The Chicago Blackhawks by no means collapse, choke or wholeheartedly give up against their two biggest Central Division opponents. It is rather that, for a variety of reasons, regardless of the situation, the defending Stanley Cup Champions simply cannot beat the St. Louis Blues or Colorado Avalanche.
The Blackhawks’ lone victory against either team came when J.S. Giguere started in net. They are 0-7 against the two otherwise, and will face off with the Blues twice within the coming weeks.
Tonight, Semyon Varlamov continued his dominance of the Blackhawks, while Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville countered with backup Antti Raanta. Varlamov has now faced 175 Blackhawks shots this season, and stopped 168, for a .960 save percentage on the year.
The Blackhawks were not at full strength by any means, with Raanta in net and defenseman Sheldon Brookbank playing eight shifts at forward, thanks to the sudden absence of Peter Regin. The Blackhawks’ third line continues to be used as relegation (and rightly so), where struggling players find desperately low ice time due to lack of effectiveness.
If there was anyone who proved to be excellent today it was Patrick Kane, who has resurged as of late, scoring points in three of his last four games. His goal tonight was spectacular, and he was the lone Blackhawk to attain a +2 rating, thanks in large part to his 27 shifts.
Staying within the top six, the Blackhawks once again found production out of Brandon Saad on the first line. Saad led the team with seven shots, and scored a late goal while playing valiantly as time expired. He has registered points in four of his last five games.
The Blackhawks need to get better. With three games separating the team from its showdown with the Blues, simplicity is the key to success. Despite producing nearly 40 shots on net and actually registering 21 hits, the Blackhawks had 13 penalty minutes (including a Sheldon Brookbank fighting major and a 5-on-3 penalty kill which seceded the game winning goal) and allowed Colorado to earn 14 takeaways.
This cannot continue if the Blackhawks look to prepare for a playoff run. A larger emphasis on chipping and chasing pucks into the offensive zone against less talented teams should create consistent pressure and offensive opportunity, which will lead to six valuable points in between now and the latest showdown with the Blues.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486