Analysis

Exploring Chicago Blackhawks Inconsistencies And What’s Causing Them

By Matt Morrow
EDMONTON, AB - DECEMBER 29: Patrick Kane
EDMONTON, AB - DECEMBER 29: Patrick Kane /
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It’s no secret halfway through the season that the Chicago Blackhawks can’t seem to play consistent hockey. Each and every time they give you a sliver of hope, they follow it with a completely lackluster and unacceptable performance.

First, I’d like to explain why the Chicago Blackhawks should be more consistent this season. Then, I’ll take a look at why they might be struggling in that department and end with a preview of the rest of the season. Buckle up, this one is going to be long.

Experience

The Chicago Blackhawks have the experience on this season’s roster to win now. There’s no questioning that.

Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp were part of all three recent Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup championships. Brandon Saad was part of the two most recent ones. Those six make up roughly a third of each night’s starting lineup, as far as forwards and defense go.

Corey Crawford is a two-time Stanley Cup champion in net, and frankly, he could have won a third had the ‘Hawks prevailed in overtime of Game 7 of the 2014 WCF. That one stings.

Nick Schmaltz won a national championship with the University of North Dakota in 2015-16. John Hayden played hockey at Yale, and was a captain there. Alex DeBrincat was at one point linemates with Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome on the Erie Otters of the OHL, where he was an alternate captain.

Add in numerous appearances in the Olympics, World Juniors, World Cup of Hockey, NHL All-Star Game, and every player on the Blackhawks has played in countless meaningful games on the highest stages possible.

Chemistry

General manager Stan Bowman has done a great job putting together players who are very familiar with each other. Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza grew up playing hockey together, as well as football. They’re practically best friends.

Schmaltz played for the Chicago Mission just a few years after both Hartman and Hinostroza, and he knew both of them from his time there.

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Connor Murphy played with Anthony Duclair in Arizona for two seasons. While Tyler Sikura may have initially been signed just as a persuasion chip to sign his brother Dylan Sikura, he has been tearing it up lately in Rockford.

There’s obvious ties between Kane, Toews, Crawford, Keith and Seabrook, and bringing back both Saad and Sharp just added to that magic chemistry.

A look into the past …

The Blackhawks of the past were good for at least one, if not several, long winning streaks in years past. Heck, they went 21-0-3 to open the 2013 NHL season. The winning streaks were usually what allowed them to pile up enough points to sufficiently pass up teams and build a cushion. But it just doesn’t feel like they have that in them this year.

The Blackhawks of the past were also famous for “flipping the switch” when games mattered most — almost suddenly playing better and appearing more prepared as well as more intense. I even recall reading an article from a few years ago written by a Blackhawks beat reporter about how the regular season means basically nothing to the Blackhawks.

Note: I think it was Tracey Myers who wrote it, but I couldn’t locate the article. I tweeted to her, and she couldn’t locate it either.

Inconsistencies

So, why are the Blackhawks so completely and utterly inconsistent this season?

With so many veterans who have been through it all, along with so many guys who have such great chemistry, it’s completely understandable to ask this question.

Bowman’s main focus for this past offseason, along with the most recent trade for Duclair, was to make the Blackhawks roster younger, faster and tougher to play against. While this is completely necessary to field an eventual contending team, I’m pointing towards this as to why the Blackhawks are so inconsistent.

Yes, they have the band back together now that Saad and Sharp are back. The band would REALLY be back together if Niklas Hjalmarsson was reacquired at the deadline. I mean, hey, he is on the block …

KIDDING! Mostly …

But regardless, if “the band is back together,” the younger players are playing to the level of their competition. I think that could be one of the main problems causing the inconsistencies. I can attest to this as a former hockey player, as it is really easy to play down to the competition.

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  • If I had a game that I knew was against a really tough team, I found myself more fired up, and with more of a jump in my step. Conversely, if I had a game against a team I know we would beat by a large margin, I found myself not skating as hard and trying to play a more pretty and selfish game.

    When 13 of your roster players are under the age of 25, they’re going to be expected to be a big part of the team. Yes, learning curves are expected, but it’s not like 2006 where the rookies could get their learning curve out of the way in meaningless games in an empty building. These rookies are expected by the fan base, coaches and themselves to jump right into the lineup and consistently contribute, and that’s just not realistic.

    Looking at the numbers

    What made me even consider this “playing to the level of their competition” theory was basic observation. The realization came after the most recent Blackhawks-Red Wings “game,” if you could call it that.

