It’s odd but this hockey season is starting to have a feeling of déjà vu for the Blackhawks. It has not been a happy January for boys of the West Side. In the month of January, the Blackhawks are 4-3-5.
But the Blackhawks enter their usual February ice road trip on a three game losing streak. With six games on this trip, it could get really bad as the Blackhawks could match their nine game losing streak from two years ago if things go completely awry.
Let’s not jump the gun there yet. However, it could get bad quickly as this will be a very tough road trip similar to the last two years. The easiest game on the docket appears to be Calgary which is the first game. If the Blackhawks fail to solve Reto Berra then it only increases in difficulty with Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Phoenix. None of these games are gimmes as those are the top five teams in the Pacific and they are all in the top nine of the Western Conference.
Unfortunately, the Blackhawks are trending in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Forget home ice in the playoffs as the Anaheim Ducks seem to be cruising towards that with a seven point lead over the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are fighting for home ice and the division title now with the St. Louis Blues right behind them by one point with three games in hand and the Colorado Avalanche only seven points out with three games in hand as well. A big slip up on the road trip could mean that the Blackhawks have to spend March and April fighting for home ice for the first round which seemed unfathomable for the first half of the year.
It is absolutely crucial for the Blackhawks to find a way to go .500 on this road trip, not because they need the points but because they need it for their mentality before the NHL breaks for the Olympics. You don’t want players sitting around after losing 8 of 9 for two weeks.
This losing streak doesn’t feel as drastic yet. However, the frustration is building on the faces of the Blackhawks. Scoring two goals in two games for the highest scoring club in the NHL is unacceptable. In fact, in seven of the eight losses this month, the Blackhawks have scored two goals or less and seven of the losses were by one goal. If the Blackhawks could win a shootout or overtime goal they would have a couple more points and some breathing room.
Perhaps a road trip is the perfect remedy for this Blackhawks team as they will get away from the chatter of Chicago. But they will need contributions from several Blackhawks in order to get back on track.
A big part of the problem is that the stars have not delivered recently. Patrick Kane has one goal and six points in January. Patrick Sharp has one goal since his hat trick on January 3 and Jonathan Toews hasn’t lit the lamp since January 12. The only star playing well recently is Marian Hossa who scored 6 goals in a 6 game stretch recently but has been held off the score sheet in the past two games.
Also don’t discount the lack of depth scoring. It seems that the only player scoring recently is Brandon Bollig. If Bollig is your most consistent offensive weapon you are in trouble. Bryan Bickell was benched for Sunday’s game as he has 7 goals and 2 assists in 39 games and is a minus 7. Kris Versteeg has 2 points in 11 games in January and Brandon Saad hasn’t scored a goal in 10 games. When all four lines are rolling, the Blackhawks are the deepest team in the league. But with the stars not scoring, more is needed from crucial role players.
It was only last week that the impressive victories over Anaheim and Boston made you think the Blackhawks were on their way to cruising to the Central division title. But they again have fallen into the lazy habits that have plagued them in January.
"The last three have been back to that sloppy style of play where we're playing for a while before that. We need to get rid of these bad habits and get rid of them fast" said Toews.
Too often the Blackhawks have been lazily passing the puck out of their zone that lead to easy interceptions and odd man rushes. The Blackhawks need to commit to getting the puck out of the zone with safe passes rather than lazy cross ice passes like the one that Hossa made right to Andrew Ladd for an easy goal which would be good if Ladd was still on the Blackhawks like he was four years ago.
It’s not just Hossa but Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and the whole defense that needs to improve.
Right now, it just appears that the Blackhawks are tired and fighting the boredom that comes with an 82 game season and a short summer. When you are constantly in the playoffs and have a shot to win a Cup and have been there, it’s hard to not let the day to day monotony of the season bore you. Kane mentioned this earlier this week with the 40-60 game stretch being the hardest of the year. What the Blackhawks are looking for is April to be here like the rest of the Chicago and get to games that matter against the St. Louis Blues and not the Winnipeg Jets.
But the Blackhawks need to turn it around now so they can head into the break on a positive note. This is a huge reason that Toews let his frustration spill over after the game because he senses that the Blackhawks are bored and falling into sloppy habits that can doom them in the playoffs. Toews knows that the Blackhawks need to turn it around soon.
"Regardless [of home or away,] we have to play better," Toews said. "We keep reminding ourselves we only have a handful of games before this break. It needs to be better and better right now and can't wait any longer."
A big reason that Toews was asked if it was okay for Sidney Crosby to be the captain of Canada is because of comments like that. It’s not a dire situation yet but Toews wants to nip this in the bud rather than having to chew over this for two weeks while he is in Russia playing for team Canada.