The Chicago Blackhawks are heading to Nashville in a precarious spot in their series, facing a 2-0 series deficit and two straight games at the always raucous Bridgestone Arena.
Needless to say, Blackhawks fans can’t be feeling very optimistic after the team’s first two games. Not only did the Blackhawks give up five goals in their Game 2 loss on Saturday night, but the team has yet to score a goal in the series, something that has happened only one other time through the first two games of any playoff series that the team has played.
So just how worried should fans be? To answer that question, we’re taking a look at our Blackhawks Panic Meter.
Offense – 7/10
Any team can go back-to-back games without scoring a goal, but the timing of this scoring drought for the Blackhawks could obviously not be worse.
The team has only managed 59 shots on goal in the two games of the series, and while that fits in line with their average of just over 30 shots on goal per game during the regular season, the fact remains that the Blackhawks are not getting scoring chances from dangerous areas of the ice, and they’re making life way too easy on Pekka Rinne by not getting traffic to the front of the net.
Add to the mix the fact that the Blackhawks have had trouble breaking through the Predators’ neutral zone trapping attack, leaving three and four players in between the blue line and the red line, and you have a recipe for disaster.
The Blackhawks have the skill to break through that attack at some point, but the question is whether or not they can find the right combination of players necessary to do that. Joel Quenneville has been mixing and matching his lines over the course of the last few games, but will he be able to hit on the right setup? He has in the past, but past success is not necessarily indicative of future returns when the roster looks as radically different as this Blackhawks roster does from previous years.
Defense – 7/10
The Blackhawks’ defense was markedly better during the regular season than it was last year, with more depth and more players stepping into bigger roles than the 2015-16 squad was able to muster.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, the defense started to show some slowness and age in the latter part of the season, and that has continued to be an issue during the postseason. Johnny Oduya’s game has been beset by mistakes and slow skating ever since he returned to the lineup, and whether that’s a product of age or lingering injury is irrelevant, as he clearly isn’t the same guy as he was in the 2014-15 season.
Oduya isn’t the only player that is struggling with ineffective play. Both Brian Campbell, who is showing his age and has done little to help drive possession in the series, and Brent Seabrook, who has been slowing down for two years and has only been effective in limited spurts, have looked bad as well, and that has wreaked havoc on the Blackhawks’ overall defensive scheme.
Add to the mix the fact that Duncan Keith may finally be facing the reality of all those minutes from previous playoff years catching up to him, and that Niklas Hjalmarsson can only take so much of a beating in terms of shot blocks and body checks, and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the team’s defense moving forward.
Total – 7/10
In previous years, this number would have been closer to four or five even with the fact that the team lost two straight games at home. The errors they have been making are largely correctable strategic errors, and this team has plenty of depth on both sides of the puck if they want to make lineup changes.
The problem here is that this current team has a lot of holes that need to be filled in a very short amount of time. Nashville hasn’t even fully opened up the throttle on their offense, and even that hasn’t been enough to help guys like Campbell and Oduya on the back end as they struggle to keep up with the Predators’ forwards.
The offense has been stagnating in the postseason as well, largely because their bread and butter plays are being taken away from them. The Blackhawks are at their best when they’re able to move the puck around the zone quickly to set up shooting lanes, but Nashville’s aggressive forecheck has limited their ability to do so, and as a result guys like Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane have not had the space they’ve needed to put the puck on net in high-danger scoring areas.
The Blackhawks also have been unable to get high-quality zone entries because of Nashville’s stifling neutral zone trap, and they have shown a complete inability to go into the offensive zone and win puck battles along the boards when they do try to dump the puck in and catch the Nashville defenders flat-footed at the blue line.
All of these things are incredibly concerning, and as a result, the panic level for Blackhawks fans should be a lot higher than it seemingly is. This team is in real danger of getting swept out of the playoffs, and unless they can find the fountain of youth and start to execute in ways that they have been unable to execute in so far in this postseason, their time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs could be nearing its end before it truly began.