The Chicago Blackhawks are struggling at the moment.
Chicago is 4-1-5 in its last 10 games, meaning the team has 13 points over that stretch. Those numbers aren't as bad as they look and would still have the team cruising towards another high playoff spot, but it's the way the Hawks have lost games recently that has been disconcerting.
The Hawks woeful stretch of play continued last night in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Colorado Avalanche in which they out-shot their opponent 48-26.
The Blackhawks are still one of the hardest teams to beat in regulation this season, but have been dreadful in overtime. The team hasn't scored a goal and has a combined record with shootouts at 4-11 in the extra period this season.
Scoring in general has been at a premium for the Hawks lately, a shocking sentiment for the NHL's leading offense. They have scored 30 and given up 28 during their last 10, but the former number is inflated by high-scoring outings against Colorado, St. Louis and New Jersey toward the front of this stretch. The new year has been disastrous, as the Hawks are 2-1-4 in 2014 including a 1-1-3 mark in their last five.
While scoring goals in general has suddenly become tough for the Hawks to do, one of the main reasons is that their best players, namely Patrick Kane, are not producing. Kane started off the new season hot following his playoffs MVP honors in 2013, and for a while appeared to be the guy to overtake Sidney Crosby for the scoring title this season, but he's struggled mightily in 2014.
The biggest reason? Consistency.
It's not just about finding consistency in Kane's game, which has been off in the seven games the Blackhawks have played in 2014 in which he has yet to score a goal and has only recorded three points (all assists). The Blackhawks' seemingly never-ending search for a quality second-line center to skate with Kane is causing the 25-year-old to slump and is affecting his ability to be one of the best playmakers in the league.
Since losing Dave Bolland to the Toronto Maple Leafs after the 2013 Stanley Cup-winning season, the Blackhawks have been searching for an answer in the revolving carousel at center to skate on Kane's line to no avail. Despite his woeful start to 2014, he still is tied for second in the NHL in points with 56, trailing only Crosby for the league lead. But he hasn't been able to create opportunities for his linemates recently, and his game has been flat.
Always unafraid to juggle his lines to get the performance the Blackhawks need to win, head coach Joel Quenneville has shaken things up and rotated through turns of Michal Handzus, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Brandon Pirri lining up at the dot on Kane's line. Shaw has benefited the most from Kane's play and has the highest numbers, with 24 points on the season in 47 games.
What's the best option at Center to maximize Kane's potential?
But is Shaw the immediate answer to get Kane's mojo back where it needs to be? No.
The Blackhawks need to slot the winger back into a line with Jonathan Toews, at least in the short-term to jump-start the offense again. The duo have always skated together in crunch time, and the combination allows for both players to get the most out of their games while the benefits affect the entire team. This season, while they haven't skated together very often, Toews has been on the ice for all nine of Kane's power-play goals.
With top prospect Teuvo Teravainen—the Finnish sensation who recently captained his nation to a World Junior Championship Gold Medal—still a solid year or so away from being NHL ready, Kane will play his best hockey if he's paired up with Toews for the moment. Kane has dramatically changed his game over the past two seasons to become more of an all-around player, and ignites the offense when he's playing well.
With the Blackhawks primed for three huge matchups in a row in home games against the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks on Friday, a rematch of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins on Sunday and then a trip to Detroit to play the Red Wings for the first time this season on Wednesday, the Hawks need the offense to start lighting the lamp again quickly.
While the time apart raised Kane's game earlier in the season, putting him back together with Toews will help solve that issue for the time being.