Kristi Loucks The Hockey Writers
Blackhawks Are Stuck in Groundhog Day
The Chicago Blackhawks are currently stuck in the very worst version of Groundhog Day, and there is only one way out of it. They are going to have to put their heads down and muscle through one of the toughest stretches they’ve had since 2010.
They have dropped seven of the ten games that they’ve played in the month of March, and there will not be excuses or do-overs, there is just forward. Tomorrow is a new day, and they are simply going to have to turn the page and pick themselves up off the floor.
Perhaps, the best thing that could have happened to the Blackhawks on Tuesday night was getting booed off their home ice. It’s terrible and I hated to hear it, but hopefully the Blackhawks can use it going forward as I am quite certain they never want to hear that again in the United Center.
#Blackhawks booed off the ice at home. Down 4-0 to #Stars after one. Wow. They might slip to a wild card if they don't figure things out.
— Mike Harrington (@BNHarrington) March 23, 2016
There were some bright spots; Michael Leighton looked pretty solid in relief of Scott Darling considering this is his first game up in the NHL since the 2012-13 season. Then, there was Andrew Shaw and Richard Panik again looking tenacious and ready to wreck havoc.
Unfortunately, the rest of the team didn’t feast on nails for breakfast with the two of them because absolutely nothing was going their way. No lucky bounces, no crisp passing, no penalty kill, no man advantage. Everything just came up blank, and the Dallas Stars are simply not a team you can coast on.
In fact, the Blackhawks can’t coast on anyone at this point as they are dangerously close to entering the playoffs in a wild card slot.
The Blame Game
There are more than enough people ready to blame Michal Rozsival or Trevor van Riemsdyk or some player who is averaging 13 minutes or less of ice time, but the truth is 13 minutes isn’t enough time to impact an entire game. Not by themselves. Sure, they can create an opportunity for the other team, lose a puck battle, let in a soft goal, or straight up pass the puck right to an opposing player in the middle of the ice and that’s bad. Though, in most cases one play is not enough to sway a 60-minute contest.
It takes a team effort to win, but it also takes a team to go down in a blowout loss.
Still trying to figure out why Trevor van Riemsdyk gets to keep making mistakes while guys like Gustafsson get punished.
— James Neveau (@JamesNeveau) March 10, 2016
why is it that every time i look up, Michal Rozsival is on the ice?
— bailey (@nachoSEABre) March 17, 2016
However, at the end of the day, you have to start looking at the leadership, the players who are logging the bulk of the minutes night in and night out. Those are the players that have the most opportunities to impact the game. Good, bad, or otherwise.
Those are the guys who are ultimately going to have to dig this team out of the ditch they’ve found themselves in. Right now, they’re not getting it done, and it’s simply too late in the season to be pointing fingers and blaming the oldest guy in the lineup or the inexperience of some of the blue liners. This is the same team that won 12 straight, and the same group of core players. No one player is at fault here. The Blackhawks win as a team, the same way that they lose as a team.
It’s an 82 game season, and even the best teams find themselves on a losing skid, but this one has gone on long enough. This weekend, the Blackhawks are going to have to come out and play the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks like they played Anaheim in game seven last year.
It might take Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, or Duncan Keith to lift this team onto their shoulders to do it, but it has to be done. Your best lines are going to set the tone, and right now they simply aren’t doing enough. At the end of the day, Rozsival is always going to play his game, and many people don’t like it, but it’s not his game that’s changed. It’s not TVR’s or Erik Gustafsson’s either. It is simply more obvious and easier to pick on them than it is to admit that it might just start at the top.
Leaders Lead No Matter the Terrain Ahead
Toews, Keith, Kane, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook are going to have to find a way to get this ship back on course because right now they have run aground and the weight of it all falls squarely on their shoulders. They’ve been around the block enough to know they can find their way through this, but now their task is to convince the players who haven’t seen this kind of adversity before.
There are a handful of things that have to happen if the Blackhawks hope to snap this skid quickly and keep it in the past.
The Blackhawks have always been a possession team, but you can’t possess the puck if you can’t keep it in the offensive zone. Too many times, the Blackhawks are getting caught with two defensemen on the wrong side of the blue line with the puck coming towards them. You aren’t going to keep pucks in when your last line of defense (literally) is standing outside the line. In addition, the Blackhawks offense thrives when the defense gets in on the rush which doesn’t happen when they are straddling the blue line.
One of the most important things the Blackhawks will have to do is stay out of the box. It’s one thing for Artemi Panarin to take a penalty defending his linemate, but the too many men calls, the high sticks, and the tripping calls need to be kept to a minimum. Especially when the penalty kill is struggling. The penalties have been very costly over the course of this streak.
Come on @NHLBlackhawks too many men again? Let's get it together and stop these unnecessary penalties! #Blackhawks #CHIvsDAL
— Tony Greeley (@tonythetiger323) March 23, 2016
The Blackhawks are also going to have to step up for their netminders as well. They simply can’t keep making the goalies job harder. There were too many times in the last few games where passes came right through the middle of the ice only to get picked off. Too often, those mistakes end up costing the Blackhawks. Scott Darling was certainly not great against the Stars, but the Blackhawks were simply too casual with the passing in high danger areas of the ice.
Finally, when nothing is working in your favor, the best thing the Blackhawks can do is crash the net and start chasing after those greasy goals. The worst thing to do is start with the cute little drop passes that no one ever seems to be able to pick up. The bottom line is the stuff that has been working all season isn’t working at the moment, so it is time to get back to that pond hockey mentality.
It’s Only Pretty When It Works
The Blackhawks need to go into the next few games playing one shift at a time and win the little battles first.
Make sure that guys like Shaw, Panik, Andrew Ladd, Artem Anisimov, and Dale Weise are getting to the front of the net and then fire at will.
At some point, they’ll be able to go back to setting up pretty shots, but right now the Blackhawks need to get the puck on net early and often, and the guys lingering near the crease are going to have to make sure they are there to capitalize. Because right now, pretty shots and cute passes are getting the Blackhawks a whole lot of nothing.
The Blackhawks have eight games remaining, and they need to find a way to end the regular season on a high note. They’re only facing two opponents that are currently in a playoff spot, but with the way things have been going of late, they need to treat every one of them as a first round opponent. They may have the easier schedule ahead out of all their Central Division rivals, but they have given themselves the hardest path.
At the end of the day, the guys at the top are tasked with leading their teammates into battle, but right now the fourth line (Shaw, Panik, and Andrew Desjardins) is heading up the charge. Which is ok for a game or two, but it is not a long term solution. The Blackhawks top guns are going to have to stop shooting blanks. If that means going to the dirty areas of the ice, and grabbing a dirty goal then so be it.
The good news is Marcus Kruger should be back at some point during the road trip. Hopefully, Corey Crawford will be getting back sometime in the near future as well, but the Blackhawks can’t wait for them to come in and save the day. They are just going to have to put on their capes and save themselves.
They are still the team that looked dominant for much of the season in spite of their little crisis of confidence; It is on the core players to help this team remember why they have been so successful. Even with this string of bad games, this is not a team that anyone is simply going to discount once the playoffs begin. However, with only eight games remaining, the time to figure this out is right now.
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