After a four-game winning streak, the Blackhawks find themselves on a two-game losing streak, compliments of two of their longest rivals in St. Louis and Detroit.
The down-slide began against the lowly Red Wings, who are the worst team in the league and had just 35 points heading into the contest, along with a mind-blowing -121 goal differential. Although the Hawks would be playing a tail-end of a back-to-back, the game was an opportunity to extend their winning streak against a lowly opponent. The Hawks would ultimately fail to rise to the occasion, losing 2-1.
Their fourth game in six nights wouldn’t help matters. Last night’s 2-0 shutout loss to the St. Louis Blues was one of the ugliest Blackhawk games of the season. Robert Bortuzzo and Alex Pietrangelo would tally the Blues’ goals early in the second and third respectively, while back-up goalie Jake Allen would record his second shutout of the season against the Blackhawks. The Blues made their domination look easy. Every time there was a board battle, it was a Blue who won the puck. Every time the Hawks tried a dump-in — which has always been a major Hawk weakness — there was either nobody there to retrieve or the Blues would outwork the Hawks and exit their zone. In these waning games of the regular season, the Hawks looked like a team that was ready for it to be over.
With just 13 games remaining in the regular season, the Blackhawks remain six points out of a playoff spot, with 4 teams ahead of them in the standings. It feels like the Hawks have been six out points of a playoff spot for an eternity now, which is indicative of the type of team they are this year: a team that takes two steps forward with a decent winning streak, then one step backward with a prolonged losing streak. It’s as if they are stuck in quicksand, occasionally able to peek their heads above the surface, only to sink back down again.
Many expected March to be advantageous for the Blackhawks. Eleven home games were scheduled, with the bulk of the Hawks’ opponents being non-playoff teams. The team would need to go on their longest-winning streak of the season if they wanted a shot at the playoffs — a tall order so late into the season, but nevertheless, the possibility remained. What many overlook, however, was the sheer amount of games the Hawks would need to play this month: 15 games total, including three back-to-back series, two stretches of four games in six nights, and one stretch of three games in four nights.
To say the Hawks already look worn out so early in this critical month is discouraging. Drake Caggiula was the lone Blackhawk to show any signs of life last night, registering four hits, a takeaway, two glorious scoring chances and a fight in just under five minutes of total ice-time. Caggiula would fight Vince Dunn during a skirmish between both teams after Oskar Sundqvist delivered a dangerous hit on rookie Adam Boqvist. Boqvist would leave the game and Sundqvist would be assessed an extra two-minute minor for roughing, while Caggiula would also exit the game after injuring his wrist during the fight.
It will be interesting to see if general manager Stan Bowman will retain Caggiula, since the latter will be a restricted free agent this off-season — along with rookie Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Slater Koekkoek, newly-acquired Malcolm Subban and Matthew Highmore. Sitting on the precipice of a 30-goal rookie season, Kubalik will obviously be priority number one from this list; but Caggiula may make Bowman think twice about re-signing Dylan Strome, assuming Bowman can only afford one. Caggiula is a nice bottom-six player who isn’t afraid to throw his weight around and who can chip in around 10 goals a year. Whether that is enough to re-sign him over Strome — who has had an underwhelming year overall — remains to be seen.
After a two-day rest, the Hawks will not only begin their second stretch of three games in four nights, but also their second back-to-back series of the month — which will end on the road against the Metro-Division-leading Washington Capitals. The Hawks will then face the Minnesota Wild in a crucial home-and-home series, as Minnesota currently holds a seven point lead and the top Wild-Card spot over Chicago. For the Blackhawks, this month was their last hope of making the playoffs — but now, it may only be their last hope of finishing the season above .500.