Following a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jackets on Saturday night, Jonathan Toews spoke to reporters about finding consistency up and down the lineup and playing a full 60 minutes:
“Obviously we didn’t have the 60, the full 60 that we wanted. There’s still some good spurts in there that allowed us to stay in the game. Just need to get back to having that 60-minute effort. When we do that, all four lines get engaged and we get contributions from all over. I think we need to be a little bit more consistent, play a complete game and things will go our way.”
Toews is exactly right, and there are stats and charts to back it up.
The Hawks have now been outscored 8-3 in the first period during their last three games. They went down 3-1 to the Bruins, 2-1 to the Devils and 3-1 to the Blue Jackets after 20 minutes. If you take a look below at the puck possession game flow charts from the 5-2 win against the Devils and the 5-2 loss against the Blue Jackets, they are nearly identical in the first two periods. The only difference comes in the third period when the Devils made a late push to get back in the game Thursday night.
In both games, Cam Ward was called upon early to keep the Hawks in the game. Against New Jersey, it could have easily been 4 or 3-1 after one period if Ward did not make a couple top notch saves. Against Columbus, Ward stopped a handful of dangerous chances in the first two shifts of the game and throughout the first period.
Slow starts are part of the game and inevitable to happen, but making them a habit leads to losing streaks. For instance, the Hawks’ two eight game losing streaks earlier in the season were a direct result from bad starts and having to comeback every single game. If the Hawks want to stay in this wild-card playoff race, one of the preeminent challenges they need to overcome is inconsistency.
The Hawks have the tools to dominate possession and create scoring chances. Just look at the second period portions of the two charts above. If they can drag some of that possession flow into the first period, the Hawks will have a much better chance at getting points on a nightly basis.
In Saad’s last six games, he has two goals, including a short-handed goal, three assists and 16 shots on goal as a productive member of the Hawks’ third line. He has been averaging 16:30 minutes of ice time, and against his former team he had a noticeably strong game. He had five shots all right around the slot and game-high 70.4 Corsi-For percentage. He was on the ice for 14 shots for and only four shots against.
Saad is on pace for 27 goals and 49 points, which would be right around his career average. He probably will never be a 65-75 point player, but what he does bring are some intangibles necessary for a winning team. He can kill penalties, forces turnovers with impressive forechecking, is versatile and can play anywhere in the lineup, and is talented at protecting the puck and driving possession in the offensive zone.
He is only 26 and is locked up with the Blackhawks until the 2021-2022 season. If he can continue to provide 25-plus goals from the top-nine and a Corsi rating above 50-percent, Saad will be a valuable asset.
In Keith’s last four games, he has one goal, two assists, a plus-6 rating, and is averaging 23:45 minutes on the ice. He rang one off the post against the Blue Jackets, took a rocket of a shot from the blue line against the Bruins for his third goal of the season, and looks like he has an extra jolt in his step since all of the trade rumors. Keith continues to be a veteran leader on and off the ice for the Hawks, and will play a major role in mentoring the younger defensemen.
Sikura had two of his better games against the Devils and Blue Jackets. Against the Devils, Sikura protected the puck along the wall at the end of the first period and slid a soft pass to Kane, who ended up rifling one through an Artem Anisimov screen to swing the momentum the Hawks way.
On Saturday night, Sikura just missed his first NHL goal, had three shots and drove possession with Saad. Sikura was on the ice for 11 shots for and only six against, which resulted in 66.7 Corsi. Earlier in the season, Sikura acted like the puck was a grenade on his stick. He would rarely stay patient and try to create opportunities whenever he received the puck. Now, he is starting cycles down low, getting shots on net and hanging around the dangerous areas in the offensive zone.
The Hawks had 10 giveaways compared to one for Columbus. A handful of those turnovers resulted in odd-man rushes or directly caused a goal. On Panarin’s first goal, Connor Murphy had control of the puck near the goal line, but gave it right up to the Pierre-Luc Dubois in the high slot. A few seconds later, it was in the back of the net.
Turnovers have been a nuisance all season for the Hawks and it was one of the main reasons they lost.
The Hawks are 19 for 27 on the penalty kill this month, which ranks last in the league at 70.4 percent. If the Hawks want to make a playoff run, improving the penalty kill is a must. Keeping that extra power-play goal off the scoreboard will undoubtedly earn them some valuable points down the stretch.
Perlini has speed, size, a quick release and hard shot. However, it is clear that his confidence is lacking. He rarely gets more than 9 minutes of ice time a game and hasn’t scored a point since his goal in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1. Sending Perlini down to Rockford would give other teams a chance to claim him, which would not be the smartest option. He is only 22 years old and has lots of time to develop. Hopefully, we will see the former first round pick start to play with some confidence and provide some offense from the bottom six in the near future. He is a restricted free agent after the season, and his time with the Blackhawks might be coming to an end if he does not give Bowman a reason to re-sign him.
The Blackhawks hope to close the gap on Minnesota in the wild-card race when they host on the last-place Senators 7:30 p.m. Monday at the United Center.