Jimmy Howard. The Chicago Blackhawks are probably seeing him in their sleep, the latest goaltender that they’ve struggled to solve in the playoffs.
This postseason’s Mike Smith for the Blackhawks, if you will.
For the last three games, the Blackhawks have gotten just two goals past the Detroit goaltender. Two, and both of those were by Patrick Kane. It’s why the Blackhawks are looking up at a 3-1 deficit in these Western Conference semifinals, and it’s why they’ve been frustrated, frazzled and looking for answers to beat them.
So with their proverbial backs up against the wall, the Blackhawks need to pull out all the stops to make sure Howard gets a lot fewer of them.
Howard has been great, there’s no doubt about that. But he’s also seen a lot of what the Blackhawks have thrown at him, and that has to change. Yep, we’re breaking out the old get-traffic-in-front-of-the-net mantra. But there’s a reason teams preach it: it works. Now the Blackhawks need to implement it.
“We’ve had some quality shots. We’d like more quality with traffic,” coach Joel Quenneville said following Friday’s team meeting and optional practice. “He’s been challenging. We’re getting decent looks, but more traffic would make it more challenging.”
The Blackhawks have had their shots and they’ve hit their posts and crossbars. Those iron shots have been especially frustrating, since they represent the few they’ve actually gotten past Howard. They need those to go in, obviously. They also need more shots that Howard doesn’t see.
“I think we have a lot of shots in these games, but maybe we have to go in and try to have a good screen on him and make sure he doesn’t see the puck,” Michael Frolik said. “We can be better with that. It’s hard, but he’s played unbelievable. We have to be better.”
Traffic, sticks, bodies, screens: whatever it takes, the Blackhawks have to do it. The usual stuff isn’t working. The perimeter shots, the one and dones, Howard’s seen them, stopped them and hasn’t allowed many rebounds on them. It’s time for the Blackhawks to get those ugly goals. Otherwise, it’ll be an ugly end to these playoffs.
“There are some instances where pucks come through, they hit the post and he doesn’t see them. We’re doing everything we can. It’s going to work for us,” Jonathan Toews said. “We’re confident we can turn things around.”