BREAKING NEWS: the Chicago Blackhawks could use some wins.
Pretty easy statement to make while in the middle of a four-game losing streak, isn’t it? Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like Chicago had figured it out, with a stretch of 5-1-1 in mid-November.
But then came a seven-day, five-game stretch which ended in four straight losses. The Blackhawks had played so much better right before that skid arrived, too, making another apparent step backwards even more frustrating.
May I humbly suggest: drawing any serious conclusions from that stretch of games is a fool’s errand. There’s a reason why the Hawks haven’t had a stretch like that since 2013 (when the schedule was condensed following a lockout): it’s too brutal in a sport that’s already unforgiving.
If you revert back to the games prior to Thanksgiving, Chicago was starting to look like its old self. Even in a loss against the white-hot Tampa Bay Lightning, the Hawks played right with the league’s top team before ultimately falling in overtime.
So why is now the time for the Blackhawks to put together some victories? It’s two big reasons:
First, it’s the schedule.
Over the next nine days, the Blackhawks have just four games, with a rest day in between each one. Over-exertion isn’t an issue until after Christmas. But not only do the Hawks get better rest in the next few weeks, they get much more winnable games— at least on paper. Here are their next four games:
- Wednesday, December 6 at the Washington Capitals
The Capitals are the best team in this stretch, but Washington had only 31 points entering Monday’s games, just two more than the Hawks. But Washington may be without TJ Oshie, who was injured in Monday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks.
- Friday, December 8 vs. the Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres have the worst record in the NHL.
- Sunday, December 10 vs. the Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes have the second-worst record in the NHL.
- Tuesday, December 12 vs. the Florida Panthers
The Panthers have the third worst-record in the NHL. Plus, Chicago handled Florida rather easily on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And they may not have starting goaltender Roberto Luongo for a while after he was carried off the ice with an apparent lower-body injury on Monday night.
Three games at home against the three worst teams in the league. Perfect time to hang a trio in the W column, isn’t it? But it’s not just the schedule that makes these games look so appetizing.
The Hawks have still played fairly well in spite of the losses
That feels like a broken record at this point, doesn’t it? Chicago plays well. They have the better share of possession according to all of those metrics. But a few scoring chances go unconverted, a few posts get hit, and the Hawks end up taking another loss. It feel that way against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. It felt that way against the Nashville Predators last Tuesday. It’s felt that way a lot.
Just look at this chart from Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey on Twitter), detailing the Hawks’ Corsi differential over the course of the season. It’s been on a steady incline since mid-October, even rebounding in the last two games after a pair of tough outings in late November.
(Thanks to L_B_R for providing this image in the comments from Sunday’s recap)
And if the possession stats don’t it for ya, some of the traditional numbers can help, too. Brandon Saad has three goals in his last six games. Jonathan Toews got on the board against the Kings on Sunday. Patrick Kane has 12 points in his last 10 games. And don’t forget about Artem Anisimov and Alex DeBrincat carrying this team through the month of November. On the back end, youngsters Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling keep developing — especially Forsling. Even Brent Seabrook, everyone’s favorite punching bag this season, has quietly put together multiple solid performances. And Anton Forsberg was solid in two starts on back-to-back nights.
It’s not all doom-and-gloom for the 2017-18 Blackhawks. Not yet.