The Chicago Blackhawks started off the season with a bang, but have been up and down ever since. With the exception of two straight losses on October 18th and 19th, the team has alternated between wins and losses. Though neither is by huge margins, there is definitely a signal that the Blackhawks need to find some consistency quickly. They’re currently second in their division, but this problem needs to be nipped in the bud before it becomes something worse.
One area that the Blackhawks need to find consistency in is scoring. In three of four losses, they’ve been held to two goals or less. Many of these losses were the result of last ditch efforts, when the Hawks played only ten minutes of good hockey, compared to a full sixty minute game. This was very apparent in the Hawks’ recent loss to the St. Louis Blues. They gave up four straight goals to the Blues, only to make an effort in the third period. It was too little, too late however and they ended up dropping the game five to two.
In addition to more consistency in scoring, the Blackhawks also need to look for more variety in terms of who is scoring the goals. Though key players like Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane have had phenomenal starts to the year, the Hawks need all lines contributing to the play. They saw a peek of this effort against the Arizona Coyotes last night, with members of the team like Lance Bouma scoring, but they’ll need to see a higher level of progression as the season continues.
In terms of scoring, Chicago also needs to start looking for and using their power play opportunities more often. The team has only been able to score on seven of forty-one chances, and often has low shots on goal totals during the power play. The extra-man advantage should give the Blackhawks the upper hand, so they need to use it more wisely. Setting up plays quickly instead of getting too fancy would highly benefit them, as well as simply getting more shots on goal. Theoretically, the more shots you throw at a goalie, the more shots should go in, so the Blackhawks need to get those shots on goal during the power play.
Though it is not necessary that the team looks to their veterans to lead the start of consistency, it would be a beneficial measure for the Blackhawks. Defenseman Brent Seabrook has been one of the defensemen struggling lately and caused several mistakes that have thrown the Blackhawks into the loss column. Simple mishandlings of the puck or shabby defense, like Duncan Keith’s attempt of holding back Connor McDavid, have put the Hawks in more than one perilous situation and they add up quickly. Cleaning up the veterans’ game, as well as the game of the new guys too, will help the Hawks bring out a stronger level of play against their opponents.
The one area the Blackhawks have seen some strong consistency in is the goaltending. Corey Crawford has stood tall in just about every game he has seen thus far and saved the team’s butt in more than one game. His back-up, Anton Forsberg, has also been a strong component for the Hawks, taking both games he has appeared in to overtime. However, it would not be wise of the Hawks to lean on their goaltenders for a large part of the season. They’ve done so before, and though their goalies have done phenomenal jobs, it has never come out pretty. There needs to be a combination of both offensive work and defensive work, and without some production in front of them, the goalies are going to have a much harder time bringing in the wins for their team.
Another area that the Blackhawks have seen some very solid progress and consistency in is the penalty kill. Despite a horrendous penalty kill to start the last season, the Blackhawks seem to have gotten their act together and come up with a complete strategy when down a player. However, even with their penalty kill percentage of 85.7%, they’ll still want to stay out of the box. They took five tripping minors when they faced the Blues on Wednesday and it was a clear example of a move that could be avoided. Having to play with one less player is going to quickly add up if the Hawks are not careful and giving themselves a disadvantage just because of sloppy play is not going to result in a far playoff run in the spring.
Overall, the Hawks have not been one of the poorer teams thus far in the season, but if they stay as unbalanced as they are now and keep up the bad habits, they’re going to find themselves exiting the playoffs in round one for the third consecutive year. Problems, such as the lack of consistency in scoring, should be nipped in the bud, especially against teams that the Hawks will face a lot this year. They have the resources and some very skilled players at their disposal, so it’ll be up to the team to bring forth their best effort as they take on the next set of teams this week.