Chicago Blackhawks fans can get excited about the fact that they will likely get to see Corey Crawford on the ice before the 2017-18 season ends. The Hawks’ main goaltender traveled with the team to Arizona and has been on the ice since last week. Though it will likely be over a week before Crawford gets to play, the event of traveling with the team, as well as his practice time, all point to good signs. He was put on injured reserve in late December, with reports saying that he suffered from a concussion-based injury. Since that time, the Hawks have alternated between goalies Jeff Glass and Anton Forsberg. Despite some solid performances from the pair, it has become very painfully obvious how much the Hawks relied on Crawford this season and how badly they need him back. It’s obvious that the team hopes his return will spark some energy and excitement, but it’s a little too late for Crawford to pull his team out of the hole they have dug for themselves.
The Hawks badly needed to pick up some wins this week if they had any chance of making it to playoffs and they did just the opposite. They dropped games against the Calgary Flames and the Dallas Stars at the United Center before hitting the road and getting shut out against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. They’ll take on the Arizona Coyotes tonight, but statistics show that the Hawks only have a slim 2.5% chance of making the playoffs. Despite repeated talks of having to do better and needing to find the desperation to win games, the Blackhawks have been all talk and no show.
There have been a number of problems this year which makes it hard to pinpoint why specifically this season has gone so poorly. A big part of the struggle has come from too many loses to division rival teams. Chicago got swept by Dallas this year, an event that has not occurred in over ten seasons. As a result, they missed out on eight points that were up for grabs and the situation has repeated itself with other teams. There has also been the inability of the Hawks’ biggest stars to show up as well as they have before. Jonathan Toews has been a lot quieter this year than in the past and defenseman Duncan Keith has yet to score a goal, despite appearing in 55 games. It didn’t help that the Hawks were already out of a playoff spot when they lost Crawford to his injury and they only went downhill from there. Third period woes haven’t helped either, with the Hawks dropping leads in the last twenty minutes and handing the game away in overtime multiple times.
Crawford’s return will at least give the Blackhawks a possible chance to better themselves and look forward to what they need to fix for next season. Tackling problems early will give the Hawks more time to have things together before the new season opens in October. The earlier they zoom in on their problems, the better prepared they’ll be for a new year. Taking care of the power play unit should be top priority, since the Hawks have only capitalized on 31 of 201 chances this year. They’ll also need to focus on getting better scoring chances and finding ways to get the best out of key players. Youngsters like Alex DeBrincat have done a great job showing up this season and have plenty to offer, so it wouldn’t hurt the veterans to follow their direction. If goaltending remains the same as this year, it won’t need much work since it has been the backbone of the organization this year, but the team will need to make sure they get Crawford back to full strength before they push things too hard.
It’s hard to see the Blackhawks struggle after having so many good years recently. Bringing back stars like Brandon Saad and bringing up young players like Alex DeBrincat all pointed to success and the Hawks’ opening game seemed to point to a strong season ahead. Having to deal with injuries like Crawford’s, missing key players from before like Marian Hossa, and having unusual performances from the normal lamp-lighters have all led to the hole the Blackhawks are currently sitting in and likely will not find a way out of. The best thing to do now is to look ahead and figure out what the future holds. This season may be a lost cause, but the future does not have to be.