Chicago Blackhawks entering their annual March Malaise
Should we begin to panic about the Chicago Blackhawks?
To worry about a team that’s won three Stanley Cups in the last six hockey seasons seems and still has most of its core group intact seems like a lesson in futility, doesn’t it?
I mean, every time that I’ve started to worry about the Hawks in this decade, they’ve quickly relieved my fears with a sound beating of a good team almost immediately after.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) March 15, 2016
They’re always there in April. They always figure out in time for the playoffs. They always find another gear that so many other teams cannot when it matters most.
#Blackhawks beaten badly, 6-2. Stars rolling, Hawks sputtering.
— David Haugh (@DavidHaugh) March 23, 2016
I sat down to write this article with the intention of convincing its readers that it’s probably a good idea to get very worried about this year’s Chicago Blackhawks team, because this year’s late-season slide is different from (and worse than) all of the others.
But as I sit here now, after revisiting the back half of the schedule of the last few seasons, I find myself unable to do that.
Because it’s largely the same damn story all over again.
The Hawks have had some terrible losses these last few months, sure. It started with a 5-0 beatdown by the Carolina Hurricanes in the end of January. Then you have the three games detailed in tweets above.
The 2014-15 season wasn’t much different. They lost 5-2 to Edmonton in early January and were handed four-goal defeats in Boston (6-2) and Tampa (4-0) near the end of February. Dallas also shut them out 4-0 on March 21 before Columbus had itsr way in a 5-2 win on March 27.
Go back to 2013-14 and you can find a 3-0 shutout to Boston and a 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh as part of a three-game slide in late March.
Sprinkled in with all of those upsetting losses were always a few rays of hope. In 2014, the Hawks beat Anaheim 2-0 on the road in February and blasted St. Louis 4-0 at home in March.
Last year, it was a 6-2 thrashing of the Sharks on March 14 and a 4-1 win over the Kings on March 30 that brightened the outlook of some dim postseason hopes that were swirling around the United Center.
There are even a few of those games this season. A 3-2 win at home over the league-leading Washington Capitals on February 28 followed by two wins over Detroit on March 2 and 6 served as some reminders of the Hawks potential.
And that’s the catch. Even when the Hawks seemed to be playing their worst, they still found a way — in a few games — to remind you of the team they can be.
Don’t get me wrong, though: this team does have its flaws. The penalty kill has been atrocious recently and the defensive depth still isn’t as strong as in seasons past. That’s likely a major source of the doubt among Hawks critics — Chicago will need strong playoff performances from players who have not had them (or the opportunity to have them) in the past, namely Trevor van Riemsdyk, Erik Gustaffson and/or Christian Ehrhoff.
But in spite of those difficulties, this team still has an embarrassment of riches among its forward lines. There’s also the potential that the Hawks second line of Panarin-Anisimov-Kane catches fire and wills the team to the Cup by itself. And don’t forget that Corey Crawford — who should return from injury soon — has been one of the best goalies in the league this season. It’s a wildly different objective to beat the Hawks in 4 out of 7 than it is to beat them in one regular season game.
I won’t sit here and guarantee that this team is about to win yet another Cup.
But I’m not making any major plans until mid-June, either.