The Chicago Blackhawks‘ frustrations have been mounting for several seasons. The past two years without a playoff appearance did not sit well with the team’s core who feel they are still in their prime and can compete for a Stanley Cup. Superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane had career years last season and entered into this year hoping to qualify for the playoffs and have another long playoff run. Unfortunately, this season has been a big disappointment. The team currently has a record of 12-13-6 which has them seven points behind the last Wild Card team.
Chicago Blackhawks Frustrations
To see how bad things are in Chicago all you have to do is an internet search using “Blackhawks inconsistent” as your search words. Article after article returned in the search details the Blackhawks’ current problems with consistency. Just for laughs, try using “Blackhawks roller coaster” instead. You will then have many more articles to enjoy detailing the maddening season so far for the struggling team.
Here’s an example of a recent article covering the inconsistent Blackhawks. This is by Charlie Roumeliotis of nbcsports.com who writes:
“The Blackhawks are a hard team to figure out.”
“When they’re clicking, the Blackhawks look like a group that can compete with anyone because they can outscore any opponent and win the goaltending battle with either Corey Crawford or Robin Lehner between the pipes. When they’re not, they look like a team that’s closer to the basement of the NHL than the playoff bubble.”
Charlie is correct in how he describes the Blackhawks. They have had winning streaks followed by losing streaks all season long. Nobody expects them to roll off 12-15 wins in a row, but this team has too much talent to produce multiple 3-4 game losing streaks at this point in the year.
Blackhawks Frustrations – Goaltending
Beleaguered general manager Stan Bowman was one of the most active hockey executives this past off-season trying to improve his team. He made numerous moves to shore up his suspect defence corps as well as add some experience up front.
The move that has had the most impact was the signing of Robin Lehner as a free agent. Lehner joining Corey Crawford gave the Blackhawks a solid one-two punch in goal. They were to share the net and provide the difference in games needing a “goalie win” while the retooled roster gelled into a winning team.
The Lehner Difference
In looking at the season so far, imagine if Lehner wasn’t signed last summer. Crawford would have been the main man in goal now getting besieged game after game. Eventually, he would have snapped as he almost did Tuesday night in Las Vegas during the Blackhawks’ 5-1 loss. Recently, Lehner semi-snapped by barking at his bench as he was pulled from a game in which his team left him hanging out to dry over and over again. It is obvious that both of these goalies have had just about enough based on their reactions during every game.
The Blackhawks’ frustrations with goaltending are certainly not with the play of both goalies this season. The frustrations in goaltending are exactly what the two goalies must feel while playing their butts off each and every game facing the most shots against. The Blackhawks are currently the worst in the league giving up 36.1 shots per game.
After the game against the Vegas Knights on Tuesday, here are both goalie’s records as of today. Both have respectable numbers based on the quality of shots they face every game. In addition, many of their outstanding saves could “posterized” and sold to fans.
- Robin Lehner – 6-5-4 GA – 2.71 SA – .929%
- Corey Crawford – 6-8-2 GA – 3.02 SA – .909%
Shoot Out Frustrations
One area of concern for the Blackhawks is the lack of success Lehner has had in shootouts this season. He has faced seven shots in the shootouts he has been in and stopped only one shot. He has lost four games that went to a shootout this season.
For more on Lehner’s frustrations, here is this by Ben Pope of chicago.suntimes.com who writes:
“Lehner has been honest about his subpar track record in the skills competition for weeks. He even said Monday that he would support coach Jeremy Colliton subbing him for Corey Crawford — who has fared much better in the shootout in his career — in the future.
“I came here to help this team win,” he said. “So if the coach feels that, he should definitely go for it. I definitely would not be mad. And I wouldn’t take it personally because I know I’m a good hockey goalie. It has nothing to do with the shootout.”
Lehner’s lack of success in shootouts is frustrating to watch. Especially after he has made highlight-reel save after save to help his team earn a point during regulation and overtime. While it would be highly unusual for the team to bring in a “reliever off the bench” for the shootouts, it may come to that if the trend continues to cost them points. Would a cold Corey Crawford fare better? We may be finding out soon.
The Blackhawks improved their league-worst penalty-killing unit from last season and are now at 19th in the NHL with a 79% effective rate. That is a drastic improvement over being dead last in the NHL for most of last year. Unfortunately, their power-play unit is in the bottom third of the NHL at 16.1%.
The players are still not doing the hard work needed to score power-play goals in the toughest area of the ice, the slot. Their preference is to work the perimeter and set up back door plays often making one pass too many. There needs to be a more consistent effort of getting pucks to the net. There are also far too few screens, rebounds, tip-ins, and greasy goals by the power-play unit. More success on the power play is needed in order to relieve some of the pressure on the goalies.
Blackhawks Frustrations – Coaching
Based on coach Colliton’s lack of success since the team fired longtime coach Joel Quenneville, his days may be numbered as head coach. Sadly, he was put in a no-win situation as a young inexperienced coach replacing an icon. It would have been better for his career if he could have stayed coaching the Rockford Ice Hogs instead of being promoted well before he was ready.
Which brings us to Bowman’s sly plan to hire Marc Crawford in the off-season. His hiring was billed by the team as bringing a much needed “experienced voice” to the locker room. They were also bringing in an experienced voice who had coached the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup win in 1996. Bowman had procured a backup Cup-winning coach who would be all ready to go just in case the team struggled under Colliton this season.
Unfortunately for Bowman, Crawford got caught up in the NHL’s version of a “he too” movement. The Blackhawk’s assistant has been placed on leave while being investigated for violent outbursts and physical abuse of players. Crawford is one of several coaches accused by former players of abuse. How the situation plays out will be watched closely as the NHL deals with this latest public relations nightmare.
It would be safe to say that Colliton’s fate may be on hold until Crawford’s investigation is completed. If Crawford is cleared, his promotion to head coach of the Blackhawks could come quickly. One could also argue that if the losses keep piling up, Bowman will be forced to do something quickly to quell the fan’s anger. Who knows, we may see Scotty Bowman‘s longtime lackey and boot polisher Barry Smith be given the head coaching job on an interim basis. Won’t that instill confidence in the fragile fan base?