The Chicago Blackhawks struggle for a wild-card playoff spot has been exciting to watch. Since hitting rock bottom in the NHL in January the Blackhawks have been on fire. Starting with their 8-5 defeat of the Washington Capitals on January 20th the team has gone 10-4. During their incredible run, they also had a seven-game win streak which helped bring them back from the realm of the draft lottery conversation. Their success has been led by increased scoring from their top forwards, a red-hot power play, timely goaltending. and just enough defence to hold on for their victories.
Chicago Blackhawks Struggle
Blackhawks Triple Threat
There has been no forward hotter in the NHL than Patrick Kane. He is now second in the league in scoring behind Nikita Kucherov. Kane currently has 93 points only seven behind Kucherov. Since the low point in the Blackhawks season, their sniper has scored 11 goals and 28 points. With his torrid pace, Kane has recently started to gain traction in the Hart Trophy talk around the NHL. There is no question of his value to his team as potentially the leagues most valuable player. Without Kane, the Blackhawks would still be well out of the wild card hunt.
Alex DeBrincat and Jonathan Toews are the other two forwards who have been scoring at a fantastic pace. DeBrincat’s goal production has been equal to Kane’s since early January with both scoring 16 goals. The Blackhawks captain has also been scoring timely goals during his team’s run. Toews is second on the team in scoring with 29 goals and 64 points while DeBrincat has chipped in 34 goals and 62 points so far.
Triple Threat Downside
In looking at the Blackhawks struggle, one thing becomes very noticeable. This team is severely lacking secondary scoring. The Blackhawks top three scorers have 102 of the team’s 207 goals, which is almost half. The next closest player in scoring is Erik Gustafsson a defenceman. He has 12 goals and 45 points, along with a defence corps worst plus/minus of -11.
The next two highest-scoring forwards are Brandon Saad and Dylan Strome both with 37 points on the year. Saad is having a much better season than last with 21 goals and Strome has been a pleasant surprise since being acquired for Nick Schmaltz. If the Blackhawks are going to make a serious run to the playoffs they had better get a lot more scoring from their bottom nine forwards.
Powered Up Power Play
One area of play that has helped erase some of the Blackhawks struggle has been their power play. They were the worst in the NHL back in November with a 12.7% success rate. They have climbed back into the top ten in the NHL and are now at 22.3%. Their recent 10-4 run would not have been possible without their improved power play.
During their hot streak, the Blackhawks scored 15 out of 44 times on the power play for an incredible 34% success rate. Kane (28 pts), DeBrincat (22 pts), Toews (20 pts), Strome (10 pts), and Gustafsson (16 pts) have been on the very successful first unit. Now if they could just do something to improve the leagues worst penalty kill (73.3%) they might have an easier path to a wild card spot.
A big Blackhawks struggle has been the goaltending all season. Corey Crawford going down again due to another concussion has left the team relying on Cam Ward and Collin Delia. After a rough start to the season, Ward has played solidly improving his record to 14-10-4. The problem areas are his goals against of 3.71 and save percentage of .893%. Delia has been slightly better in net and sits at 6-4-3 with a goal against of 3.48 and solid save percentage of .909%. Both goalies deserve more solid defensive play in front of them too. The Blackhawks are still second worst in the NHL giving up over 35 shots a game.
Corey Crawford is also nearly back in the picture. He is reportedly ready to play again which presents a potential problem for the team. First off Crawford will need to prove he’s fully recovered and healthy enough to contribute. Once he shows he is ready the Blackhawks will have a decision to make with Collin Delia. Ward has a full non-movement clause opposed to Delia who can be sent to Rockford without clearing waivers. With the NHL trade deadline Monday 2/25 it’s not likely Ward is going anywhere. Which means the Blackhawks will carry three goalies or have to send Delia down. Delia has proven he can play based on the recent contract extension, unfortunately, he will have to be patient.
While the Blackhawks have clawed their way back in the wild card picture not all of their Cinderella story is rosy. During their 10-4 run, they have only played 5 games against their Western Conference rivals going only 3-2. And two of these three victories came in overtime creating the dreaded “three points” games. While they have made up some ground in the conference they need to start winning these games in regulation. Currently, they still sit 4 points out of the last wild-card spot with 19 games left in the season.
Coming up in our next piece we will breakdown the remaining games on the schedule. Will they be able to continue their winning ways into a wild card spot? Only time will tell.