Everyone wants to find a scapegoat to blame for the Chicago Blackhawks’ early season struggles this year. Whether it’s the fans who think Andrew Ladd or Dustin Byfuglien needed to come back, those that want to blame Marty Turco or the universal hatred for the salary cap, there is one simple truth this year that needs to be solved quickly on the West Side.
The Blackhawks need to finish a game.
The third period has become an epidemic for the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are only 5-3 when taking a lead into the third period, and have allowed 20 goals in the third periods of the first 17 games. In fact, the Blackhawks have allowed a goal in the final frame in 12 of the first 17 games, and Sunday was the seventh game in which the Hawks have allowed more than one goal in the third.
Injuries and the summer exodus are the two major contributors to the third period collapses we’ve seen early this year. Because of key players missing games already and the losses the Hawks suffered to their third and fourth lines, players have been forced into roles and ice time numbers that they haven’t played in their careers.
Looking at the average ice time numbers for the top players on the Blackhawks in the first five weeks, the workload has been heavy for some of the Hawks players. Here’s a look at the ice time increases for some of the Blackhawks this season over last year:
- Duncan Keith—2:30
- Brent Seabrook—2:20
- Nick Boynton—3:25
- Patrick Sharp—1:47
- Jonathan Toews—1:17
- Tomas Kopecky—9:09
That isn’t a typo. Tomas Kopecky’s ice time has increased from 9:29 per game to 18:38 in just one summer. In fact, Kopecky’s career high in average ice time is 10:25 with Detroit in 2008-09, a number that would be eclipsed by over eight minutes at his current pace.
The games missed from some key Blackhawks should benefit the team in the long term, though. Early in the year, the ice time missed by Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa opened up ice time on the top lines for Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille. Stalberg has been fantastic on a line with Kane and Jonathan Toews, and has responded well to the increased playing time.
In his last three games, Stalberg has played at least 16:28 and has registered four points (one goal, three assists) and is plus-two.
In those same three games, Kopecky has zero points and is minus-five. His ice time as gone down in each of the three games as well.
Running out of gas is a soft excuse and a troubling one early in a season. But it’s a reality for the Blackhawks right now.
As the Blackhawks get healthy, Quenneville should be able to find a more consistent rotation and move back to appropriate ice time levels for the players on the roster. Since Campbell returned, Boynton’s ice time has fallen off; Kopecky should see the same impact with the increased production from Stalberg, making him a more realistic top-six forward.