When the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins (10-1) in their first game of the season back in October, it felt like a collective sigh of relief. After their dreadful showing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs where they were humiliated in a best-of-seven series by the Nashville Predators—when they failed to score more than three goals in four games and were shutout twice in the series—we didn’t really know how to process what we saw. But that’s all behind us now.
After the Blackhawks defeated the Penguins in lopsided fashion, fans were finally able to regain and find their smile again. The 10-goal outburst seemed like a release of tension and anger. And beating the defending Stanley Cup champions only helped to alleviate what was then a fresh wound.
But that honeymoon feeling that fans experienced after the first game of the season is long gone. As it stands right now, the Blackhawks are on the outside looking in. Yes, it’s still relatively early enough and fans should not be panicking, but there are still many concerning aspects about the team to this point in the regular season.
Among the most recognizable concerns are the power play, defense, scoring, etc. But there are other areas of concern that need to be addressed if the Blackhawks are going to make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup.
Richard Panik’s Struggles
Richard Panik was a huge contributor offensively during the 2016-17 season for the Blackhawks. His higher, consistent level of play eventually earned him a spot on the top line with the captain, Jonathan Toews. And when the organization traded for Brandon Saad, the expectation for Panik grew higher, rightfully so.
The Blackhawks were expecting, and really needed, more of the same, continual success from him this season. Prior to the start of the 2017-18 season, the Blackhawks’ roster underwent some construction, thanks to the beloved salary cap. So, the need for Panik to continue producing and scoring goals didn’t vanish. It only increased, due to uncertainty.
But the organization hasn’t received that same kind of fiery production from the right winger. After posting career highs in goals, assists, and points last season, Panik’s goal and point production have come to a screeching halt. Prior to Friday night’s game (Dec. 8) against the Buffalo Sabres, Panik has accumulated only five goals and nine assists for 14 points. Even more alarming is the fact Panik has gone 19 games without scoring a goal, according to his game log.
As the season continues to progress, Panik needs to find ways to put the puck in the back of the net. Going into Friday night’s game against the Sabres, the Blackhawks have scored a total of 84 goals while allowing 79, bringing the differential to +5. They need Panik to start scoring goals more consistently.
Struggles Against the Division
In order to make the playoffs, the Blackhawks will need to finish as the third best team in their division (at the very least) or occupy one of the two wild-card spots. Not to be redundant, but ahead of Friday night’s game against the Sabres, the Blackhawks are sitting in sixth place in the Central Division. Much of their struggles this season have actually come from their lack of success in playing divisional opponents.
In nine games against Central Division opponents, the Blackhawks have a record of 2-5-2. In those nine games, they have outshot their opponents 313 to 288. On the bright side, they’re getting shots off, but they’re not putting the puck in the back of the net, which obviously mitigates any aforementioned bright side.
A huge reason for their struggles against the division revolves around their power play. The power play, generally speaking, has mightily let them down throughout the course of the season, to this point. The Blackhawks have had a total of 46 power plays against division opponents and they’ve only converted on five of those 46 (roughly 11 percent).
Against their division, the Blackhawks have been outscored 29-19, bringing their average goals per game against division opponents to 2.1. The importance of winning against the division cannot be overstated. And they haven’t consistently done that, or have even come close. The Blackhawks will continually face adversity throughout the course of the 2017-18 season, and, in order to make the playoffs and ultimately compete for the Stanley Cup, they need to address these concerns.