February 08, 2011
If the playoffs started today, the reigning Stanley Cup champions would not be in them. The Chicago Blackhawks are 27-22-4 for 58 points, putting them third in their own division and 11th overall in the Western Conference after last night's loss to the Calgary Flames.
The frustration's been building. Chicago's been a feast or famine team this season, their fortunes swinging wildly from week to week: A 5-1-1 run to start the season became a 2-5 skid; a 5-0-1 stretch in January has been followed by a 1-4 streak that continued in Calgary.
Offensively, they're averaging 3.11 goals per game, down from 3.20 last season but still near the top of the NHL. Part of that success has been their 44 power-play goals on a special teams unit that's converted at a 24.3 percent clip and looked great ... until recently.
The last two games have seen Chicago go 0-for-9 on the power play. Nothing to panic about, but perhaps systemic of larger problems with the team's effort in this latest slump.
"F--- the power play. ... Nobody goes to the net to score goals. That's why we don't win."
Keith played on both power-play units Monday, as Joel Quenneville changed personnel when the poor attempts piled up. But given the chance again to comment on their man-advantage play, Keith went back to even-strength.
"The other team had power plays too," he said. "They didn't score. They got it 5-on-5. If we start relying on 5-on-5, we might win, instead of relying on the power play and blaming the power play or the penalty kill. We start doing better 5-on-5, we'll win hockey games then."
The Blackhawks have scored 179 goals at even-strength and have given up 149 goals.
"This is a time to play well, and we're not doing that," he said.
John Talarico of Chicago Now called the Calgary game the "unanimous ‘panic button' game of 2011 for fans and players alike."
The scary thing is that the standings won't stay this close forever. Now is when things tend to separate between the contenders and pretenders. Every game matters. The Hawks haven't proven over a single 2-week stretch this season that they understand this. If they're going to make a run, that mentality has to set in immediately.
During the past two seasons, the month of March has provided endless nightmares for Blackhawks fans. The Campbell injury, the last-second debacle in Philly, the Colorado/Islanders back-to-back Sunday games in 09 and other losing streaks are just a few examples. This year, a performance in late February and March will need to be the opposite of the last two seasons. Instead of being able to coast, they'll need to turn it on. I remain faithful that they will, and you should too. As long as Jonathan Toews is on this roster, I refuse to believe they're going to die easy.
We're all waiting for a sustained run from this team. The run that establishes them in the top 5 of the conference rather than the bubble. The run that's characterized by the intensity and poise that they exhibited in 2010. The run that sees Patrick Kane(notes) put together a point streak (as he did last month in a 4-1 run for Chicago) or Marian Hossa(notes) get hot (4 goals in 16 games since his return from injury is not-so-hot). The run that sees Corey Crawford(notes) officially accept the role of the New Niemi instead of fumbling it.
Things can change. As Joel Quenneville said last night: "A week ago, we were in a pretty good spot. ... And then all of a sudden, we're not where we want to be."
With 29 games remaining, they aren't where they want to be; and it's obvious the Western Conference won't be doing them any favors.