The Blackhawks have reached a crucial moment in their season. And they know it.
One by one, Alex DeBrincat, Malcolm Subban and coach Jeremy Colliton spoke after Sunday’s loss to the Predators and used the same rhetoric to describe the team’s current state.
“We’ve got to figure out what our identity is,” DeBrincat said. “We’ve got to go back to what we were doing earlier in the season: battling hard, getting cheap goals, going to the net, getting pucks on net and doing all that. We’ve gotten away from that a little bit and that’s why we’re struggling right now.”
“We just need to get back to the way we were playing,” Subban said. “We just need to embrace it and just be ready for the challenge and try to surpass these obstacles.”
“We’ve got to get back to our mentality and our identity and the things we did earlier in the year that allowed us to have success,” Colliton said. “If we do, then we’ll be fine. But it’s important that we don’t wait any longer.”
The Hawks have lost nine of their last 13 games. They’ve taken almost 100 fewer shots than they’ve conceded over that span. They’ve scored only 17 goals in their last eight games.
And they’ve fallen out of a playoff spot, with the Predators holding fourth place entering Tuesday on the regulation wins tiebreaker. A few more losses and the Hawks could conceivably fall into seventh.
Compared to the optimism at the end of February, the Hawks have slipped into a discouraging, soul-searching place as the end of March nears. Not even the buzz created by Kirby Dach’s return has, so far, helped reverse the downward spiral.
And the road isn’t about to get any easier, with the Hurricanes — who, at 23-7-3, are the current NHL leaders in point percentage — coming to Chicago for games Tuesday and Thursday.
“It’s frustrating,” DeBrincat said. “We’ve lost too many games in this stretch to be OK with [it].”
“All teams go through ebbs and flows through the year,” Colliton said. “This is ours, and we’ve got to nip it in the bud. The positive is, through how we played earlier, we’re still in a good position in the standings.”
Colliton’s claim about the standings might not be exactly true, but he’s right that the Hawks’ well-above-expectations play in winter has given them a window to re-float the ship.
Every single metric, both offensively and defensively, indicates their play has declined since then, though.
They’re taking fewer shot attempts (.808 vs .843 per minute) and allowing more shot attempts (.972 vs .940 per minute).
The attempts they are taking are less accurate (55.8% vs. 58.3% on goal) and less dangerous (48.9% vs 50.0% are scoring chances), and the attempts they’re allowing are more accurate (59.3% vs. 57.7% on goal) and more dangerous (54.5% vs. 49.0% are scoring chances).
They’re winning fewer faceoffs (46.5% vs. 47.4%). Their goaltending has gotten worse (.903 vs. .914 save percentage).
Colliton is aware that the team’s struggles have spread across the board. Asked Sunday what the Hawks need to do better, he listed a dozen things in one minute.
“Skating, work ethic, competitiveness, relentlessness, defending hard,” he said. “Being willing to play a ‘zero shift’ and just leave the next line in a better spot. Being harder to play against physically. Being willing to grind. The best thing you do may be just finishing [your shift] in the offensive zone, or maybe you start in the ‘D’-zone and just don’t get scored on. That can be a positive for the team. Draw a penalty. Do little things that will help your teammates have a chance at success.”
Fixing all that at once will be difficult, if not impossible. But the clock is ticking on the Hawks to find a way to do so.