It wasn’t so long ago that the Chicago Blackhawks were inching their way to the top of the standings in the ultra-competitive Central Division.
Last season, the Central had six teams finish with more than 90 points, the best mark in the league. The Central was top-heavy, with the President Trophy-winning Nashville Predators checking in at 117 points and the Winnipeg Jets just behind them at 114 — the second most points in the 2017-18 NHL season.
And through the first month of the 2018-19 season, it’s shaping up to be that way again.
But back on Oct. 26, after defeating the New York Rangers 4-1 the night before, the Blackhawks sat in a tie for second place in the Central with a 6-2-2 record. Nashville was again on top with 16 points, and the Colorado Avalanche matched Chicago’s 14 points, buoyed by a 6-1-2 start.
Since that win over the Rangers, though, the Hawks have earned just one of the 10 points available, a five-game losing streak that included a disastrous trip to western Canada over the last five days.
While the Blackhawks have been losing, many other teams in the Central hit their stride. Just look at what some of Chicago’s biggest rivals have been up to lately:
- The Predators have won three games in a row, four of their last five, and are 9-2-0 since Oct. 11
- The Minnesota Wild bounced back from a 1-2-2 start to win seven of their last eight
- The Winnipeg Jets had a three-game winning streak in the middle of October and are yet to lose multiple games in a row this season
- The Dallas Stars are on a three-game winning streak, part of a 5-1 stretch in their last six games
Outside of the Blackhawks current slide, the Avalanche and St. Louis Blues are also scuffling. Colorado’s faded after that hot start, losing its last three, including a 7-6 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night. St. Louis remains in the Central Division basement, struggling to right the ship after opening the season 2-4-3.
The good news is that the points Chicago built up over the first three weeks of the season have kept the Blackhawks from tumbling too far down in the division standings. But at the end of the current string of four days off is a 17-day, 9-game stretch.
While it’s not possible to wrap up a playoff spot by Thanksgiving, Chicago could find itself so far out of the playoff picture by then that it’ll be too steep of a mountain to climb over the final five months of the regular season. That’s why it’s so crucial for the Blackhawks to find an end to this ongoing slide before they fade too far down in the standings.