Don’t look now, but the Chicago Blackhawks are surging in the Western Conference with a wild card position now in their sights. Will they generate enough steam to stay in the race, or will this be all for not?
The Chicago Blackhawks were nothing but an afterthought nearly eight weeks ago. Still, head coach Jeremy Colliton has his team back in wild card contention after winning six of their last ten games. It’s true, you can never count out the Blackhawks with captain Jonathan Toews at the helm along with Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane as the cornerstones of the franchise.
Toews isn’t as individually decorated throughout the league the same way Sidney Crosby or Patrice Bergeron is. Still, he unquestionably means as much to Chicago as the aforementioned do to their respected franchises. Toews doesn’t have the same scoring ceiling as Crosby and Bergeron, but he is every bit as effective in the faceoff circle (56.5 percent) and playing the two-way game in all three zones.
Toews has earned himself 44 points through the first 51 games of the season, scoring 14 goals. Kane is generally the Blackhawks’ point leader, and that’s no different this season as he paces the offense with 25 goals and 63 points this season.
Chicago needed this surge to get themselves back into playoff contention, but is this just a bogus push, or will the Blackhawks be able to solidify a postseason position for the long haul?
The team currently sits only three points out of the final wild card position in the Western Conference. General Manager Stan Bowman pulled the trigger last season by firing Joel Quenneville, sighting the team’s inconsistent play. It’s been much of the same under the direction of Colliton.
As the team finished Wednesday night’s game against Quenneville’s new assignment, the Florida Panthers, they’ve achieved just 54 points in 51 games played. Both teams were enjoying five-game winning streaks entering the evening.
The Blackhawks trail the Dallas Stars by a mere four points for the third spot in the Central Division, leaving their playoff hopes very much alive.
Chicago ranks 18th in the NHL scoring an even 3.00 goals for per game. The issue is, the team allows 3.06 goals per game, not exactly a sound winning strategy. For a team so highly skilled on offense, everyone not named Toews and Kane is struggling. Alex DeBrincat, who scored 41 goals a year ago, has just 12 this season. The secondary scoring has dried up, and so have the wins.
The Blackhawks rank 27th in the league on the power play, converting just 15 percent of the time despite big names on offense. Another area that drastically needs to improve if the team has any hope of landing a playoff spot.
I’d expect Bowman to try and add a rental defenseman before the trade deadline. Perhaps Mike Green from the atrocious Detroit Red Wings. Green is in the final year of his contract and would benefit from a change. He’s a right-handed offensive-minded defenseman that would be able to anchor the point on the power play, possibly providing a boost.
Chicago has gotten solid goaltending from both veteran netminders Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford. Lehner has been a touch better and should command the net if Chicago indeed finds its way into the postseason. Bowman will have a decision to make with Lehner, as he’s a pending free agent as season’s end.
Although the Winnipeg Jets currently sit in between Chicago and the Vegas Golden Knights, who now sit in the final wild card spot, the Blackhawks need to keep their eye on the Nashville Predators who are laying low, stalking their prey.
Nashville currently owns a plus-two goal differential while both Chicago and Winnipeg have a negative rating. The Predators also have a whopping four games in hand, having only played 47 games while Chicago has played 51. Nashville is trailing both Winnipeg and the Blackhawks by just three points, and just six behind Arizona.
The Blackhawks are currently enjoying a beautiful stretch of play. But, unless the secondary scoring can suddenly mirror last season’s production, I don’t suspect the Blackhawks in this league of parity to find themselves back in the postseason tournament.
If that is the case, I can’t help but wonder. What is Colliton’s future behind the bench?
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