The Chicago Blackhawks have been thoroughly outplayed and outshot in their last two games, but there is relief on the horizon as the team will have four days off after their Sunday game against the Minnesota Wild.
Fortunately for the struggling Hawks, they are facing a Wild team that is having its own difficulties. Since a 5-3 loss to the Blackhawks on Dec. 16, the Wild have lost 10 of their last 12 games, and there are rumors flying around that head coach Mike Yeo could be on the hot seat. The team is still within shouting distance of a playoff spot, but with how well the Dallas Stars have been playing of late and how good the top three teams in the Central Division are, Minnesota could be in big trouble if they don’t get things sorted out soon.
Part of the problem for Minnesota in recent weeks has been their goaltending. Niklas Backstrom will get the start against the Hawks on Sunday night, and he hasn’t won a game in nearly a month. He’s given up a total of 19 goals in his past six appearances, including two losses to the Blackhawks, and his save percentage is .873 in those contests.
The team’s offense has been struggling as well, only scoring seven goals in their past four games. They have been getting plenty of shots on goal in that stretch, but their lack of ability to convert on those chances has made their defensive and goaltending woes even more of an issue.
As for the Blackhawks, there are a few things that they’ll need to clean up on as well. Their defensive discipline has been sorely lacking in their past two games, as they allowed 44 shots to the Wild on Thursday night and were routinely skated around on Friday against the Edmonton Oilers. The third period was especially bad, as defensemen kept pinching in with no forward support retreating to the point, and the team lost a 5-2 blowout result.
If Chicago is going to go into their upcoming break on a high note, they are going to have to clean up that area of the game. Exhaustion could have something to do with it as the team has been travelling a lot in recent games, but communication has to improve as well.
Another area to keep an eye on is the offensive production of the team’s second line. With Kris Versteeg out, Joel Quenneville has tried a couple of players alongside Patrick Kane and Brad Richards, but the line has yet to get moving in the right direction. Kane is the type of player who can get things going by himself, but the team would be a lot better off if there was another potential scoring threat on the line along with him in order to take some pressure off the winger’s shoulders.