Losing just their third game this month, the Blackhawks had a tough night start to finish against the Avalanche in a 5-3 loss Friday at the United Center. Here’s what’s trending up and down after the Central Division showdown.
It’s amazing what can happen when you let a group of players develop some chemistry, huh? Since moving up on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Drake Caggiula, Patrick Kane has been on fire. A strong contributor to his success the last 20 games, Kane isn’t the only one benefitting from consistency. Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome have been on the same line seemingly since Strome was traded to Chicago in November, combining for 42 points since Jan. 20. When you find what clicks, you don’t change it.
The Blackhawks have converted 12 of their 35 power-play opportunities since Jan. 20. Head coach Jeremy Colliton has been sticking with his units on a committed basis, and the first unit of Strome, Toews, Kane, DeBrincat and defenseman Erik Gustafsson alone have contributed to 10 goals and 29 points during that stretch.
It’s no secret that Kane has been the highlight of this team’s playoff push since his dominant five-point performance against Washington on Jan. 20. But he’s been streaking since long before that. His current 20-game point streak dates all the way back to Jan. 3 against the Islanders, an overtime loss on Long Island. Whether it’s a dazzling goal or a secondary assist, Kane keeps finding ways to end up the scoresheet. If the Blackhawks wish to continue their march toward the playoffs, they’ll need their superstar to continue playing at an elite level.
Discipline on the puck
How often is it we’re groaning about another offensive zone turnover? Whether it’s a defenseman getting caught in their own zone, a reckless drop pass, or a mindless toss of the puck into the middle of the ice, the discipline level needs to be better. Taking that split second to look around and find a teammate instead of throwing the puck to an area could be the difference between maintaining possession in the defensive zone, being pick-pocketed and shot down the other way. Decision-making has to be better.
Consistency is a recipe for success. Good things happen when you continue to build up a routine and habit of good decision-making and puck management. When that falls by the wayside, it’s noticeable and not in a good way. Defensemen need to own their mistakes — and continue to improve so they can correct them. The defense has improved this season, but it still has a long way to go to being competent against playoff-caliber teams.
Sure, it’s fun to watch Kane score spectacular goals, and to witness DeBrincat whip one high glove, and even be in awe at how Toews can make a move around a defender like it’s 2011. But what happens when you take those top two lines away? What are you left with? Other than Brandon Saad on the third line, the bottom six have been dead quiet as of late: just 26 points between the rotation of eight different players since Jan. 20. For context, the top two lines have combined for 103 points during the same stretch. In order for wins to become a habit, everyone needs to contribute. Scoring depth will be make or break down the line.
The Blackhawks host the Stars on Sunday at the United Center. Dallas, who enters Saturday in the second wild-card spot in the West at 65 points, will be playing a back-to-back after playing the Hurricanes on Saturday at home.