Be careful in writing the Blackhawks off


Be careful in writing the Blackhawks off

“I’ve seen this movie before…”

I love the aforementioned phrase and I use it often – not so much on Twitter, but more in real life. You know the gist of it: You think you know how a situation is going to unfold based on the story you’ve seen thus far. But just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, there’s a twist, leading to an ending you didn’t think would occur.

When I use that phrase, it’s usually when someone asks or talks to me about the Blackhawks. “They’re down by too much.” “They don’t have it this season.” “This team won’t get out of the first round.” Heard that last one quite a bit last spring. My response to most of that is, yes, “I’ve seen this movie before…”

[MORE - Blackhawks take away positives despite fourth straight loss to Flyers]

The Blackhawks haven’t looked good lately. They suffered their fourth consecutive loss on Wednesday, a 3-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers. They’ve been inconsistent since completing their franchise-best, 12-game winning streak. The problems have been the same: They’re giving up too many goals on one end and not scoring enough on the other. The lines have been inconsistent, as has the defense. Coach Joel Quenneville has tried a myriad of combinations to try and stoke both. Corey Crawford, so great through most of his season, has had more bloated numbers in recent starts. Whether it’s because Crawford is just struggling or he’s worn down – he is currently day-to-day with an upper-body injury and will not go to Winnipeg – remains to be seen.

But in each season/lengthy postseason, the Blackhawks have had concerns.

In 2013, they were down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals. Most had them done – I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I could find the half-completed “eulogy” I had written after that Game 4 loss.

Last season, the Blackhawks had line consistency issues until they hit upon the Kris Versteeg-Brad Richards-Patrick Kane combination in November/December. They lost four straight heading into the postseason. Losing Michal Rozsival after the second round was supposed to be their undoing. So were the Anaheim Ducks.

You get the point.

The Blackhawks have succeeded in the postseason for various reasons. They’ve clicked at the right time. They’ve relied on core players to push them through – please see Jonathan Toews vs. the Ducks, Game 7 – and they’ve maintained mental toughness. That last one is particularly important. Mental toughness is an underrated necessity in the playoffs, when players have to get past the physical grind, and as of now only the Los Angeles Kings match the Blackhawks in that category.

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I’m not saying the Blackhawks will win the Cup this season. They could very well come up short. It’s a pretty damn hard trophy to win once let alone three times in the past six seasons as the Blackhawks have done. There’s also a reason no team has repeated for nearly 20 years – again, it’s pretty hard to do so, even when problems are at a minimum.

But the bottom line is this: the Blackhawks have usually found ways, even when it seemed they were done.

The Blackhawks have issues right now, ones they have to correct sooner rather than later, or it will be a short postseason. There’s no denying that. But even with what’s happening at the moment, be very careful about writing an ending you think is supposedly obvious.

I have seen this movie before. So have you.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?


Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: