Frustration continues to mount around the Chicago Blackhawks despite the franchises’ 4 – 1 – 1 record through six games this season. The Hawks are on a three-game win streak and have guys like Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad with five points apiece very early in the season. Why the frustration?
It’s the late-game breakdowns.
For a casual fan from, let’s say, Philadelphia, to look at the NHL standings and see where the Hawks are Wednesday afternoon would create a sense of, “uh oh – they’re still pretty good.” And they are. I’m certainly not saying the Hawks aren’t good. But they seem to only be good in the first two periods.
Chicago is averaging 15.8 shots in both the first and second periods through six games this season. For perspective, opponents are averaging between six and seven shots in each of the first two opening periods this season, including a huge goose egg for Tampa Bay last week. Shots are coming plenty, and so are goals.
Chicago has scored eight first-period goals this season – so the concern of “not coming out of the gate with intensity” debate can be put aside for now. The second period goals are fewer (6) but still on-par for this point in the season. And after two periods, Chicago boasts a 14 – 6 goal lead this season. It’s that third period that’s the problem.
Chicago has been outscored 8 – 3 by opponents in the third period while evening out the shots: Hawks average 6.1 shots to the opponent’s 9 in period three this season. It shows a slow-down but should be appropriately coupled with penalty considerations. Chicago has committed nearly half (10) of all its penalties in the third period, the most dangerous time to find yourself in the box.
The Hawks seem to have a terrible habit of taking their foot off the gas when they find themselves up by a pair of goals or more with a significant amount of time left to play. Could this be the reason the Hawks have needed to find some very late heroics lately?
Above are a bunch of stats. And, as the hockey mantra goes, “stats never tell the whole story.”
Still, there is a considerable difference between Chicago’s third period play and the rest of the game. They look tired and sluggish. Maybe the intensity coming out of the starting gate should be cautioned against late-game exhaustion. It’s basic stuff: go too hard in the beginning and you won’t have the energy to finish strong. Some guys never lose the intensity. Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw, Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane, Niklas Hjalmarsson can all fit that category on most nights. Not that the others can’t, but Tuesday’s game saw Michal Rozsival suffer from a lack of effort.
He took a big hit against the boards and immediately took a penalty in retaliation. Ever since then, he didn’t play the same. His failed clear attempts and getting in the wrong lanes were bad news for the Hawks. No, the breakdowns are not entirely his fault. But issues like that have arisen and they need to be addressed immediately so that the rest of the team does not suffer as a result. You can be sure Quenneville had some words for Rozsival after the game in Carolina. We could see some different defensive pairings as a result.
The Hawks face the St. Louis Blues Thursday night, and when the two last met Chicago dropped the ball with just over 20 seconds remaining in regulation to suffer their first loss of the season. Chicago should work to balance out the first and second period intensity with the third period breakdowns to make sure they play a complete game. They’ll need it against St. Louis.