    Both times the Blackhawks have played the Vegas Golden Knights this season, especially the second game, they’ve played well enough to win. They’ve dominated the Winnipeg Jets in both of their meetings this season to date, especially in the first game. Both teams are at the top of the Western Conference.

    The Blackhawks have also dominantly defeated the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins twice this season, the first time by a nine-goal margin.

    When they marched into Tampa Bay, the Lightning were the hottest team in the NHL, and the Blackhawks lost to them in overtime. They’ve kept two games against the Stars to within one goal, and have put up solid games each time they have played the Wild and Predators.

    What I’m trying to say is that they seem to get up and play pretty well against the really good teams. I’m not going to follow this by saying that they can’t seem to beat the “bad” teams, because they can. But sometimes, it’s not even close.

    Look back to the 6-2 loss in Washington earlier this season. I remember watching that game and being completely disgusted. I am extremely optimistic when it comes to the Blackhawks, but that game was honestly the first time in a long time I had questioned whether or not this team would qualify for the postseason. It was almost like they had no interest in playing hockey.

    The Red Wings game before the bye week is another perfect example. It’s almost as if they didn’t show up. Fans may say that Jeff Glass should have played better, which may be the case, but you can’t win without scoring any goals. Even if Crawford is in net, you don’t win that game.

    I also look back to the two games leading into the Christmas break — a 4-0 loss to the Stars and a 4-1 loss to the Devils. While those are two worthy opponents, they are also two beatable opponents. The Blackhawks were coming off of a five-game win streak at the time, and they just simply NEED to find a way to get 2-3 points in those two games total. Especially with one of them being divisional, and one of them being New Jersey.

    One more game that really stands out to me is the Vancouver game on the most recent Canada road trip — a 5-2 loss to a very mediocre Canucks team, which I believe was pretty close to the bottom of the NHL in points when this game occurred.

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    The Blackhawks outshot them 32-31 but still gave up thre more goals, including a total of 12 points for the Thomas Vanek-Brock Boeser-Sam Ganger line (if my counting is correct). A game against the lowly Canucks is a game you NEED to have, and you should not be giving up five goals to them.

    Looking ahead

    When the Blackhawks’ bye week ends, they have games against Tampa Bay, Toronto, Nashville, Calgary, Dallas, Minnesota, Vegas, Washington, L.A. and San Jose all in the near future. What I’m trying to say is it doesn’t get any easier.

    They close the year out with a Western Conference-heavy schedule. Their last six games are against the Sharks, Jets, Avalanche, Blues (2) and Jets. While this is an incredibly tough stretch, it is also very lucky for the Blackhawks.

    If they find themselves in an unfavorable position at this point in the schedule, these six games give them an opportunity to move up in the standings, while taking away points from other Central Division and Western Conference foes. What I’m trying to say here is it’s not over ‘til it’s over.

    Finally …. don’t give up, ‘Hawks fans.

    Duclair is as fast as anyone in the NHL, and has a wicked wrister. Kane is playing at a point-per-game level. Crawford will return, and he will go back to being one of the best goalies in the NHL. Schmaltz is having a breakout year, and you could throw Gustav Forsling in that category as well.

    Toews is having a strong season, and Saad will be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time. Remember his vintage breakaway shorthanded goals in the 2015 run?

    Artem Anisimov was playing very strong before his injury, and he will return soon. The emergence of David Kampf, along with the eventual signing of Dylan Sikura, gives the ‘Hawks some previously unforeseen depth down the middle. Jan Rutta has been a very pleasant surprise, as has DeBrincat. Jordan Oesterle has been more than a pleasant surprise, he has been flat out incredible of late.

    Sharp has been playing better along with adding some offense, and is in a heated competition for a guaranteed lineup spot in the playoffs with a few other forwards. Friendly competition is healthy, and guarantees that players are giving it their all.

    Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma have also been nice surprises. Both are tough to play against and are great on the PK. Wingels may even be able to provide some more offense if he moves over to the wing. I’ve heard that he has a surprisingly good shot.

    After all of this, you have John Hayden, Cody Franson, Matthew Highmore, Erik Gustafsson, Tomas Jurco and more ready to step in if any injuries were to occur.

    Next: Blackhawks' Preseason Questions Revisited On Bye Week

    This team is deep, it is fast and it is experienced. The season isn’t over, ‘Hawks fans, it’s simply just getting started. Gear up for what should be an incredible last 37 games!

    As always, your feedback below is welcomed and encouraged. Follow me on twitter @mmorrow97!

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