When the Blackhawks began training camp in September, the goal was clear. It didn’t matter how many points they had in the 2016-17 regular season; the abrupt postseason end was ugly, stunning and forgettable. From the start this season, they had to play hungry hockey.
“A big part of what we gotta do here is get to the playoffs, and you’ve got to have a good regular season,” Brent Seabrook said when camp began. “The playoffs last year didn’t sit well with me, and I’m sure it didn’t sit well with a lot of other guys that were here. So we’re going to be ready to roll right off the start, and we want to get in a good position to have the best spot we can for the playoffs.”
In the Blackhawks’ first two regular-season games that hunger was evident. They were relentless, confident and seemingly scoring at will. But the Blackhawks’ course has taken a U-turn since then. Hesitation has replaced aggressiveness. They’re in a goal drought, be it 5-on-5 or the power play. And when doubt creeps into this team’s game, it’s hard to shake.
When the Blackhawks fell 6-3 on Saturday night in Colorado, it was their third consecutive loss and fifth regulation loss in their last eight games. For a team that came out of the gates so strong, the latest batch of games is a concern.
Let’s look at the Blackhawks’ last 10 games. There have definitely been vintage Blackhawks hockey moments. They’ve had 20 minutes here, 40 minutes there, but the complete games have eluded them for a while. On Friday the Blackhawks’ first period was one of their best of the season, right up there with their first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 5. Despite that dominating first period, the Blackhawks led just 1-0 on an Artem Anisimov short-handed goal. But when Duncan Keith’s mistake led to Nashville’s tying goal the Blackhawks seemed to deflate. For those of us who have watched the Blackhawks the last few seasons, shaking off miscues and recovering fast was always a big part of their game. The Blackhawks came on with a better third against the Predators, but there’s no doubt they let that one mistake affect them too long.
“Mistakes are going to happen,” Patrick Kane said on Friday. “When it does happen we have to stay the course, try to keep that momentum we had or regain it, whatever it is.”
Maybe the Blackhawks’ wealth of regular-season success is more of a hindrance than a help. Outwardly they don’t get rattled, especially at this time of year. "It’s a long season. There’s time to work things out." It’s been a long time since they’ve had to scratch and claw their way into the postseason, but if they keep going on their current path, they might have to do that.
The Blackhawks have all the tools to be successful. There’s no shortage of talent, no shortage of ability, no shortage of winning pedigree. What the Blackhawks seem to be lacking right now is hunger, and if they don’t work up the necessary appetite soon, it could be a long season.