Editorials

Chicago Blackhawks: The Best Time for a Reality Check Is Now

By Mike Murdock
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 03: Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton looks on in first period action during a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues on April 03, 2019 at the United Center, in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 03: Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton looks on in first period action during a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues on April 03, 2019 at the United Center, in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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An in-depth look as to what has gone wrong with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2019-20. Can they get back on track before it’s too late?

While the Chicago Blackhawks first 11 games have been anything but ideal, they have also confirmed some fears. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the deficiencies plaguing this team thus far:

Special Teams Are Anything but Special

While the penalty kill has improved this year, the power play has been downright horrible. As of November 1st, the Blackhawks’ PP ranks 29th in the NHL, at 3-for-33 on the year. This is good for a lowly 9.1% success rate. Not only are the Blackhawks failing to score on these man-advantage opportunities, but they are also struggling to just keep the puck in the offensive zone let alone setting up quality scoring chances. While Erik Gustafsson did a solid job of quarterbacking the 1st PP unit in the second half of 2018-19, he has not been able to come anywhere close to duplicating that success so far this season.

Stars Are Not Shining

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After Tuesday night’s embarrassing loss to the Nashville Predators, Jonathan Toews said that he and the team are “trying to find their way”. Shouldn’t they have been ‘finding their way’ during training camp and preseason, when the games didn’t count and the line combinations didn’t matter as much? After scoring a career-high 35 goals last year, to now, only having 1 goal and 1 assist in the first 11 games is flat out not getting it done.

While Patrick Kane has been a bit better, scoring 3 goals and tallying 6 assists, he, too, has been unusually quiet. After scoring 2 goals against the San Jose Sharks in the 2nd game of the season, Andrew Shaw has been nearly invisible, and as such saw, his TOI shrink to a season-low 11:14 against the Predators.

Chicago Blackhawks Line Combinations

While head coach, Jeremy Colliton, has made it clear that he doesn’t think the lines are important, I do. Regardless of whether it’s all physiological, the results cannot be disputed. The ‘Hawks are much better when Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome play together on the same line. This needs to be set in stone.

While Toews and Kane on the same line have been magical in the past, they’ve done little to nothing together this season. Why not see if Saad can help reignite Toews while letting Kane run wild with DeBrincat and Strome? While the defense might not be pretty on that second line, the offensive firepower should be (keywords) more than enough to make up for it. The third line should hold its own. Finally, when paired together, that 4th line has excelled thus far; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The 4th line is one of few things currently not broken on this team.

Here are my ideal lines and pairings:

Saad-Toews-Kubalik
DeBrincat-Strome-Kane
Shaw-Dach-Kampf
Caggiula-Carpenter-Nylander

Keith-Boqvist
de Haan-Seabrook
Gilbert-Maatta

Lehner

Goaltending

Robin Lehner is the only reason the Blackhawks didn’t lose by double digits against Nashville. He was in a word: incredible. As far as stats are concerned, Lehner is currently 4th in save percentage at .936%, among goalies with at least 4 starts this year. Corey Crawford, on the other hand, is 43rd at .888%. Nostalgia doesn’t win games. Lehner needs to start regularly.

Youth Movement

While 18-year-old rookie, Kirby Dach, has seen his minutes fluctuate quite a bit from game to game in the early going, it was announced on Wednesday that he will remain with the Chicago Blackhawks all season long.

Less than 24 hours after scoring his first AHL goal, highly touted 19-year-old blueline prospect, Adam Boqvist, was called up to the NHL on Thursday. Though Boqvist himself admits he was not off to a stellar start with IceHogs, the Blackhawks realize that after giving up 51 shots on Tuesday, they can’t do much worse. At this point, Boqvist might actually be a defensive upgrade over Erik Gustafsson.

Results-Oriented Business

A phrase uttered many times by former head coach Joel Quenneville; the Blackhawks currently find themselves with a worse record now than the same time a year ago.  As Mark Lazerus of The Athletic points out:

"Since the 2006-07 season, only 9 teams have made the playoffs after being four or more points out of a playoff spot on November 1st.-Mark Lazerus ( @ MarkLazerus) October 11, 2019."

I’m not sure about you, but anytime the Chicago Blackhawks would like to start a long winning streak, this would be okay with me. Let’s see if they can start to turn things around tonight against the Los Angeles Kings.

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