Coming off the bye week on a five-game win streak, the Chicago Blackhawks have a lot to like as they head into the stretch run
Riding a five-game win streak, the Chicago Blackhawks appear to have found their game and may be ready to make a big push down the stretch. Coming off the mandatory bye week with a record of 35-17-5 and 75 points, the ‘Hawks are sitting in second place in the Central Division, seven points behind the surging Minnesota Wild, who have their bye week March 22-26.
The Blackhawks are clicking in just about every part of their game right now, so here’s a look at five takeaways from the five-game win streak.
Finishing their recent six-game road trip with five straight victories, the Blackhawks have stretched their season record in hostile territory to 17-10-1, including a mid-December streak of four consecutive wins. Thus far, only the New York Rangers (19) and Minnesota Wild (18) have posted more wins on the road.
Down the stretch, Chicago will play 13 of 25 games away from United Center, so winning on the road will go a long way to determining the Blackhawks’ initial postseason matchup and home-ice advantage. The ‘Hawks will also need to steal some playoff wins on the road if they want to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.
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The Blackhawks have been searching all season for some consistently-balanced scoring and finally found it up and down the lineup, scoring 23 goals over their past five games.
With 14 goals, including three game-winners, the two top lines claimed 61 percent of the scoring, while the bottom six notched five goals and the defense lit the lamp four times, including two game-winners.
This kind of balanced production is close to ideal and greatly complicates the matchups for opposing teams.
The big guns all earned their paychecks — Patrick Kane has three multi-point games on his current five-game point streak, Artemi Panarin has gotten hot again with two goals and three assists, and Jonathan Toews had a three-point game at Minnesota, where he scored the overtime game-winning goal.
Led by Ryan Hartman’s three scores, Blackhawks rookies accounted for five goals and four assists.
The puck stops here
As of Friday, Hammer is among the league leaders with 145 blocked shots, and he combined with Seabrook for 11 blocked shots in the 5-2 win at Winnipeg, where Seabs made three quick blocks in one frenzied sequence to preserve the ‘Hawks’ 2-1 lead early in the third period.
Special teams are special
The Blackhawks’ special teams have come on strong, especially a powerplay which converted 6 of 12 chances in the last five games. Sustaining anything close to a 50 percent conversion rate is highly unlikely, but lately the ‘Hawks have shown better puck retrieval to keep plays alive while screening the goaltender on shots from the point.
For their part, Chicago’s PK units successfully killed off 13 of 15 penalties, mostly with good clears and timely shot blocking. On the season so far, Blackhawks special teams have posted better results on the road than at home.
The Blackhawks have not fared so well at the dot, losing the faceoff battle in four of the last five games. Only Toews at 56 percent and Tanner Kero at 52.5 percent won the majority of their draws. With Chicago’s puck possession numbers down a bit this year, winning a larger share of faceoffs would go a long way in getting the ‘Hawks on the right side of the puck.
Another area of concern is Chicago’s propensity for allowing opponents mostly uncontested entry into the zone, which usually results in at least one shot attempt. The ‘Hawks have got to do a better job jamming up the neutral zone and shutting down rushes if they want to avoid chasing the puck around their own zone.
The Blackhawks will try to extend their winning streak to six games tonight when they host the Edmonton Oilers. Chicago will need to keep up its winning ways to chase down the high-flying Minnesota Wild and fend off the resurgent St. Louis Blues. Let’s go ‘Hawks!