After a successful Circus Trip with relatively smooth sailing, the Blackhawks have experienced a bit of turbulence as of late upon their return to Chicago. After two tremendous rallies from behind that fell short against the Dallas Stars and the Minnesota Wild, for the first time this season, the Blackhawks have lost two straight games. Sigh… But there’s no time for hurt feelings, because the Hawks are right back at it tonight at the Madhouse on Madison hosting the Anaheim Ducks, and believe it or not, the Ducks are the perfect team for the Hawks to gain a redemption W against, and here’s why:
Let’s wind the clocks back a year… Even amidst their record-breaking year and undisputed reign as the #1 team in the NHL during the regular season, there was one Western Conference team the Blackhawks just never quite figured out how to beat: the Ducks. The closest they got was a 2-3 shootout loss during the historic point streak at the beginning of the 2012-2013 campaign. The Ducks would beat the Hawks 4-2 and 2-1 the other two times these teams met in the shorted season, ultimately leaving the Hawks 0-2-1, or rather 0-3 from a morale standpoint against the former Disney-owned franchise.
The Chicago Blackhawks/Detroit Red Wings (pause for fist clench) playoff series last year was far from a walk in the park, but given the often overlooked struggles the Hawks had with the Ducks last season, you probably wouldn’t be hard pressed to find a few hockey analysts out there that would speculate the Hawks dodged a bullet facing Detroit over Anaheim. It was a textbook “what if” scenario, considering the Ducks were right behind the #1-ranked Hawks in the standings at the end of the 2012-2013 regular season, and were certainly favored to duke it out for the Western Conference championship title.
Suffice it to say, for whatever reasons, the Hawks just didn’t match-up well against the Ducks last year, and this year, the Ducks lo and behold, are a mere stone’s throw away from the Blackhawk’s NHL-leading 44 points; sitting at #4 in the Western Conference with a total of 41 points for the season. While so far this year the Hawks still have eggs left to crack closer to home in the Central Division (i.e. the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche), the Ducks remain the sole team in the Pacific Division that over the past few years the Blackhawks have not been able to consistently and decisively handle, and that should be cause for concern.
So why are the Ducks of Anaheim so mighty of an opponent for the Blackhawks? One reason perhaps is because the Ducks and Hawks aren’t too dissimilar. Let’s not forget the point-streak record the Hawks broke last season was previously held by the Ducks, who remained undefeated in regulation for the first 16 games of the 2006-2007 season, and like the Hawks, they went on to win the Stanley Cup that year as well. As all Hawks fans should know by now, achieving prolonged success in any given season and capping it off with a championship trophy requires disciplined leadership, and the Ducks have that with players like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who have been franchise fixtures since 2005 that have brought the team consistent success despite other rotations on the roster. And let’s not forget their goalie Jonas Hiller, who has been rock-solid in the net since the 2008-2009 season.
So how are the Blackhawks going to get the Ducks in a row? It won’t be easy, but the Hawks can do it, and ironically the best template for them to follow was established by the Dallas Stars, who decisively beat the Ducks 6-3 earlier this season, and spoiler alert, they did it sans their horseshoe-swallowing goalie Kari Lehtonen. Furthermore, the Stars actually fell a goal behind the Ducks not once, but twice in this game; coming from behind both times and then putting together a three goal rally that was capped off by a game-sealing empty netter.
So what’s the lesson for the Hawks? Three words: Odd…Man..(wait for it). Rushes! Four out of the six goals the Stars scored occurred when they caught the Ducks out of position by simply outskating them. This shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise: 15 of the players on the Ducks roster are over 25 years old (most hovering around 30), which isn’t that old in hockey years, and a good chunk of the Dallas Stars are no spring chickens, but it’s telling when young upstarts like 24 year old Antoine Roussel (spitting sound) and 22 year old Cody Eakin combine to score half the Stars’ goals against the Ducks.
Both the Ducks and the Blackhawks have leadership, experience, and depth, but the Blackhawks have the edge in youth. Like they did against Dallas, the Ducks will come out strong, but if the Hawks’ forwards remain persistent and utilize their speed and endurance, they’ll wear the Ducks down and get the upper hand. PS – make sure young defenseman like Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson keep tabs on Ducks forward Nick Bonino. When this 25 year old center goes against defensemen that can’t keep up with him, bad things happen.
It’s time for the Blackhawks to erase the one smudge on their point-streak record last season and snap their current 2-game losing streak by convincingly beating the Anaheim Ducks tonight. One thing’s for sure: if they don’t figure out how to do this during the regular season, there’s a very good chance they’ll have to in the play-offs, and that’s a learning curve no one wants to be behind.
FOR THE DAGGER!