Chicago Blackhawks just need to snap out of it
All of you panicking Chicago Blackhawks fans, have a seat.
Dr. Dietz is in the house.
Radio: WGN 720-AM
The skinny: Since beating Washington on Nov. 7, Buffalo has gone just 2-9-2. Last week, the Sabres were shut out in back-to-back-to-back games against Monreal, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. They average the fewest goals per game in the league (2.1). … Evander Kane leads Buffalo with 13 goals, while Jack Eichel has added 8. … Buffalo's power play converts on just 11.2 percent of its chances (30th in the NHL). … The Hawks have won 11 straight vs. Buffalo. Their last loss came during the 2009-10 season.
Next: Arizona Coyotes at United Center, 6 p.m. Sunday
-- John Dietz
Comfy? OK, now listen up.
Despite what some of you believe, the season is far from over. Yes, that was an ugly 6-2 loss in Washington on Wednesday, and the Hawks have dropped five straight.
But let's expand our scope and look at the big picture. The Hawks just went a respectable 4-3-3 during a 10-game stretch that included some nasty opponents and a sadistic, energy-sapping schedule.
The Hawks beat the teams they were supposed to beat (Anaheim and Florida) and also took care of some red-hot teams (N.Y. Rangers and Pittsburgh). They didn't look bad against Tampa Bay, Nashville, Dallas (twice) or Los Angeles -- six darn good teams they played in just nine days.
And while Wednesday's game was brutal, throw it away and forget it.
The fact is the Hawks are right where we found them three weeks ago -- clumped together with six teams in a crazy wild-card picture. It's going to look like this for the rest of the season, so buckle up and prepare for a crazy ride.
Having (hopefully) calmed your nerves, I will now state the obvious: The way they are playing, this team has little chance of winning the Stanley Cup.
But there's a long way to go. Fifty-four games to be exact. And besides Nashville, who scares you in the West?
So if the Hawks plan on "pulling a Nashville" by improving as the season goes along, hitting the playoffs with a full head of steam and making a deep run, here's what must start happening:
• Jonathan Toews needs to rediscover his scoring touch when games are still in doubt. Three of his last 4 goals (which have come over a span of 15 games) were either into an empty net or came when the Hawks were toast.
• Duncan Keith needs to be more careful with the puck, especially in his own zone. And it would be nice if he scored a goal or two soon. Including the playoffs, it has been 43 games since he beat an opposing goalie.
• Brent Seabrook has been better of late, but he needs to be a difference-maker.
• Richard Panik must remember that Stan Bowman handed him a two-year, $5.6 million contract because the Hawks general manager believed Panik finally had become a consistent, reliable player. Panik hasn't scored in 19 straight games.
• Patrick Kane must start producing like a superstar. His numbers aren't terrible, but since the third game of the season, Kane has just 4 goals in 18 games against teams that likely will make the playoffs. He must step up against the NHL's best.
• Like Kane, Brandon Saad (5 points in the past 12 games) hasn't been terrible, but the Hawks need him to get on a run, especially in three tough games against Winnipeg, Minnesota and Dallas starting next Thursday.
• Patrick Sharp must find another gear.
• The power play (1-for-21 past five games) must start producing. Get the puck, shoot the puck, retrieve the puck. Play with desperation every time and outwork your opponents. It's as simple as that.
• Finally, Joel Quenneville needs to start coaching like the Hall of Famer he is. Blowing up the lines after tightly contested losses to Nashville, Dallas and the Kings was a drastic overreaction. Put Nick Schmaltz on the wing on Artem Anisimov and Kane's line, leave Panik on the fourth line until he shows a spark, and take a leap of faith and put Alex DeBrincat with Toews and Saad.
The train must get back on the track this week as the Hawks host Buffalo, Arizona and Florida. Three convincing wins over these weaker teams is exactly what the doctor ordered.
"We know if we play the right way, we're hard to play against," Keith told reporters in Washington. "We have to be excited going back home and try to use that momentum."
Said Toews: "We've got to find a way to get out of (this) and play better. We look at the next week, we've got a bunch of games at home. Try and get our energy back and get ready to play full speed. …
"If we can have a good week … that would be a good start of getting back into the flow and the style of game that we want to play."
It all sounds so good. We'll find out soon enough if the Hawks' actions can match those words.