Things could certainly get worse for the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, as the team lost the first part of their seven-game road trip against the Colorado Avalanche in not heartbreaking fashion, but one that was difficult to watch and has created a level of concern on many fronts.
First off, the way in which the Blackhawks played was not truly abysmal; at least not to the level the final score would indicate. Corey Crawford was left literally and figuratively defenseless multiple times, and the issue of Crawford’s workload was certainly exacerbated tonight when coach Joel Quennevlle pulled his starter in favor of new backup Antti Raanta, who performed well against an offense that was performing at a high level.
Aside from the Blackhawks’ defensive woes, including an unfortunate bounce off a Brent Seabrook pass, and uncharacteristic performances by Niklas Hjalmarsson and Michal Rozsival, the offense was not able to do much against Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov when the game was still within reach. Varlamov made 36 saves, with only one Brandon Saad goal sneaking by. Per Chris Kamka of Comcast Sportsnet, Saad is now tied for third among Blackhawks players in goals against Varlamov with one.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews still leads the Blackhawks in goals against Varlamov with five, but has not scored against the netminder in a game where the Blackhawks weren’t shut out. Toews locker room presence will be key as the team continues to not only get acclimated to the forthcoming road trip, but is struggling to find momentum (two of the last three games have been blowout losses) amidst even more forthcoming personnel changes.
Yes, it appears that the Blackhawks, already short at forward, will be without the services of Bryan Bickell for a while, after the large winger collided with the net in the first period and did not return. On the third line, Sheldon Brookbank has proven to be useless at forward, and will be needed for his defense more than anything else.
Thanks to the Kris Versteeg trade, the Blackhawks are also thin at forward, and will have to play with the salary cap in order to make any roster moves in the coming days. Jimmy Hayes would be perfect for this situation, but was dealt away to acquire Versteeg, and forward Jeremy Morin has a larger cap cost than the team would like to spend. That being said, both center Michal Handzus and the more capable defenseman Michael Kostka are still unavailable to return soon enough for the Blackhawks, who will travel to Canada with both bruised bodies and egos to take on the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486.