After starting the season 21-0-3 and setting many new records, the Blackhawks have now lost their last two games, and have looked bad doing so. There is a saying that states, “You’re never as good as you think when you’re hot, and you’re never as bad as you think when you’re not.” Maybe this is the case with the Blackhawks, or maybe it’s not.
During the Hawks’ incredible point streak to start this season, it was hard to point out any weaknesses on that team. When you’re winning every night, you’re weaknesses are usually hidden. Because of this, most Blackhawks fans and a lot of hockey fans around the country automatically labeled the Hawks as Stanley Cup champions. The amount of bandwagon fans that the Blackhawks gained during their streak was incredible. Now, I’m not saying that the Blackhawks aren’t as good as they were during their streak, but it is very possible that they were over-achieving through their first 24 games.
There is no question that the Blackhawks have one of the best offenses in the game, and they have proven that thus far this season. However, their team defense might not be as good as it looked during their streak. This was made evident over their last two games in Colorado and then at home against Edmonton when the Hawks allowed 12 goals in the two games combined, and lost both
They have some very good defensemen on that team (Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson), and then they have some defensemen who have been playing a lot better than they ever have in their careers (Leddy, Oduya, and maybe Hjalmarsson again). Having said that, every one of those guys was playing at a very high level through the first 24 games, and it is unrealistic to think that they would all continue to do so the rest of the season. It is extremely rare to see 5, or all 6, of your defensemen playing up to their full potential at the same time, and that is exactly what was happening during the Hawks’ point streak. Now, as you saw their last two games, the defensemen of the Hawks, and their forwards, have all come back to earth in terms of their defensive play. I’m not saying that they are going to keep giving up 6 goals per game from here on out, but don’t expect them to be insanely good on defense like they were to start the season.
With not having such an incredible defense comes more shots, and quality shots, on goal. Again, this was evident against the Avs and Oilers. In a lot of cases, goalies are only as good as the defense in front of them (that is unless your last name is something like Roy or Brodeur). The Blackhawks do not have elite goaltenders. They have two average goalies, with Crawford possibly being a slightly above average goalie. Over the first 24 games, those two guys were being praised left and right for their play in net, and rightfully so. They were fantastic. But, that is also because the Blackhawks’ defense was playing so well and not allowing many shots on goal. I would not expect that type of play to continue on such a consistent basis from here on out.
One other thing that I want to mention is the size of the Blackhawks. The average weight of a player on the Hawks is 200.9 pounds. Only eight teams in the league average a lighter weight per player. If you look at the average weight of a player on the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, it is 210.4 pounds, the heaviest in the NHL. It is a fact that size and physicality become a huge factor in the playoffs, and the Blackhawks lack both. Their 2009-2010 team that won the Cup had a ton of skill, and also a lot of size and grit (Byfuglien, Ladd, Brouwer). There is no question that their size that season was a big reason as to why they were so successful. I am not prepared to say that the Hawks’ lack of size will keep them from winning the Cup this year, but it is a weakness of this team (as evidenced by last year’s first round exit against Phoenix). The trade deadline is April 3rd, and I would not be surprised to see Stan Bowman make a move to try and add more size to the lineup.
While it probably seems like I am making the Hawks sound like a bad team, I’m really not. I am simply pointing out some facts that people need to realize. The Blackhawks are still a good team, and one of the best teams in the league. They are not, however, miles ahead of everyone else in the NHL like people were making it sound over the last month and a half. I still expect this team to end up with the number 1 seed in the Western Conference, and I still think it would be a disappointment if they do not make the Western Conference Finals. I do not, however, think it is impossible for them to get eliminated before the Stanley Cup Finals, unlike some people.
Even though I just pointed out a few weaknesses of the Blackhawks, I do realize that their last two losses came during a very exhausting stretch of the schedule. They just played 7 games in 11 nights, which is very tough for any team to endure. Those two losses also came against two of the fastest teams in the league, and the Hawks were trying to defend them while skating on very tired legs. Now that they have 3 full days off to rest before their next game in Columbus on Thursday, I would expect to see a better performance and effort from everyone on that team. Nothing cures exhaustion like rest.