No reason to sound the alarm

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 02: Patrick Kane #88 and Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks get ready just prior to a faceoff against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on February 2, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

No reason to sound the alarm. No need for nails and coffins. The Chicago Blackhawks are fine. Are there concerns? Sure. The Hawks have lost three of their last four and four of their last six. Their stars are struggling to score and they are being outshot regularly. However, they are currently second in the Western Conference Central Division with a record of 5-3-2 in this young season with 72 games yet to play. The Chicago Blackhawks are struggling, but they have a pedigree to right the ship quickly and a surprising new strength. So, what’s right and what’s wrong?

What’s right:
1. Surprisingly-The penalty kill: Last year, the Blackhawks were 24th in the league with a penalty kill (PK) percentage of 77.7 %. This year, the Blackhawks are seventh in the league with a kill percentage of 85.4 %. Thank goodness. With the lack of scoring, the PK is keeping the Hawks in games. It is only a matter of time until the goals start coming. Add increased goal scoring to Corey Crawford and an aggressive Penalty Kill under the tutelage of Ulf Samuelson and we will have a successful Chicago Blackhawks team.

2. Patrick Kane: Surprise surprise, Coach Quenneville changes Kane’s line-mates again and he continues being successful. What gets lost in the conversation about Kane is that his success is not dependent on those around him. His line virtually changes year to year. He adapts every year and continues to light the lamp. Two years ago, Kane scored a league leading 106 points; last year he tied for second with 89. So far this year, he has posted 12 points in 10 games. In the last four games, the Hawks have lost three of four. Kane has scored four points on 17 shots. His line-mates have only managed one point on nine shots. He continues to thrive no matter the success of his mates.
3. The fourth line: The line of Tommy Wingels, John Hayden and Lance Bouma added five points in the recent slide by the Hawks.  They were as productive as lines one and two, and more productive than the third line. They have provided continuous pressure, aggressive play, and help on the penalty kill. They are now the quintessential fourth line. When the first and second line return to form, they will add the book end to successful games.

4. Young defenseman: Jan Rutta and Gustav Forsling have taken their place as a solid second line behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.  Both are playing better than Seabrook (more on that later), but breaking them up to have one play with Keith is a mistake. These two are growing better together and provide a strong backbone to defensive zone faceoffs. Both Rutta and Forsling have 60% of their starts in the defensive zone, yet both have added points to help the offense. Rutta has five points, while Forsling has four points. They have as many points as Seabrook with fewer giveaways, less power play time and far less starts in the offensive zone.

What’s wrong:
1. The top six….or top nine: The top six must score for a team to be successful. In the past four games, of which the Hawks have lost three, three of the top six have added two points cumulatively. If you add the third line, only one more point is added by those three on an assist from Alex DeBrincat. Artem Anisimov, Patrick Sharp and Nick Schmaltz have added no points in the past four games. Brandon Saad and Ryan Hartman have only added one. Captain Jonathan Toews has added only two points, but has added pressure with 13 shots on goal. The top lines must start scoring if the Blackhawks are going to make the playoffs.

2. The Powerplay: The Chicago Blackhawks have maintained their 19th place in the league, but they have dropped in their percentage. Last year, the Blackhawks scored 18 % of the time on the powerplay.  This year they have dropped to 15.9%. There are many times in this young season when the Blackhawks struggle to enter the offensive zone and maintain puck possession. When they have managed to gain the zone, they have consistently managed to play catch on the outside, failing to get to the net. The Blackhawks must get more aggressive if they are to improve their scoring chances. In an effort to do this, Coach Q has placed Patrick Kane on both the first and second lines recently. Time will tell if this will help, or wear down Kane

3. Brent Seabrook: While scoring five points in this early season, Brent Seabrook has struggled. Seabrook starts in the offensive zone 64% of the time, yet has no more points that Jan Rutta who consistently starts in the defensive zone. Seabrook also has one takeaway while giving it away 11 times. He is clearly slowing down and has shown bad judgment in his errant passing. Most alarming is the ridiculous contract given to an aging defenseman. Seabrook is already slowing down, but has six more years on his contract with a cap hit of $6.875 million per year. He has been passed up by youngsters Rutta and Forsling, and it will only get worse for Seabrook.  Maybe it’s time to hide Seabrook on the third line and put Connor Murphy on line one with Keith. He isn’t quite ready, but he does have good upside.

Good news from practice- Coach Q has mixed up the lines. Alex DeBrincat will join Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad on line one, while Richard Panik will join Schmaltz and Kane on line two. John Hayden will join Patrick Sharp and Artem Anisimov on line three. Ryan Hartman will join the grinders on line four after some physical play in Vegas. The key to these moves is DeBrincat on line one with Toews and Saad. DeBrincat is a scorer, but he is not a great two-way player, and he’s not confident enough to carry the puck for long.  Putting him with Toews and Saad, who are both excellent two way players, will allow DeBrincat to find the open spots and snipe shots after his line-mates win tough board battles. This will pay off for the Hawks.

The Blackhawks play the Nashville Predators Friday night. We will see if these changes make a difference. It’s only a matter of time. Silence those alarms for now and put down the tool belt. These Hawks will rally the troops.
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About Steve Dishon 22 Articles

My name is Steve Dishon. I am the Chicago Blackhawks beat writer for Blue HQ Media. I am a 1993 Graduate of Indiana University with a B.A. in English with a minor in Tele-Communications. I am the current Athletic Director at Taylor Middle/Senior High School in Kokomo Indiana. I am a life-long sports fan growing up in a “Hoosiers” household. My love for hockey began in the scoreboard section of the newspaper- ESPN not yet in existence. My love grew as ESPN blossomed in the early 80s. It was cemented when I saw Brett Hull and Steve Yzerman play in Indianapolis. I hope to bring a unique perspective to your love of the Blackhawks.