Wednesday March 23rd, 2016

With Tuesday night’s 6-2 stinker against the Dallas Stars, the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks find themselves firmly on the skids: They’ve lost seven of their last nine games, and 11 of their past 17, including four losses to Central Division opponents by a combined score of 17-8.

Cause for concern? Look, if almost any other NHL team was going through this type of slump so close to the start of the playoffs then, yes, alarm bells would be ringing wildly and you’d need an army of firefighters to put all the hot takes out.

But these are the Blackhawks and given their experience and the fact that they’re as close to a modern dynasty as the NHL has, they’re worthy of a closer look.

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Perhaps the most alarming stat since their 4–2 defeat by the Boston Bruins on March 3 has been the number of goals they’ve let in: 30 during those nine games, one of the higher numbers in the league since that date and well above Chicago's goals-against average of 2.47 for the season.

To be fair, the Hawks are largely getting hammered on their penalty kill: eight of those 30 goals came when they were shorthanded, one of the worst totals in the league. When the playoffs begin and teams generally spend less time killing off penalties, you have to imagine that the Hawks won’t be getting dinged for as many goals as they have been.

Speaking of allowing goals, early in this skid Hawks goalie Corey Crawford was mired in a bit of a slump himself. Before he went down with an upper body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since March 17, Crawford had an even-strength adjusted save percentage of .906 since March 3, well below his season average of .934 (stats via War-on-Ice.com). Scott Darling has attempted to pick up the slack, and he has a .916 save percentage, but as a whole the goaltending hasn’t been what it should be.

Of course, once Crawford comes back from his injury, it’s hard to see this slump continuing. He’s one of the best keepers in the league and his save percentage this season speaks to that.

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Chicago's PDO (the sum of their even-strength shooting percentage and even-strength save percentage) through the skid, even if it’s a stat you’ve largely tossed in the wastebasket of analytical identifiers, is 97.4, or fourth-worst in the league, meaning the Hawks have been much more unlucky than the results would have you believe.

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They are now off until Saturday, enough time to take a good, long hard look at their poor on-ice results. They head on the road for four games and if you believe in a team’s ability to bond while away from home, I’d be terrified of the Hawks if I’m the Flames, Canucks, Wild and Jets. Chicago also has upcoming games against the lowly Coyotes and Blue Jackets, a perfect opportunity for them to find their stride again.

What they will need to do is start generating and then converting the scoring chances they do get, even if they are rare. They’ve posted 10.2 even strength High Danger Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes throughout the season, good for 23rd in the league. Since March 3, that’s fallen to 9.0 chances per 60 minutes, or 28th in the league.

There is a sizeable enough veteran presence with championship pedigree on this team to know that it can pull out of this tailspin. Patrick Kane, still the NHL’s leading scorer, has registered 9.7 even strength High Danger Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes on the season and that number sits at 9.2 since the skid begin. Not a huge dip. The Hawks may not have the kind of depth that they have had in previous season but again, they know to play their way out of this and coach Joel Quenneville is surely looking for solutions. Kane is having a phenomenal season but obviously cannot take the team on his back, offensively.

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In the end it’s probably just the timing that is raising eyebrows here. Look, it’s not a salacious answer at all, but these are the Hawks, and this is hockey. Puck luck is a thing, and right now the Hawks aren’t getting the bounces in their direction while their best goaltender is on the shelf.

The regular season isn’t, and hasn’t ever been, where the Hawks make their money. The playoffs is their bread and butter and you have to believe they will get their game together when it matters the most. Last spring they slid into the postseason with only five wins in their final 13 games and you know what happened after that.

 

 

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