The Chicago Blackhawks are licking their wounds a bit after these last two games, where they’ve gotten just one point and given up 11 goals. They enter Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild (again) with a 6-2-3 mark, good for 15 points and sixth in the Western Conference.
There are some good things to muse about, some bad. So while you contemplate your brunch order and sip that mimosa, let’s hit our random musings for this Sunday.
1. The Blackhawks, and the rest of us, are finding out something about parting ways with players: it’s not easy to replace them. Obviously the Blackhawks didn’t lose the number of players after this Stanley Cup victory as they did their 2010 one. But it’s not always about quantity; it’s also about quality. And once again, the Blackhawks are trying to find new role players to replace the damn good ones they once had. It’s not as simple as calling up a guy from Rockford and saying, “OK, it’s your turn.” No news flash, but the AHL isn’t the NHL. It’s just a slight difference from performing vs. the best in the minors to playing the best in the world. It takes chemistry, ability and some patience. Welcome to a work in progress.
2. To that end, right now, in my opinion, the Blackhawks are missing Michael Frolik more than any of them (let’s put Ray Emery as a very, very close second). It was an absolute roll of the dice by coach Joel Quenneville to not just put Frolik on the penalty kill, but to see it work. And it did, swimmingly. Frolik’s success on the kill was a surprise to many, probably to Frolik, too. He and Marcus Kruger, who also took to the kill, added great fourth-line chemistry to the Blackhawks. When the team parted ways with Frolik, they looked for the next guy to adapt and thrive in that PK spot. They’re still looking.
3. Patrick Kane has six goals in his first 11 games, leading the Blackhawks in that category. He’s also a minus-9, worst on the team. There are some extremes for you.
4. Meanwhile, Patrick Sharp is as snake-bit as they come right now. It’s not for lack of shooting; Sharp has 45 shots on goal this season, 13th most in the league. But he has just one goal to show for it. As Quenneville said on Saturday, after Sharp came up empty on seven shots, “everybody has stretches. You put pucks in the net and get confidence. If you don’t score, compounds itself.” You have to think Sharp will bust out of his slump soon.
5. One game after getting rebound and tip-in goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Blackhawks didn’t do enough of that on Saturday vs. the Wild. Again, they had their shots. Again, they had some solid opportunities to score. But they weren’t in Niklas Backstrom’s discomfort zone enough. “He played great,” Bryan Bickell said. “But we just need to turn it on to a new level. We’re not playing there yet. We have to reach down and find it.”
6. Commenting off Bickell’s comment, we have to remember it’s October. Yes, the Blackhawks would’ve loved to start this season a well-oiled machine but it’s not quite there yet. Unlike last year, which featured the lockout-shortened, 48-game sprint to the playoffs, we’re back to the 82-game marathon format. When there are dips, they’ll be more noticeable. There’s also more time to work them out. Take a deep breath, folks, and get back to that mimosa.