Today is the last day of January, which is a good thing for the Chicago Blackhawks. The first month of 2014 was the team's least productive one in the last calendar year. The terms "slump" and "struggle" have been thrown around an awful lot in the newspapers, blogs and radio shows lately. I have a hard time saying a team that took at least one point in 11 of its 14 games is slumping. The Blackhawks are a victim of their own success over the last year. They have played at such a high level that any time they play one or more games below expectations a faction of the fan base and media get bent out of shape. Yes, the Blackhawks have not played their best hockey in the last month. They averaged 2.78 goals per game in January, which is a drop off from their season average of 3.46. A major factor of this drop off is that the power play went just 6 for 42 (14.2%) since the start of the new year. Even though the defense has looked sloppy at times, the Hawks gave up an average of 2.64 goals per game, which is pretty on pace with their 2.66 season average.
So what is the explanation for the Hawks' subpar play the last month? There are a lot of factors to point to. You can blame the drop off in production from Patrick Kane and the power play. You can say Bryan Bickell's struggles are hurting the team. You could even yell at Joel Quenneville for skating defensemen as forwards. I think it is just something that happens in the course of a normal 82 game regular season. Every team goes through the "dog days" at some point of the year; a stretch of games where the focus, effort and production just don't seem to show up every night. It can't really be explained better than just "hey, it's one of those things."
These stretches aren't new for the Blackhawks; it has happened every season since Q has been here. Last season doesn't really count because of the condensed schedule but you could argue that they had a shortened "dog day" run during their playoff series against the Red Wings. In 2011-12, the Hawks lost nine straight games from 1/21 to 2/14. In 2010-11, they posted a record of 2-4-2 from 1/23 to 2/12. During the first Stanley Cup season of 2009-10, the Blackhawks went 2-5-2 to the last two and a half weeks of March. In Q's first season behind the bench, they went 3-7-3 from 2/22 to 3/20.
Every Stanley Cup champion since the lost season of 2004-05 has had a stretch where they have struggled. The Kings of 2012 started off so bad that they fired Terry Murray 27 games into the season. But even under new coach Darryl Sutter, the eventual champions struggled through most of February going 3-7-2. The Bruins, in 2011, started off the month of March 1-3-3. The 2009 Penguins went 1-7-0 in late December and early January of their championship season. The Red Wings had a horrible February in 2008 by going 1-8-2 during an 11 game stretch. The Ducks of 2007 started a month long span of struggles in late December going 2-7-2 that lasted almost the entire month of January. The 2006 Hurricanes stumbled down the stretch going 5-7-2 to end the month of March.
What is the point of all of this? Don't panic! We should all be concerned and displeased at the Hawks' overall play this past month, but there is no reason to think they are still not the team to beat come playoff time. The Blues, the Ducks and all the other top teams will hit one of these funks by the end of the year as well. This team has a head coach and a slew of veterans who are obsessed with doing the little things needed to win. They have a track record and when the playoffs roll around they will be the team nobody wants to play. They will get their mojo back and hopefully Wednesday night's win in Vancouver was the start. Sure, it will be great to get home ice advantage throughout the playoffs but if they don't the world won't end. If the Hawks don't repeat as Stanley Cup Champions it will be because than ran into a better team, not because they beat themselves. This is a team that plays its best hockey when lights are shining their brightest. Let's all get off the ledge, let the cards fall where they may and enjoy the ride.