With a breathtaking combination of poor defense, sporadic offense and questionable decision-making, the Chicago Blackhawks dropped a 5-2 decision to the Los Angeles Kings Monday night, putting themselves on the brink of elimination from the playoffs in the process.
Naturally, Tuesday morning has brought about all of the cries of gloom and doom from a good chunk of the Chicago fanbase, but the real question is this: how dire is this situation for the Blackhawks? For help in answering that question, we’ve fired up the Madhouse Enforcer Panic Meter.
No, the Blackhawks’ offense hasn’t had a banner series, but there were some glimmers of hope amid all of the rubble of the Game 4 loss.
For starters, there was the play of Patrick Kane as he was reunited with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell. He may have only picked up an assist in the game, but according to possession statistics, he had his best game since Game 6 of the series against the Minnesota Wild. His Corsi (a stat that describes the amount of shots a player is on the ice for and against) was through the roof, and his controlled zone entries tracking shows that he and his teammates were able to control possession of the puck with a much higher degree of regularity than he was when he was with Michal Handzus.
Our pal Jen from Second City Hockey has the details here:
The Blackhawks also got more production out of Brandon Saad on the offensive side of things in Game 4, but there is one area on that side of the ice that has to be fixed: the power play. The Blackhawks once again struggled to move the puck around the zone and seem to be having a tough time finding soft spots in the Kings’ defense. Whether it’s personnel changes or strategic moves, the Hawks have got to find a way to get shots on net when they have the man-advantage, or else they’re sitting ducks in the series.
There really isn’t a lot that can be said about the Blackhawks’ team defense in this series other than it’s been absolutely putrid. The Kings are moving the puck through the neutral zone with impunity, and when they get into the offensive zone the Blackhawks are ceding large chunks of ice to them. The results in the past few games have been catastrophic to say the least, and the team is down 3-1 in the series largely because of these breakdowns.
Game 4 provided several great examples. On the Kings’ first goal, Jeff Carter got the puck near the front of the net, and passed it out to the point where Jake Muzzin retrieved it. Neither Blackhawks forward made a move to cover him, and Muzzin skated unabated through the slot. Carter also got back to the front of the net, skating casually behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and with the big forward providing a screen in front of Corey Crawford, Muzzin blasted a shot into the goal to give the Kings the lead.
The Kings’ second goal of the game also came via a couple of defensive blunders. With Keith holding the puck below the goal line, the Hawks’ forwards began to break out of the zone. Keith held onto the puck for far too long and ended up allowing Anze Kopitar to cleanly steal it from his stick. Kopitar then wheeled and fired a pass to the front of the net, where Marian Gaborik, with inside position on Seabrook, one-timed a shot past Crawford to make it a 2-0 game.
Those kinds of breakdowns aren’t ones we’re used to seeing by the Blackhawks, but they’re becoming increasingly prevalent as the Kings gain confidence in the series.
There may be some fans banging the drum that Crawford needs to be benched in favor of Antti Raanta (seemingly forgetting that Raanta gave up six goals in his last start against the Nashville Predators), but their cries for a change in net simply aren’t founded in reality.
Yes, Crawford has given up a good number of goals in this series. Yes, there have been a few of them that he should have stopped. The fact of the matter is that Crawford is getting victimized by a defense that has seemingly abandoned their game plan, and he is having to make way more difficult saves than he should have to. Failing to clear traffic from the front of the net, leaving the slot wide open, and losing every conceivable board battle are not recipes for success for any team, and the Blackhawks are doing all of those things in front of Crawford.
If Raanta were to be called upon to play in Game 5 (something that will not happen), he would have the exact same problems, and would likely be even worse than Crawford. Changing goaltenders is not a viable option at this point, and frankly isn’t a smart option either.
Panic Meter: 6/10
The other day we posted that the panic meter should be at a “5” after the Hawks’ Game 3 loss. Game 4 may have been even uglier than that contest, and the Blackhawks are one game away from elimination, but there are still reasons for optimism for this team.
For starters, the Kings have proven time and again in this postseason that they are an incredibly streaky team. Yes, they came back in amazing fashion from down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks, but they lost three games in a row in that series. Yes, they were down 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks in the second round and won, but they lost three games in a row (including two on home ice) to put themselves in that situation.
Not only are the Kings capable of losing three games in a row, but the Blackhawks are capable of winning three games in a row too. They did it against the St. Louis Blues in the first round, and if you include their wins against the Minnesota Wild, they did it again when they beat the Kings in Game 1 of this series.
The Blackhawks are a team that has thrived on adversity over the past few years, and when push comes to shove, that’s the mentality they are going to have to take when they go up against the Kings in Game 5. Simplifying the game and executing their defensive strategy more effectively could go a long way toward changing the tide of that series, and if there’s any team that’s good at looking small-picture at a series in which they need to just win one game at a time, it’s the Blackhawks.