As the NHL all-star weekend is in full throat, Tuesday the NHL will come back down to earth as 24 out of 31 teams will play. The Chicago Blackhawks will be on ice at 7 pm against the Nashville Predators. Of course, many would say that the Hawks are out of the playoffs already, but there is still hope.
The Hawks currently sit at 53 points on the season which puts them in sixth in the wild card race. The fifth-place team, the Anaheim Ducks, have 57 points, and they are tied with the Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild for the second wild card spot. So, by any measure, the Blackhawks are still in the hunt for a wild card spot. We are going to break down three things that the Hawks need to improve on to get back into a wild card spot.
The Hawks power play is the first thing they need to improve. It’s been talked about time and time again and it’s starting to show glimpses of improvement. The Hawks currently rank 28 in the league, In the last few weeks we’ve seen the Hawks go 4-6 on one night and most recently 2-4. Those are great nights, especially by an abysmal power play team. However, the other six games in that span, they were 0-18. The power play must improve.
The Hawks have to stop relying solely on Patrick Kane. When Kane is on the ice, every team knows that’s where the Hawks want to go. Why wouldn’t you? Kane is a rare talent and one of the best to play the game. However, if every team knows that’s where the puck is going, why not use him as a decoy? Get other players like Alex DeBrincat and Anthony Duclair involved. Get players like Tommy Wingels, John Hayden and Artem Anisimov in front of the net and allow these “snipers” to shoot through traffic. That will block the goaltender’s vision and you’ll start to see pucks going in the net.
The second improvement the Hawks must make is effort. We see it every other night it seems, the games where the Hawks don’t show up. They fell asleep before the game started and they get outworked, out hit and out shot. With top talents on the team like Kane and captain Johnathon Toews, budding prospects like DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz, the Hawks should be a high-octane machine. Alas, there are games where the Hawks don’t bother to get off the bench. If the Hawks want a shot at the playoffs, they need to hustle, win the little battles, and start showing up every night. There are no nights off in the NHL and it’s about time the Hawks realized it.
The final improvement the Hawks should make is defensive. Unfortunately, the Hawks had to trade away Niklas Hjalmarsson, one of their best defensemen during the offseason. They got Connor Murphy in return, who clearly is not as good as Hjalmarsson. Murphy has been average at best, but the Hawks definitely lost on that trade. Only one Hawk defensemen hasn’t been benched this year, Duncan Keith. He puts 100% effort night in, night out and he is a great mentor and leader to the younger guys. However, the younger guys have really been rough. Some nights they show up and play well, other nights they leave whichever goaltender is playing out to dry. Personally, I can’t recall a Hawks game in the last few weeks where the Hawks haven’t given up at least one break away opportunity. If they want any shot at the playoffs, they need to shore up the defense and find some consistent play on the back end. If they can patch it up for the tail end of the season, they stand a much better chance at making it to the playoffs.
Ultimately, only time will tell how the Hawks perform the rest of the way. Let’s hope for a Hawks playoff run!