’ seven-game winning streak. They took away the offense by forcing them to play defense. They hemmed them into their own end and forced them to defend. We all know things tend to get a little dicey with the Hawks’ defense, and this is exactly what happened. Twenty-two giveaways, good gosh!

The lowly Devils, on the other hand, weren’t able to pressure the defense as much. The Blackhawks’ offense consequently took the front seat and capitalized with five goals.

But the Blue Jackets, like the Bruins, are also a solid, playoff-caliber team. Although to a lesser degree, they were able to pressure the defense enough and therefore thwart the offensive effort. As Coach Colliton mentioned in his post-game interview, the Hawks were “sloppy with the puck, and too loose defensively.”

Head Coach Jeremy Colliton
Head coach Jeremy Colliton wants the Chicago Blackhawks to tighten up defensively. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Unless they can tighten up and play a stronger defensive game, the Hawks will get taken advantage of by stronger teams throughout the rest of the season and (maybe) into the playoffs.

Blackhawks’ Slow Starts

An unwelcome theme from the last three games has been slow starts for the Blackhawks. In Boston, Alex DeBrincat scored first, but then the Hawks gave up three unanswered goals in the first period. They were outshot 14-7. On Thursday against the Devils, the Hawks gave up the first two goals before pulling it together.

It was a similar story with the Blue Jackets. Pierre-Luc Dubois tallied first, and then Patrick Kane answered back with a power play goal (the Hawks’ only PP goal of the week, by the way). But alas, Artemi Panarin scored just 17 seconds later, and he and Cam Atkinson combined for a late odd-man rush that resulted in a goal. Just like that, the Hawks were down 3-1 at the end of the first.

The Hawks have been outscored 8-3 in the first period of the last three games. If they could manage stronger starts, they wouldn’t be chasing games and ideally could build off their momentum.

Alex DeBrincat Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat was the only member of the Chicago Blackhawks to score the first goal of the game in the last three contests. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now that’s not to say the Blackhawks might not falter in the second or third frames. One of their biggest struggles is putting together a full 60-minute effort. But starting out strong could be the beginning of remedying that.

Kane’s Streak Continues

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Blackhawk who is leading the way for this team in goals (35), points (52), and points (87). Patrick Kane is also currently on a 16-game assist streak and a 17-game point streak. As a matter of fact, if you take out the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, Kane would have a 24-game point streak going after Saturday’s game against the Blue Jackets.

These are Kane’s numbers from the last 17 games. Not too shabby.

Blackhawks’ Bites

Here are some interesting tidbits from this past week regarding the Blackhawks:

  • Goaltender Collin Delia signed a three-year contract with the Blackhawks this past Monday. It’s a very team-friendly contract of $1 million per year. This is a positive sign that Delia could be the Hawks’ goaltender of the future.
  • Forward Dylan Sikura was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs this past Monday, and he played in the last three contests. He earned his first point since being recalled Thursday with a primary assist on a goal by Kane. He almost earned his first NHL goal Saturday with a toss right in front of the net, but was denied by the Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky. Playing on the third line with Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, Sikura looks like a young man poised to make some contributions with the Blackhawks down the stretch.
Dylan Sikura Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks’ Dylan Sikura is trying to stay with the big club after a recent call-up from the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
  • The Blackhawks placed center David Kampf on injured reserve this past Wednesday for his right foot injury. This move leaves an open spot on the roster for the potential return of goaltender Corey Crawford, who’s been cleared to play.
  • Defenseman Slater Koekkoek earned his first point as a Blackhawk Thursday night against the Devils with the primary assist on a goal by Jonathan Toews. Koekkoek has fit in nicely with the Hawks since been acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning in January. He’s making his argument to become a regular player on a crowded Blackhawks’ blue line.
  • Saad earned his 300th career point on Thursday against the Devils with the secondary assist on Anisimov’s goal. But it was his shorthanded tally later in the game that’s a lot more fun to watch.

  • Chris Kunitz played his 1000th career game on Thursday at the United Center. The 39-year-old has only dressed for 35 tilts this season with the Hawks. Nearing the end of his career, he usually plays limited minutes on the fourth line when he’s not a healthy scratch. But he’s also had an esteemed career and won more Stanley Cups (four) than anyone else on the team (and currently in the NHL). The Blackhawks organization gave him a fitting tribute.

Related – Blackhawks Roundtable: Secondary Scoring, Jokiharju & Goalies

There is some hope on the horizon this coming week for the Blackhawks. They face the Ottawa Senators Monday and the Detroit Red Wings Wednesday. Both teams sit at the bottom of the standings. These should be winnable games.

It’s at the end of the week that things get exciting. The Hawks host the Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars Friday and Sunday, respectively. These teams are division foes in the same playoff hunt as the Blackhawks. A win or loss in each of these contests will be a four-point swing for all teams involved. The result of these matchups could easily be the determining factor for the Blackhawks’ playoff hopes.

Oh and coincidentally next Monday is Feb. 25, the trade deadline. The outcome of this week’s matchups will likely determine what kind of moves the Blackhawks make at the deadline.

No pressure. Just keep winning!