(Ed. note: Hey guys, welcome another new writer! Blake is joining us as an editor and columnist, and he’ll be doing weekly “What We Learned” posts like this one in addition to some other things. He’s a native of the Chicago area and currently works as a freelance writer in D.C.)
There’s been a running, half-joking sentiment that the Blackhawks don’t care as much about the regular season. It seems to pop up around this time the past few years as the Hawks started off each season a bit sluggish. Whether that’s the 6-5-0 record from last October or the 6-3-1 opening month in 2014, it gets mentioned when the team isn’t rolling.
The saying goes that Chicago has built up so much talent it need only worry about proving it from February on.
Those days, if they ever truly existed, are gone. Which is not to say the Blackhawks’ current 3-3-1 record is something to panic about. It’s not, as past seasons have shown. No, the issue is that by every statistic and eye test, the Hawks are no longer a clear Stanley Cup contender as currently constructed.
They’re bottom third in the league in shots for (28.6 per game) to go with bottom third in the league at allowing shots (30.9 per game), bottom three in the league at faceoffs (45.6 percent) and have allowed as many goals as they’ve given up (24). There are encouraging signs in their 5-on-5 play, which has been solid, but that’s been overshadowed by a special teams disaster that is now calling for an all-hands-on-deck approach.
It’s not the rookies who are problematic here, either, as coaches and veterans have repeatedly stated. So let’s look at the top, to the group of players who supposedly don’t care as much about the regular season and dispel that notion. Each game going forward needs to show improvement in a stacked Central Division. There’s less margin for error this year than in the past, both because of what’s happened to the Hawks’ roster and because the competition is better.
Nobody quite knows where to place the ceiling with this group. No one can say that just “turning it on” come playoff time is good enough anymore. That goes for head coach Joel Quenneville and his assistants, too, which explains the constant shuffling early on this season. This season will test them in ways they haven’t dealt with since coming over to Chicago. There will be experiments and failures and enough line blending to make Quenneville blush, and that’s probably what it’ll take to find answers by April.
There can’t be apathy or blind optimism. These Hawks have no time to waste.
GOING NUCLEAR: All signs point to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane skating together on the top line Friday night against the Devils. Usually Quenneville, who seems to be trying it as a defibrillator to bring Toews’ offensive production back to life, saves this move for desperate times. You can tell the team really wants to shake off this slow start.
PENALTY KILL PROBLEMS: The Blackhawks have generated zero pressure when the puck goes to the point and are letting opponents take advantage off all the time and space. The Hawks are sitting below 50 percent on the PK (46.1 percent) and are last in the league. For context, the second worst penalty killing team in the league, Nashville, is at 68.2 percent.
ADDED DEFENSIVE DEPTH PAYING EARLY DIVIDENDS: GM Stan Bowman’s plan to add to his blue line over the offseason is paying off sooner than expected with both Trevor van Riemsdyk and Gustav Forsling dealing with injuries.