Blackhawks Looking for Positives With Playoff Hopes Dismal

Last week the Chicago Blackhawks headed to California for a three-game road trip after dropping two tough losses to division foes. In a very tight Western Conference race, they needed all the points they could get to keep their playoff hopes alive. Yet they came away with just one win, and only two of a possible six points.

That’s not gonna cut it.

The Hawks can pretty much say goodbye to the postseason. It’s probably time to regroup and look towards next season at this point. But something can be taken from every game and every situation. So let’s discuss what’s come from these last three games.

Blackhawks’ Week 22 Matchups

@ Anaheim Ducks, Wed. 2/27, Win 4-3

@ LA Kings, Sat. 3/2, Loss 6-3

@ San Jose Sharks, Sun. 3/3, Loss 5-2

Overall Record:  27-30-9, 63 points

Related – Blackhawks Sustain Big Wins, Bigger Losses in Defining Week

Crawford Returns

Probably the biggest news of the week was Corey Crawford’s return. He took the net for the first time since Dec. 16 this past Wednesday against the Ducks. Just like when he came back from a concussion earlier in the season, Crawford was calm, cool, and collected as he got right back to work.

He showed very few signs of rust, except a miscue in the third period where he mishandled the puck behind his own net. It led directly to the go-ahead goal for the Ducks. Other than that he looked solid, stopping 29-of-32 shots for a .906 save percentage. He even earned a secondary assist on Artem Anisimov’s goal in the second period.

Corey Crawford Blackhawks
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Most thought Cam Ward would be granted the next start against the Kings Saturday afternoon, and Crawford would pick up the tougher matchup versus the Sharks. But surprisingly, Coach Colliton gave Crawford the nod for his second game in a row. It didn’t really matter, as the Blackhawks played so sloppy neither goaltender would have had much of a shot at salvaging anything. Crawford ended the night stopping only 19-of-25 shots for a .760 save percentage. But hey, he smartly sprung Brendan Perlini for a breakaway goal to earn his second assist in as many games!

In hindsight, it’s probably a good thing Crawford didn’t play against the Sharks. It was a very fast-paced game, and would have been tough for just his second game back. Hopefully he will remain healthy and can use the rest of the season as a springboard towards a strong 2019-20 campaign.

Kane and DeBrincat Reach Milestones

Patrick Kane scored his 40th goal of the season  Wednesday against the Ducks. It marked the second time in his career he reached 40 goals (the first came in 2015-16), and he became only the seventh player in Blackhawks’ history to reach multiple 40-goal seasons. And of course it was the game-winning goal.

Kane’s 40 goals is third place in the entire league, and his 94 points is second only to the Lightnings’ Nikita Kucherov. He could easily surpass his career highs of 46 goals and 106 points. Heck, his 54 helpers is only six shy of his career-high 60 assists. This will be something fun to keep an eye on as the season draws to a close.

Alex DeBrincat’s numbers aren’t too shabby either. He tallied twice the same night Kane earned his 40th, giving him 36 goals on the season. With just four more goals, DeBrincat will join Kane and they will be the first Blackhawks’ duo to score 40 or more goals since Steve Larmer and Jeremy Roenick in the 1990-91 season.

I’d say that’s doable! Unfortunately, the pair were both held without goals against the Kings and the Sharks. Time to get back to work.

Secondary Scoring Steps Up

The last few matchups haven’t been especially kind to the big guns. We already discussed Kane and DeBrincat. Jonathan Toews remains without a goal in the last three games, although he has notched three assists. Brandon Saad has zero goals and only one assist in the last five games.

But other players have stepped up to the plate. Dylan Strome notched helpers both Wednesday and Saturday and added a goal Sunday. He’s currently on a three-game point steak, and looks like a big part of the Blackhawks’ future. Brendan Perlini scored two goals Saturday — it was his first multi-point effort as a Blackhawk, and earned him a promotion to the second line in Sunday’s tilt against the Sharks.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson has nine assists in the last six games, and he added a goal Sunday night. It was his 13th tally of the season. To give some perspective, Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs currently leads all defensemen with 16 goals. Gustafsson is right up there. His 48 points is good for eighth place in the league.

Now if only everyone could start consistently scoring at the same time! Wait, that’s what playoff caliber teams do. Oh, and they play good defense too. Sigh. Maybe next season.

Moving On

In the meantime, despite two bad games where sloppy defense prevailed, the Blackhawks refused to give up. They put up a much better effort Sunday night — the Hawks tightened up defensively and held their own for most of the game. It wasn’t until the third period that a much better Sharks team pulled away for the win. This shows the character and fight that will help make the Blackhawks better next season. As head Coach Colliton told reporters,

We looked like a hockey team tonight, which was a difference from the night before…If we would have played tonight like we did last night (the Kings game), we would have gotten embarrassed. So I was pleased that we came to play.

Where do the Hawks go from here? Well there are 16 games left, starting with the Buffalo Sabres Thursday and the Dallas Stars Saturday. There are some obvious and concrete things to work on. For example, give Crawford a chance to find his groove again. Allow Kane and DeBrincat to reach their career-highs. Work on the power play, and the penalty kill. And defense!

These remaining contests should still be about winning, but not with the goal of making the playoffs. And winning might not especially mean getting two points. It should be about improving. Concentrating on the little things. The details. And most of all, staying positive and having fun.

I think this group has it in them to end the season on a high note and look towards a brighter future.