Blackhawks

Stan Bowman, Joel Quenneville assess what went wrong for Blackhawks in 2017-18

Stan Bowman, Joel Quenneville assess what went wrong for Blackhawks in 2017-18

The Blackhawks have had a while to evaluate what went wrong this season, and how they went from a team that finished as a No. 1 seed in the Western Conference to missing the playoffs altogether in a span of one year.

But now that it's officially over, there's time to assess the bigger picture and figure out how to prevent this from happening again.

At the Blackhawks' end of the season press conference on Monday, Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville spoke about where things may have gone sideways.

For starters, it didn't help that they lost two key core members for an extended period of time, one for the entire season.

"There's a couple factors, a couple of things are out of your control, in combination with things that were in your control," Bowman said. "I think losing Marian [Hossa] before the year started was quite a blow to our team. He had a great season last season, so that was difficult. And then we lost Corey [Crawford] for about half the year. It was certainly difficult to recover from both of those. But those were only factors.

"We had some other things that didn't go well. Some of our top players didn't have typical seasons for them. When you put that together, it made for quite a challenge for us to overcome. ... Injuries were certainly a factor, but they were not the only factor."

Defensively, the holes were magnified when Crawford went down and we highlighted them in our season takeaways over the weekend. That happens when you have an inexperienced blue line and lose your starting goaltender.

From an offensive standpoint, the Blackhawks controlled 52.3 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts, good for fourth in the league. In their three Stanley Cup-winning seasons, they finished first (2010), fourth (2013) and second (2015) in that department.

Clearly, they elevated their possession game back to the levels we're used to seeing after finishing 12th a year ago and 15th before that.

The difference is, the Blackhawks registered a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of only 7.12, which ranked 27th, and that'll certainly be an area they'll look to improve upon next season.

"Different than we’ve been accustomed to," Quenneville said. "I think that the way it all began it was almost like we were on a comparable season where we were competing night in, night out for playoff positioning, and then trying to secure it earlier than we would always like. And then it went the opposite way that we’re used to, so it was a different way of approaching it.

"I thought that we had some stretches there where our team game was pretty good. I thought as we had the second part of the year, I thought we got away from — whether it was structurally playing a real solid team game, which in the past has always been a strength — I thought we got away from that a litle bit.

"Offensively, I thought [playing] with the puck and our possession game wasn’t as strong as it has been in the past. So I think those two areas, when we’ve been one of those teams that game in, game out [have been] predictable, hard to play against, I thought we didn’t meet our usual standard of being that game in, game out making an impact on the intensity of the game and puck possession of the game and defending as a team. I think that’s the area we want to make sure we shore that up and that’s going to be a staple."

Corey Crawford acknowledges he's ready to return for Blackhawks

Corey Crawford acknowledges he's ready to return for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are back within two points of a wild card spot, and they may finally be getting their star goaltender back soon.

After joining the team on the ice for the fourth time in a week, Corey Crawford met with the media on Friday and acknowledged he's essentially ready to come back. But it's not up to him when he'll actually return.

"It's really hard to say," Crawford said. "It's not up to me. I'm healthy to play right now. Really it's whether they think I'm ready to get in the net."

The Blackhawks have won eight of their past nine games, and have gotten terrific goaltending from Collin Delia and Cam Ward. There's no urgency to rush Crawford back, but if he's ready, he's ready and he basically serves as a trade deadline acquisition on his own.

"We've been playing great," Crawford said. "I think that's a tough situation too. Obviously you don't want to come back in and [not] be at the top of my game. We're in a pretty good run right now, a pretty good stretch. It's really thinking about what game do you throw me in? I'll leave that up to Jeremy [Colliton]. Whenever they want to, I'm ready to play."

Colliton was asked about Crawford's potential timeline and said there will be discussions internally about when he will be back between the pipes for the Blackhawks. All we know is, that won't come on Saturday against Columbus. But it likely will be very soon.

"It’s good to hear he’s feeling good," Colliton said. "That’s good. We’ll discuss it in the staff and let you know.”

Breaking down why Cam Ward has been better than his numbers show with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Breaking down why Cam Ward has been better than his numbers show with Blackhawks

If you look at Cam Ward's stat line this season, his numbers don't look great. In fact, they aren't very good.

His 3.60 goals against average ranks dead last in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 20 starts, and .898 save percentage ranks 39th out of 47th. But there's a reason for that.

Ward is facing 9.4 high-danger chances at even strength per game and a shade above 11 in all situations, according to naturalstattrick.com. No other goaltender is seeing that many quality of shots at that rate. Couple that with the fact that the Blackhawks are giving up the second-most shots in general (35.4) and the numbers simply won't favor the goaltender, no matter who's in net. 

On Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, Ward faced 19 total high-danger shots against. He stopped all 19 of those. He also turned aside 35 of 36 shots at 5-on-5 to up his season save percentage to .922 in that area.

Where Ward's overall save percentage has taken a big hit this season is the penalty kill. He's given up 26 power-play goals on 122 shots against for a .787 save percentage. Some of that is on him. But the Blackhawks statistically have the worst penalty kill in the league with a 73.4 percent kill rate, so there's plenty of blame to go around.

In the big picture, Ward deserves more credit than he's getting for his on-ice play with Corey Crawford out and off-ice role by serving as a great mentor for Collin Delia. Quite frankly, the Blackhawks likely wouldn't be in the playoff race at this point in the season if it wasn't for him because he's bridged the gap perfectly between a two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie and 24-year-old who had only two NHL starts going into this season.

Remember how last season turned out when they didn't have a veteran like Ward?