Wake up Chicago: Hawks struggles continue

The Blackhawks currently sit at 12-11-5, and have had a mixed bag of results 28 games into the season. Over the past few weeks there are some positives that are keeping their playoff aspirations in good shape.

Remember that terrible penalty kill the Hawks had last year? Well, they sure fixed that problem this year. So far, the Hawks currently rank fifth in the NHL at an 83.8 percent success rate. It was obviously a point of focus this year to get better, and they have.

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The defense can’t take all the credit for the improved penalty kill, goaltending have to be taken into account. Corey Crawford and Anton Forsberg have both made darling (Sorry, not sorry) saves that have kept opposing teams off the score sheet this year.

However, recent struggles that plague the Hawks have been causing more and more irritation.

We played a little sloppy, a lot of sloppiness with possession of the puck.
— Joel Quenneville on Hawks loss to Kings

With huge changes this year due to the salary cap (again) the Hawks have four new defenders that either weren’t on the team, or weren’t regular starters last year. It’s surprising to see how good they have been.

Moreover, the Hawks power play has been almost as bad as their penalty kill was at the beginning of last season. Although perpetually bad on the power play in the last few seasons, the team is especially struggling this season.

They currently sit at 29th in the league with an abysmal 15.5 percent success rate. For a team with so much offensive firepower, they should be better. The Hawks power play strategy is one of the negative factors that is hampering the success rate.

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Anyone that has watched the Hawks have seen the awful drop back pass to enter the zone with speed, which in theory is a good plan. To have the team push the opposing team back, and have a speedy guy like Patrick Kane enter the zone. However, that has rarely worked out for the Hawks. If it happens to succeed, the Hawks have the puck in the zone for two seconds before the opposing team dumps it back out, or they keep possession they set up and pass 15 different times looking for the perfect shot.

The Hawks need a new strategy that involves getting into the zone more consistently, and getting as many shots as possible while getting guys in front of the net to screen the goalie, in order to get the power play fixed. Out with the old, in the with new.

Another problem the Hawks have dealt with this year is producing offensively. Power play aside, the Hawks haven’t been able to score goals to keep up with many teams. Could this finally be the downfall of a dynasty? I wouldn’t go quite that far yet.

The Hawks are averaging three goals per game in the 2017 season, which is on par with the league average. They also rank fifth in goals against average. On paper, the Hawks look like a clear-cut playoff contender, however, they might not be. The goaltending without Corey Crawford has been good, but not great.

Crawford was able to keep the Hawks relevant and in the playoff mix. Yes, it’s earlier in the season, but the team is beginning to collect dust at the bottom of the Central Division.

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With Crawford’s latest injury, the team’s problems are beginning to get exposed. Their latest loss to the Washington Capitals, a 6-2 defeat, goaltender Anton Forsberg had one of his less than favorable games, allowing three goals on 10 shots. The Hawks were unable to keep up with the Caps after that, only tallying two goals all night.

Even in a game where they had plenty of offensive chances, they couldn’t execute.

With a lack of offense, a struggling power play and mental lapses on defense; the Hawks are slowly falling off into mediocrity. Some are left to wonder if the Hawks will make the playoffs. With the way they have been playing, it’s hard to see them making it or having a deep run. However, it is possible.

There have been flashes of greatness in certain players, such as Anton Forsberg, Artem Anisimov and Alex Debrincat, and With a change in power play scheme, a better way to screen goaltenders and tightening up defensively, the Hawks could be right back in it. Sitting at 12-11-5 on the season leaves a lot to be desired.

Games right there for us to make plays, turned out to be a tough loss and not a great week.
— Quenneville in Dec. 6 press conference

Hawks fans expect a lot more from a team that has made the playoffs every year since Joel Quenneville took over in 2008.  We’ll have to see how the season progresses and hope that come April, the Hawks will be atop the division again.