How did we get to here from a season that started like this?
Remember that game? The one where the Chicago Blackhawks scored a touchdown, kicked the extra point AND added a field goal? It’s like the Hawks used up all of their good luck on that first night.
Because since then, it feels like anything that could go wrong, has. The obvious factor here is the injury to Corey Crawford, bucking a trend of the last decade or so where the Hawks have actually been rather fortunate from an injury perspective.
But this current losing skid that’s all taken place in February has just been torture for Hawks fans, because the team seems to find a new way to lose a game every night. They’ll score the first goal and still lose. They’ll score on the power play (they have four in the last five games) and still lose. They’ll outshoot the opponent (done that in five of the six losses) and still lose. And then if none of those instances occur, a few controversial calls will go against them and they’ll lose that way. It’s a smorgasbord of misery.
Blame the goalies for not making the crucial saves when needed. Blame the defense for not clearing the puck and leaving too many players wide open in the spot. Blame the offense for not scoring. Pick your poison: it’s all terrible.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what’s the most disheartening part of this six-game skid. Is it watching this slide after the a 2-1 win over the division-leading Nashville Predators that may have been the Hawks’ best game of the year? Is it the relative mediocrity of the opponents that have been handing out these losses? Is it the inability of one thing, some thing, ANY damn thing to just go Chicago’s way for a game? I’ll take “All of the Above” for $300, Alex.
But let me get to the one nagging worry I have about the Blackhawks that won’t go away.
I don’t like drawing conclusions on a team based on what is clearly their worst stretch of the year. But I have more than this stretch as evidence.
During the last decade with this team, they’ve always found an answer when circumstances question their collective ability to win. There’s a lengthy list of these situations, but you probably know all biggest hits: down 3-1 to Detroit, 2-1 to Boston, 3-2 to Anaheim, etc. And it’s typically been the stars who’ve delivered. Jonathan Toews broke Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen in that Anaheim series. Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane forced a Game 7 in the 2014 Western Conference Final by wreaking havoc on the Los Angeles Kings. Brent Seabrook has more clutch and/or overtime goals than I have time to list and Duncan Keith has the game-winning goal from the Hawks’ last Cup win.
But there were no answers for the Nashville Predators last postseason when they swept the Hawks in the first round. And there are no answers again with this team mired in a season-long funk. Saad’s struggles may be at their zenith (we hope), with just one assist to his name in the last 15 games. Toews has just one goal in 14 games. Kane has just one goal in his last 10 games, and his production is below a point-per-game pace for the first time since the 2011-12 season. You know the story with Seabrook, and Keith still doesn’t have a goal this season (Yes, he’s a defenseman. But Keith has always been able to light the lamp).
So who’s it going to be when the chips are down for the Hawks again? This season appears lost, but if they return to the playoffs next season, who’ll be the one to right the ship when it’s sinking? If it’s not one of the veterans, will one of the young players step up? Maybe Alex DeBrincat? Perhaps Nick Schmaltz? Or Anthony Duclair?
For the first time in a long time, I don’t know the answer to that question.