Blackhawks Blame Game
The Chicago Blackhawks are amidst an eight-game losing streak (10-game streak on the road) and have amassed a total of one point in the standings during their current road trip, with three still to play. Before the trip, the 'Hawks were sitting within three points of division and Western Conference leading Detroit and now are only three points from being on the outside looking into the playoffs. Plenty of fans are hitting the panic button and are ready to dismantle the team from the top down.
Before you start rebuilding, however, it's necessary to find the source of the problem. It's easy to point the finger at the goaltending, but I think their issues are deeper. Let's examine all the different issues the Blackhawks are currently experiencing.
Goaltending: Obviously, you can't win games if the other team is scoring at will. During the losing streak, Blackhawks goalies are averaging 4.375 goals against and haven't allowed less than three in any one game. They have stopped just 203 of 238 shots on goal, a dismal 86.38%. After the 5-3 loss in San Jose on Friday, when asked about the goaltending, Coach Joel Quenneville only had this to say: "It has to get better." That's an understatement. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have both been given every chance to take the starting job, but it seems neither cares to do so.
Defense: The more shots you allow to get on goal, the more likely a team is to score. Even the best NHL goaltenders won't be stopping every shot, every night; they need help. The 'Hawks top four defensemen, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Nick Leddy, have combined for a rating of minus-22 since they last visited the win column. Keith, a former Norris Trophy winner leads the charge with minus-9. This number may be inflated a bit due to him seeing plenty more ice time than the other defenders, averaging almost 30-minutes per game during the stretch. The D-men playing out of position has created too many odd man rushes for their opponents and the 'Hawks are paying the price.
Forwards: You can't win games if you're not scoring. What happened to the Blackhawks' "Big 4"? Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa provided a majority of the scoring for the 'Hawks before the All-Star Break. Since, they have combined for just 11 points in 6 games and are virtually unnoticeable. Sharp registered five of the 11 while Hossa has none. Blame can be placed for not scoring, sure, but they're also not contributing on the defensive end. Blackhawks forwards need to be blocking shots, just as its expected of defensemen. In just the last two games, Chicago forwards were out-blocked by their opponent's forwards 24-8. That's simply unacceptable; too many shots are getting through whilst their goaltenders' confidence continues to fall with every goal allowed.
Special Teams (Assistant Coach Mike Kitchen): Overall on the season, the Blackhawks sport a pedestrian 17.4% on the power play, which is good enough for 14th in the NHL. This road trip has been a different story, however, as they are 0 for 16. Not only have they not scored, it seems like they can't even find the scoring chances with the man advantage. Poor puck possession in the offensive zone and sloppy turnovers have led to short-handed chances for their opponents, those which they are converting. You shouldn't give up so many odd man rushes on your own power play.
On the other hand, the penalty kill has stayed consistently bad throughout the year; 77.5% and 28th overall in the league and a shade worse at 73.7% on the trip. The 'Hawks have been shorthanded 19 times over the first six games of the trip and spent almost a quarter of the time in the penalty box during the 8-4 shellacking they received from Sam Gagner and the Oilers. Asst. Coach Kitchen has been in charge of the PP and PK units and some of the decisions made have been questionable, at best. Newly acquired Brendan Morrison, who is without a point since joining Chicago, has seen considerable time at the point on the power play. Why? Where's Hossa, Keith, or Seabrook? Where's the Dustin Byfuglien-like presence in front of the net that proved to be an integral piece during the 2010 Stanley Cup run? They've run the Andrews (Shaw and Brunette) out there, but it doesn't matter when pucks aren't getting to the net.
Coach (Joel Quenneville): The 'Hawks have put together win streaks of four and five games already this year, and over the course of a season, teams will undoubtedly run into a rut where they lose a couple games, or maybe four of five. But after a streak of eight consecutive losses, you have wonder if the coach has lost his team. In Phoenix on Saturday night, Radim Vrbata kicked off the scoring for the Coyotes at just 3:14 in the first period. Emery, Viktor Stalberg and Sami Lepisto were all near the net and hung their heads in shame; they looked utterly deflated. Three minutes into the game, and the Blackhawks already lost their confidence. Fans have a hard time staying tuned into the game when it looks their team has already given up with 56+ minutes yet to play.
General Manager (Stan Bowman): Bowman was the beneficiary of taking over a team that Dale Tallon had built around Toews, Kane, and Keith, among others, but has since dismantled the Cup winning team due to salary cap issues. The acquisitions prior to this season have been sufficient enough, to this point, to fill some holes and add grit to a team that lacked both last year, but now there appears to be a few more glaring problems that need to be addressed. The cap space is there, but confusingly, it's not being used. Two names that might haunt Bowman, should the Blackhawks miss the playoffs this year, are Antti Niemi and Brian Campbell.
Injuries: Every team faces injury issues and it's hard to use them as an excuse. Sharp, Dave Bolland, Marcus Kruger and Steve Montador have all missed significant time due to injury and Daniel Carcillo has been lost for the season. A good team finds a way to fight through and cover their injury problems. Prior to Carcillo's season ending knee injury, the Blackhawks had 24 wins to14 losses but are just five and 14 since. It's hard to pinpoint his injury as a turning point in the season, but they have yet to fill the void Carcillo has left.
So what do all of these factors add up to? A team just four losses shy of tying a franchise record, an increasingly impatient, restless fan base clamoring for success after tasting victory just two years ago and a lot of unanswered questions as the season starts to hit the home stretch.
Last year, the Blackhawks backed into the playoffs and the eighth seed thanks to a Dallas Stars loss; I'm not sure they are going to be so lucky this year. The Western Conference is going to be competitive down to the wire and unless they string a few win streaks together, there will be no playoff beards or mullets in Chicago this season. Look for someone to be held accountable.
Consider everyone on the hot seat.
Steve Peters is a staff writer for NHLfanchat.com. Follow on twitter: @stevepeters_