Chicago Blackhawks: 5 Areas That Need Improvement to Get Back on Track
The Chicago Blackhawks look a little lost on the ice as of late.
Losing two of their last three games—and looking horrible in all three of those—the Blackhawks need to improve on a few areas in order to return to winning form.
They won the first six games of the season in pretty dominant fashion—outscoring opponents, stellar defense and spectacular play by Corey Crawford.
But all of that has gone to the wayside; the Blackhawks have fallen off the map. Still leading the NHL with 16 points, the Blackhawks are struggling to score and failing to sustain enough offensive-zone pressure in order to set up.
Fatigue may be a big factor in why the Blackhawks have been playing so poorly the last few games, but it can't be an excuse with a tight 48-game schedule. Teams have to find a way to battle through fatigue and injuries—otherwise they may miss the playoffs.
These are the five areas that need improvement for the Blackhawks to get back on track.
The past three games have shown that the Blackhawks need a little help getting the puck out of their defensive zone.
Chipping the puck behind the net has caused the 'Hawks a world of problems—most notably, when they turn it over trying for the stretch pass.
The Blackhawks are a known puck-possession team, which means that they will try to hold onto the puck for as long as possible. This includes passing it between teammates in their defensive zone.
The only problem is teams like the Vancouver Canucks, Minnesota Wild or even San Jose Sharks will push hard on the forecheck. A successful forecheck will lead to a defensive-zone turnover and a great opportunity for the opponent.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are known for this—it's their bread and butter when it comes to setting up plays down ice.
But when the puck gets turned over, its a gigantic failure—one that needs to stop.
Clear the puck and get it out of the zone as fast as possible. This is especially true against more aggressive teams—defensive-zone strategy must be changed in order to compete against these teams.
The 'Hawks were successful at this in their first six games, but sometimes it's best to change up the strategy every once in a while to keep the opponent guessing.
Progress on the Power Play
The power play seemed to click when the Blackhawks were on their six-game winning streak.
But as of late, its lacking, and someone will have to take the blame soon enough.
Failing to score on the power play seems to be last on the coaching staff's agenda. This is mainly due to the fact that the penalty kill is coming up big. The Blackhawks are ranked No. 1 in the NHL on the penalty kill.
But as the season drags on, the power play will become a major factor in deciding games. The Blackhawks need to fix their power-play problems before it's too late.
First and foremost, entering the offensive zone while on the power play has become a hassle. The 'Hawks are even failing to get the puck past their own blue line.
That needs to change—new strategies need to be worked on and the stars on this team need to step up—just as they did on their six-game winning streak.
Response to Physical Play
This has been a sore spot on the Blackhawks' roster for the past three seasons.
Lack of physical play by the Blackhawks may have cost them a few games over the years—specifically when they play teams like the Vancouver Canucks.
When teams go after the Blackhawks—charge them into the boards—they fail to sustain enough offensive pressure to score goals.
This has become a very effective strategy for shutting down the great offensive talent on the Blackhawks' top two lines.
The only answer is to hit back hard, or hard enough that the opponent gets the hint.
But there are few guys on this roster who are able to do that—Brent Seabrook, Brandon Bollig, Bryan Bickell and Daniel Carcillo to name a few.
More aggressive hitting may be the answer to a successful season, but only time will tell.
The First 20 Minutes
During their six-game winning streak, the Blackhawks were able to get on the board early.
This was most notable against the Los Angeles Kings when the 'Hawks put up three goals in the first period and pretty much killed off any momentum from Kings' fans.
Now—probably due to fatigue—the Blackhawks are starting off games at a sluggish and very lackluster pace.
This allows teams to generate momentum, which can be very dangerous when on the road.
Getting off on the right foot will be very important this season as most teams will slow down by the third period. It's hard to generate offensive opportunities when fatigued, especially in the third period of a hockey game.
Considering that the 'Hawks still have three games left on this two-week road trip, they need to generate some great scoring opportunities early and often.
When they fail to score in the first period, the Blackhawks barely put up two goals a game—by NHL standards, that's not going to win very many hockey games.
Coach Joel Quenneville said that shootouts would be a decisive factor in whether or not a team makes the playoffs. (via ESPNChicago).
So far, that seems to be the case as the Blackhawks have played in three straight shootouts. Two of those ended in losses, and one in a victory thanks to the stellar goaltending of Ray Emery.
In nine shootout attempts, the Blackhawks have only scored twice. With all the elite talent on the top two lines, more pucks need to get in the net.
It's not fair to just blame a team for losing in a shootout—after all, they fought for a full 65 minutes and grabbed at least a point for the loss.
But just as Quenneville stated: Shootouts may be what stands between making the playoffs or not.
For that reason, the Blackhawks must improve on their shootout attempts.
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