By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) After putting together one of their most impressive stretches of the season, the Blackhawks have played two pretty terrible games in a row. On Saturday, they were blown out 4-0 in Dallas. On Monday night, the Blackhawks somehow (read: Corey Crawford) pulled out a 3-1 win over an abysmal Carolina Hurricanes team that outshot them 44-25. Chicago also blocked 25 Carolina shots.
Remember this — shots + blocked shots + missed shots = Corsi. That means the Hurricanes had an 82-46 Corsi advantage.
The Blackhawks’ main problem has been their insistence on not exiting the defensive zone efficiently. Coach Joel Quenneville often talks about the “vertical game” or the “predictable game.” He wants his team to keep the game simple and keep the puck moving and in its possession. Dozens of times in each of its last two games, Chicago skaters would receive the puck in the defensive zone, skate around a little, stick-handle a little, then turn the puck over.
If they didn’t turn it over, they’d ice the puck. Both of those scenarios mean longer shifts, and therefore skaters who are tired and vulnerable. Dallas and Carolina, on the other hand, got the puck and moved it quickly out of the zone. They were able to get the puck deep and keep their lines rolling effectively.
Before these two games, the Blackhawks had recommitted to their team defense and execution. To have playoff success, they will need to get back to that level of play.
On to a few more observations:
Don’t let two games fool you: All that said, I’m not overly concerned that the Blackhawks’ problems will be an issue in the playoffs. For as long as the Hawks have been relevant, we’ve seen them have games like these. Once the playoffs begin, they find the proper level of focus and the right gameplan. Chicago won’t approach a game against St. Louis, Nashville or any of their other potential playoff opponents with the mentality it has shown over the last two games. If the Blackhawks do, they’ll be hitting the golf course early.
Corey’s coming: If there’s one player who has led the Blackhawks since Patrick Kane went down to injury, it’s goalie Corey Crawford, who has gone 7-1-1 since then and absolutely stolen wins against Edmonton and Carolina. Even the harshest of Crawford haters have been silenced — and quite frankly, it’s been lovely. (Also, 100 bonus points to those who get the “Corey’s coming” reference.) Crawford stopped 44 of 45 shots Monday night, and he’s stopped 284 of his the last 297 shots he’s faced.
Johnny be better: In the six games since his return from injury, defenseman Johnny Oduya has looked more like the Johnny Oduya who Hawks fans had grown to love. He’s a plus-5 over that stretch, if plus/minus means anything to you. He’s been more secure with the puck and better defensively. With the bottom of the Hawks’ D-corps in the state they’re in, they need Oduya to be as dependable as he’s been in years past.
Playoff placement: A lot has been made of Chicago’s chase to pass Nashville and St. Louis in the standings. As of Tuesday morning, the Hawks are two points behind the Predators and three behind the Blues, with a game in hand on each opponent.
Theoretically, the Hawks could pass both teams and win the Central Division. Would that really be the best thing for the Hawks, though? If they do win the division, they will likely face the top wild-card team. That could be Minnesota, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver or (gasp!) the Los Angeles Kings. Of course, no one wants a part of L.A. Calgary and Vancouver shouldn’t scare anyone. But Minnesota has been the NHL’s hottest team in 2015, and Winnipeg matches up well against Chicago.
Truthfully, there is no truly “easy” path to the conference final. I’m conflicted. Let me know how you feel with your comments.
Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.