The Chicago Blackhawks host the Dallas Stars at the United Center on Sunday night, hoping to put a stop to their longest skid since losing nine to start the season. It might be an uphill battle, though, considering the Stars are still fighting to make the playoffs.
The Stars are coming off a disappointing 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, failing to gain ground in the race for the playoffs. The Stars controlled play for the first 40 minutes against the Devils, but only scored one goal — from Ryan Suter mid-way through the second period — despite the edge in play and then fell apart in the third. The Devils eventually scored three goals in the final five minutes to steal the game. With the Stars only one point up on the Vegas Golden Knights for the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference — albeit with a game in hand — the Stars cannot afford to squander any more points Sunday against the Blackhawks.
Despite faltering in their previous game, the Stars have been steady in racking up points over their last 10 games with a 6-3-1 record, good for 11th best in the NHL in that span. They’re winning primarily thanks to shot-suppression defense: they had the 8th lowest shots against rate (28.96 per 60) and ninth lowest scoring chances against rate (26.88 per 60) in the last 10 games.
That’s good because their offense of 2.8 goals per game (25th in the league) and a .895 save-percentage (18th) have been pretty subpar. The Stars’ top-six are still contributing offensively, but their defense hasn’t been helping out much. In the last 10 games, Jason Robertson and Jamie Been have nine points (2 G, 7 A) apiece, Joe Pavelski and Tyler Seguin each have eight points (3 G, 5 A) and Roope Hintz has seven points (5 G, 2 A). But on defense, only John Klingberg has racked up some points recently, with eight (2 G, 6 A), and the loss of offensive contributions from the other two top offensive defensemen in Miro Heiskanen (2 points) and Ryan Suter (3 points) likely plays a part — in addition to lack of offense output from depth forwards — in the Stars’ lower than normal goals production at a team level.
Unlike the Stars, the Blackhawks have been out of the playoff race since November after they lost nine of their first 12 games and are now on the second longest losing streak of the season with six in a row. They did string together an almost-but-not-quite .500 record for a couple of months after firing Jeremy Colliton, but even such a record for a full season wouldn’t have gotten them close to the playoffs — it wouldn’t even have moved them up a standings spot in their own division — and Chicago had been slipping in the terms of record and stats for a while now.
So it’s odd, then, that interim head coach Derek King claimed Saturday the Blackhawks were playing well after the NHL All-Star Break and that was derailed after the NHL Trade deadline when that isn’t quite accurate. While it is true the Blackhawks have been playing worse lately, they were still playing pretty poorly before the trade deadline on March 21. In the 14 games between the All-Star Game and when Brandon Hagel was traded, the Blackhawks went 5-2-7 with a 3.3 goals per 60 rate and 43.58 percent expected goals share. In comparison, the Blackhawks’ numbers are 2-2-4, 2.58 and 42.73, respectively, in the eight games since Marc-Andre Fleury was traded. The reality for the difference was that the Blackhawks had one good line in Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Patrick Kane scoring more and the magic of a former Vezina winner keeping the team afloat.
But King’s statement is somewhat true because the way in which the Blackhawks have been losing lately is worse and extremely frustrating — little to no effort, sometimes blowing large leads, rolling over for low quality opponents like the Seattle Kraken — but for a coach to think the team was “playing pretty good hockey” before the trade deadline is still baffling. Perhaps the disconnect of the coaching staff thinking the product on the ice was good when it objectively wasn’t is part of why the Blackhawks are falling apart now.
It’s obviously not all on the coaches, though, because the Blackhawks players have just looked disinterested for the most part. During their six-game skid, only DeBrincat (3 G, 4 A) and Strome (2 G, 3 A) have been playing well and being rewarded for it while Sam Lafferty and Taylor Raddysh (1 point each) have been high-effort but not getting points to show for it. Kane, Seth Jones, and Dominik Kubalik have an admirable four points (1 G, 3) in the same span, but the former two haven’t looked as good as they have at other times this season while the third may be too little too late situation. The defensive group, as a whole, has been missing assignments and playing hot potato with the puck too often to count, which in combination with poor puck possession and pretty mediocre goaltending, has translated to more losses.
King will at least try to shake up the lines to see if that gets soething going, even if the issues for the Blackhawks seem well beyond line combinations at this point. Most notably, the new line combos reunite the Erie Otters trio. Tyler Johnson, Dominik Kubalik, Boris Katchouk, and Caleb Jones are expected to be scratched — some more deservedly than others.
Derek King: "Didn't want to [change the lines], but we've lost 6, so it rattled in my brain in a little too long but we decided to shuffle them up a little bit. Put the old Erie Otters line back together, see if there's any magic left in those three." https://t.co/BRf2iKcwss— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) April 9, 2022
Blackhawks — Statistic —Stars
46.10% (30th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 49.08% (19th)
45.04% (29th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 50.93% (14th)
2.59 (29th) — Goals per game — 2.87 (19th)
3.48 (25th) — Goals against per game — 2.97 (16th)
48.8% (20th) — Faceoffs — 54.4% (27th)
20.9% (17th) — Power play — 21.5% (14th)
75.6% (24th) — Penalty kill — 78.9% (18th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
DeBrincat — Strome — Raddysh
Kurashev — Toews — Kane
Raddysh — Dach — Lafferty
Borgstrom — R. Johnson — Entwistle
C. Jones — S. Jones
de Haan — McCabe
Stillman — Vlasic
Robertson — Hintz — Pavelski
Benn — Seguin — Gurianov
Raffl — Glendening — Kiviranta
Kero — Peterson — Radulov
Suter — Heiskanen
Lindell — Klingberg
Harley — Hakanpaa
How to watch
When: 6:00 p.m. CT
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago