Stretching back to Jan. 22, the Chicago Blackhawks are an ugly 6-7-3 in their last 16 games.
While this is concerning, it isn’t really for standings-related reasons, although it should be noted that Chicago has completely fallen out of contention for the Central Division crown.
No, the real worry engendered by this extended period of mediocrity is one that the Blackhawks and their fans knew was a very real possibility before the season began — fatigue.
It makes a disturbing amount of sense, really. Everyone recalls the fantastic playoff run last year; what fewer remember is that it ended half a month later than the postseason usually does. What would already have been a short summer was thus made even shorter for Chicago.
When one considers some of the “symptoms,” so to speak, of the Blackhawks’ play during these last 16 games, the fatigue explanation starts to seem awfully reasonable. Sans Jonathan Toews, all of the team’s best players are playing some of their worst hockey of the season; this is unarguably true of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. Of that group of four, Kane has been particularly underwhelming; after seemingly breaking out of his own slump and starting to play well again, Kane has returned to being a non-factor on most nights.
A tired team is not a group that will do much damage come playoff time. Still, it is certainly possible that the Blackhawks are simply going through the motions and that this lengthy run of uninspired play is largely a fluke; indeed, something quite similar happened late in the 2009-10 season, and everyone remembers what happened that June.
But until the team picks its game up, the fatigue question will only continue to get louder.