Gregory Shamus, Getty Images
Brendan Smith #2 of the Detroit Red Wings battles for the puck in the first period against Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena on May 23, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.
The morning after a Chicago Blackhawks loss is never one to inspire feelings of goodwill, but after Thursday night’s loss to the Detroit Red Wings, fans and media figures alike are particularly ill-tempered. With the Blackhawks one defeat away from elimination in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, one question keeps being asked over and over: “what has gone wrong for this team?”
The simple answer, of course, is that nothing has really gone wrong, but rather the Hawks have been outplayed by a Detroit team completely sold on the gameplan of their head coach Mike Babcock. The results have spoken for themselves, as the Wings have knocked the Hawks off stride and frustrated them so thoroughly that they find themselves in the midst of their first three game losing streak of the season.
On the Chicago side of things, the issue most often pointed to by scribblers and fans alike is the lack of production from the team’s star players. After all, in the last three games the Hawks have only managed two goals, both of which were scored by Patrick Kane, so where does that leave the other high priced players on the team?
For example, Jonathan Toews has yet to score in nine playoff games, matching the longest such drought of his career. Compare that to the well over point per game pace that he put up in the 2010 playoffs, when he had seven goals and 22 assists in 22 games, and you can see why the focus has been mainly on him. He isn’t the only one struggling, however.
Marian Hossa has four goals and three assists in nine games, which isn’t awful but doesn’t look quite so good when you realize that he had two goals and one assist in Game 5 of the Hawks’ first round series with the Minnesota Wild. The numbers do indicate that he is on a better pace than the one he set in 2010, when he had three goals and 12 assists in 22 games, but even still, he’s been invisible since scoring a goal in Game 1 of this series.
Finally, even Patrick Sharp is struggling. After a sizzling Game 1 in which he had a goal and two assists to go along with seven shots, Sharp has one assist, six shots on goal (including one in Game 4), and is a minus-2 for the Hawks.
The team’s depth has also been much appreciated over the course of the season, but the four lines they were rolling during the regular season have seemingly gone dry in recent games.
Despite his best efforts Brandon Saad is still stuck on the one assist that he had in the Wild series, and Viktor Stalberg has yet to do anything offensively since coming back into the lineup for Game 3. Bryan Bickell has also been ludicrously quiet in this series, with no points and only three shots on goal in four games.
Going back to playoff years past, the scoring distribution has been surprisingly even compared to this year. In 2010, when the Hawks won the Cup, they had nine players averaging a half a point or more per game. In 2011, when they went down 3-0 to the Vancouver Canucks but stormed back to nearly wint the series, they had eight. In 2012, when they were stymied in every way by Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, they had eight. In this current playoff run, the Hawks have FOUR players averaging a half point or more per game. Sharp is the only one over a point per game in the nine games the Hawks have played.
So what does all of this mean for the Hawks? In a nutshell, it means that if one is looking to blame the Blackhawks’ stars for their lack of production, then they also need to realize that when the Hawks have been successful in the playoffs, their depth players have stood tall as well. None of them have been doing so in this postseason, and if they can’t turn things around in short order, this team could be firing up their cell phones to book tee times next week.