The Chicago Blackhawks were recently picked by an ESPN analyst as a bold choice to make the playoffs this season. With 12 games to go, let’s explore her reasoning and the chances of this becoming a reality.
I’ll show myself out.
Matiash is currently an NHL writer (Insider/Fantasy) for ESPN and previously anchored on TSN 1050 and NEWSTALK1010. In a round table article with contributions from a handful of ESPN’s hockey analysts (found here), each was asked to provide a “bold make-or-miss call on a playoff team.” Here’s what Matiash had to say:
"“The Chicago Blackhawks make the playoffs. And not only because Patrick Kane is producing at a ridiculous pace. The entire lineup is clearly buying what newbie coach Jeremy Colliton is peddling. Together, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad are enjoying solid rebound campaigns, and fans of our fantasy content will be familiar with my affection for the underrated young forward duo of Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome. Finally healthy, goalie Corey Crawford — and this I did not anticipate at all — is looking like his old self. Winning games against both stronger and weaker sides, these experienced Blackhawks have a perceptible edge on the Coyotes and Landeskog-less Avalanche. I predict they vault the Wild as well.”"
Matiash’s insight here isn’t particularly groundbreaking, however it’s a reminder to the Chicago Blackhawks community to not take what this team is doing for granted.
These guys are having success, but we’ve discounted a lot of it because of the team’s deficiencies. In other words, the thought process seems to be it doesn’t matter if guys are playing well in some aspects of the game, offensively especially, simply because the team is still struggling defensively and has an atrocious penalty kill.
Matiash’s words here are important because it provides a bit of perspective. It’s a reminder that despite a less-than-desirable season, their recent play actually means something. These points aren’t just positives to make fans feel better. Rather, the resurgence of players and positive growth from the young guys are things the Chicago Blackhawks needed if they wanted to be involved in the playoff race.
It’s a reminder that the Chicago Blackhawks are more than just a poor defensive team on the wrong end of the bubble.
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A year after recording their worst season since 2006-07 — in which they won 31 games, Martin Havlat was their leading scorer with 57 points, only one player broke 20 goals and Duncan Keith was only in his sophomore season — the Chicago Blackhawks are fighting back in a big way.
Rather than fold and accept their downfall, Duncan Keith is playing harder than ever, trying to make a difference in a new role. Jonathan Toews is 5 points shy of a career record with 12 games to go. Patrick Kane is 7 points shy of his career record.
21-year old Alex DeBrincat has 38 goals. Dylan Strome looks like the player scouts thought he could be before being drafted. Brandon Saad is playing like the two-way forward the ‘Hawks thought he’d be when trading for him.
Furthermore, the last few starts Corey Crawford has started to look like himself again. The Chicago Blackhawks are still giving up too many high danger scoring chances, but a solid goaltender certainly helps to alleviate that issue.
Toews, Kane and DeBrincat have been thriving all season, but the ‘Hawks are finally starting to look like a real hockey team again. Despite their shortcomings defensively, Matiash reminds us that these are still the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks defense is bad, but they secured a defensive win against a team they desperately needed to beat. That’s progress.
Sure, this might be the same group that gave up the most shots in any period in NHL history and the most shots in a third period since 1970 (in the same season, no less), but who doesn’t like a little entertainment?
Okay, bad example.
At the end of the day, the 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks are a team that is deeply flawed. Matiash’s bold-prediction is just that, a bold prediction. The odds are severely stacked against the Blackhawks, and almost every game from here on out is a must-win.
We all know this, and I’m not trying to argue or imply that this team is anything else than what they are. If I were a gambler, I’m certainly not emptying my pockets over this team making the playoffs.
Rather, what I am doing is highlighting a point Matiash makes which seems to be lost in the ‘Hawks community: these are still the Chicago Blackhawks. They have flaws, but they also have talent. More importantly, they have experience.
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These guys are famous for turning it on at the right time, but with 12 games to go and 6 points to make up the clock is ticking. Despite Matiash’s thinking the playoffs are still a long shot and there isn’t much to argue otherwise. Even if the Hawks can’t turn it around this year, Matiash reminds us that the window in Chicago, though growing smaller, is still open.