Well, what an up and down start to the Chicago Blackhawks season. Is anyone else feeling like this is a repeat of last year? It seems like it. The Hawks came out swinging last year in the early going, scoring at a ridiculous pace and getting phenomenal goaltending as well. Eventually, the Hawks tapered off last season and teams found their weakness. The defense, which featured old and aging players mixed in with some way too inexperienced young guys. The only defensive guy last year worth playing would have been Duncan Keith, who did the best he could with nobody else next to him.
Fast forward to this year. The Blackhawks started out on fire, winning close game after close game. Then, much like last year, we’re starting to see the wheels come off. Unfortunately, it seems the turn this year started when the hawks got goaltender Corey Crawford back, who has played nothing short of amazing since he has been put back in the lineup. The issues that the Hawks have had haven’t changed from year to year.
Look at the biggest issue, inconsistency on defense. Even from the first game, the Blackhawks had blaring holes in their defensive play. Whether it be an actual defenseman (Looking at you Erik Gustaffson) or a forward who was caught watching instead of playing, it’s been bad. Unfortunately, the Hawks have even younger players than they did the previous year, which is leading to a lot of goals on “rookie” mistakes. Many of the goals that we’ve seen this year have been no fault of the goalie. Crawford has looked like he hasn’t missed a beat and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. His record and statistics won’t show that, but he really has held his team together.
The second big issue this year is offensive inconsistency. Holy hell guys. After the first two weeks the Hawks were second in scoring. Now, they sit at the bottom half of the league (18 overall). It’s only a month into the season and already, the Hawks are going back to old habits. After a huge start, the Hawks have tried to be too cute with the puck. They ALWAYS attempt the extra pass which always seems to be intercepted. It’s all smoke and mirrors that gets finished (if they’re lucky) with a single shot before it leaves the zone again. Also, (last bit about the offense, I swear!) what is Erik Gustaffson doing? Every time he’s in the offensive zone he acts like a winger which would be great if it didn’t lead to odd man rushes the other way. Okay, one more thing. Nick Schmaltz needs to learn to shoot. I have seen Schmaltz pass the puck to nobody 100 too many times this season and I’m sick of it. Okay, offense. Done.
The last thing I want to look at is the special teams. The power play is 27 overall and it is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Everyone tries to be too cute with the puck, making five to ten more passes than needed. That is assuming they get it into the zone, which is few and far between. Then there’s the Hawks penalty kill, which is improving but is still in the bottom half of the league (22 overall). Ultimately, if the Hawks could decline penalties I would suggest that. There’s no reason that the Hawks, with all their offensive fire power, should be unable to score. It’s been a constant over the last few years but it’s not getting better. Somebody needs to get these guys a new scheme.
Enough bashing though. I know sometimes I’m too harsh on the Hawks. I expect success and that can hurt when they don’t succeed. Let’s take a quick look at some positives this year so far.
Corey Crawford has been nothing short of amazing since he’s been back. I would wager to say 90% of the goals allowed by Crawford have been at the hands of the defensemen playing in front of him. He has come back from that concussion and been better than anyone expected.
Henri Jokiharju has played well for the most part, playing mad minutes with Duncan Keith night in and night out, which is huge for his development. Now, of course, we’ve seen the lapses in his game from time to time, but I want to point out that every night, he’s playing against the other team’s top line and holding his own, which is fantastic to see. He may not be perfect, but he is learning and will be a staple of this defense in the coming years. Also, his offensive upside is amazing.
The Hawks currently sit in sixth out of seven in the Central division. After such a promising start, the Hawks are back to where they were last year. We can hope that going forward, the hawks find their rhythm and start winning some games. This next week, the Hawks take on the Carolina Hurricanes and the Philadelphia Flyers. Let’s hope for some solid victories!