An October to Forget for Blackhawks?

The Chicago Blackhawks have spent the entirety of the regular season without Andrew Desjardins. This has been painfully obvious as the team has put up the league’s worst penalty kill rate. Thankfully, the team has not put up the league’s worst record.

Going into November, the Blackhawks are sitting in third place. This sounds like a relative success, but taking a more analytic look at the standings, we see that the Blackhawks are trailing only the St Louis Blue and the Minnesota Wild in the Central. With all due respect to each team in the division, the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators will not occupy the bottom of the division at the end of the regular season. Also, Richard Panik will not continue to lead the team in goals scored.

Richard Panik
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

There is plenty of hockey left to play, and the Blackhawks played five games in October against teams that missed the playoffs last year. Going 3-1-1 in those games appears on the surface to be a decent showing, but when you accompany those five games with going 1-2-0 against teams in your division, a 5-3-1 record doesn’t inspire as much pride.

PAK Can’t Do It Alone

Certainly, there are aspects that the organization would like to see improve. a 53.1% penalty kill rate is unacceptable. The line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, and Patrick Kane continues to be the highest scoring line on the team, and while that threesome does find consistent success, the team needs to rely on some additional secondary scoring — that line alone accounts for around one-third of the team’s goals so far. This is an improvement from last years 40%+ share, but the Blackhawks will need more help on the scoreboard from their third and fourth lines.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Chicago will have a decent opportunity to show they can improve and keep driving forward. They have five divisional match-ups in the first half of November, and in total have 13 inter-conference battles this coming month. Hopefully, Andrew Desjardins will return in a few weeks and that abysmal PK percentage should improve. Jonathan Toews finally found the back of the net on Sunday, and Marian Hossa also connected on a power play goal. For all the struggles that the shorthanded effort has exhibited, the man-advantage is converting at a top-ten rate.

The Blackhawks have seemingly oscillated between power play success and penalty-kill success in recent years. They seem to find a higher level of success when the PK is the dominant special-teams segment, but whatever gets a ‘W’ at the final buzzer will be fine with both fans and the top brass. Part of this transition should also be taken with a grain of salt as this year has been deemed the “youth movement” and everyone should let some of the younger players acclimate at least a tiny amount before slamming the hammer down.

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Just Get the Puck

Nick Schmaltz
Blackhawks forward Nick Schmaltz has made the leap from NCAA to NHL but needs to improve certain areas (Peter Bottini, UND Athletics)

Part of the areas that the youth has struggled has been at the faceoff dot. Per, Nick Schmaltz is a frightening 32.8% at the drop and that difficulty has also affected a more experienced player in Artem Anisimov. Anisimov is only controlling the puck at a 37.1% rate. Both Anisimov and the younger players have been working with development coach, Yanic Perreault to try to convert these faceoffs to better possession and opportunities.

The Blackhawks do have relatively decent possession numbers, but they are anything from elite. They are high enough that the Hawks have been able to weather the storm of rookie mistakes and lackluster special teams, but over the course of a season, a team needs to play an overall game, not rely on bits and pieces. While the Hawks have played a relatively decent overall game, those “bits and pieces” are a bit too significant to expect to breeze through 73 more games.