NHL

What Chicago Blackhawks need to do to snap out of their funk

 
 
Updated 11/4/2018 9:54 PM
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  • Chicago Blackhawks' Andreas Martinsen, right, of Norway, is checked by Calgary Flames' Juuso Valimaki, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

    Chicago Blackhawks' Andreas Martinsen, right, of Norway, is checked by Calgary Flames' Juuso Valimaki, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

We're just 15 games into the regular season, but already there are plenty of Chicago Blackhawks fans complaining of whiplash.

• First you're giddy over a 3-0-2 start.

• Then slightly concerned after the Hawks dropped two of three and allowed a modern-day-record 33 SOG to Tampa Bay in one period.

• Then ecstatic after wins over Anaheim and the Rangers.

• And now panicking after a dreadful 0-4-1 stretch that concluded with a 5-3 loss at Calgary on Saturday.

If the herky-jerky motions of the season are already upsetting, you really have two options: Exit the coaster … or get fitted for a neck brace.

Because this figures to be a theme all season.

At 6-6-3, the Hawks are almost exactly where they were last season after 15 games when they were 7-6-2. On Dec. 23, when Corey Crawford played his last game, they were a fringe wild-card team at 17-13-5.

And that's pretty much what this squad is -- a fringe wild-card team.

Give the coaching staff credit for trying to light a fire under guys like Brandon Saad, Nick Schmaltz, Marcus Kruger, Chris Kunitz and Jan Rutta by either scratching them, or threatening to do so.

In every case, it worked to some degree. The question is, why did it get to that point in the first place?

So while the Hawks lick their wounds for a few days, let's take a look at three areas in which they must improve if they have any hope of making the playoffs.

More balanced scoring

Fifty-nine percent of the Hawks' goals have come from Patrick Kane (11), Jonathan Toews (8) and Alex DeBrincat (8).

Much more is obviously needed from Schmaltz (1) and Anisimov (2).

Then, even though nobody expects any of the bottom-six forwards to reach 15 -- or even 10 -- goals, an occasional tally from David Kampf (1), John Hayden (1), Marcus Kruger (1 goal last 13), Chris Kunitz (0) and/or Luke Johnson (0) would help immensely.

The blue liners aren't pitching in enough either. Hawks defensemen have combined for 5 goals, which is ahead of only Colorado's 4 in the Central Division. The other five squads have received an average of 9.6 goals from their D-men.

More fire

Joel Quenneville's decision to sit Schmaltz at Edmonton sent a strong message to the rest of the roster. But was it received?

John Hayden, who took Schmaltz's spot on the third line, delivered zero hits and took no shots on goal in just under 10 minutes of ice time in that 4-0 loss to the Oilers.

This did not go unnoticed by former Hawks center Troy Murray during the WGN 720-AM postgame show.

"You've got (Andreas) Martinsen (having) 5 hits in this game," Murray said. "John Hayden didn't have a hit. What is John Hayden showing the coaches and what (are) the coaches looking (at) when they break down the tape and say, 'John Hayden's, 6-3, 220 pounds. He's not going to score a lot of goals, but we expect him to be a type of player.' He needs to be his type of player."

Hayden was then scratched Saturday at Calgary.

Murray also pointed out that D-man Erik Gustafsson is resorting to his turnover-prone ways.

If this sloppy, uninspired play continues, Murray said don't be surprised to see someone like Dylan Sikura (3 goals, 28 SOG last six games) or Victor Ejdsell (3 goals last six) get called up from Rockford.

Hayden, Kampf, Johnson and Alexandre Fortin are the four forwards who could be sent down without having to clear waivers. Only Henri Jokiharju is waiver exempt among D-men, and he's obviously not going anywhere.

Turn on the power

Before we (once again) attack the power play, let's give credit where credit's due and admit the Hawks' penalty kill has been decent lately.

Because while it's true they've allowed 4 PP goals during this five-game losing streak, one came with 16 seconds remaining in a 7-3 loss at St. Louis and another during Duncan Keith's five-minute boarding major in a 5-3 loss to Calgary on Saturday. Allowing just 1 goal to the Flames was awfully impressive, and the Hawks used that momentum to build a 3-1 lead.

As for the power play? It remains one, gigantic mess.

In 15 man-advantage situations covering 26 minutes and 15 seconds the last five games, the Hawks have taken just 12 shots on goal. Against the Flames, they took one shot in 6:35, that being Jonathan Toews' stuff-in goal during a 5-on-3.

It's a truly mind-numbing problem.

Penalty-kill units continue to be more and more aggressive, pressuring the point because they know how little confidence the Hawks have skating 5-on-4. This isn't going to change until Joel Quenneville and assistant coach Kevin Dineen force guys to find lanes and shoot at every opportunity.

Forget the fancy passes for a while and start putting pressure around the net.

Until they do, this phase of the game will suffer, as will the Hawks' record and their chances of returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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