A dominant win over the Detroit Red Wings notwithstanding, the Chicago Blackhawks need to put a string of quality games together before one can justifiably claim that the team’s two-month stretch in the doldrums is over.
It just so happens that several of the more difficult matchups of the season sit on Chicago’s plate this week; namely, on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday and a home tilt with the streaking St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.
These two games will say quite a bit about the mettle of this year’s Blackhawks squad, which has been plagued by inconsistency to a degree that last year’s group never came close to. Certainly no one was (or should have been) expecting Chicago to put forth an identical or even comparable campaign to 2012-13, but sitting fifth in the Western Conference was not exactly the plan either.
Philadelphia presents a stiff challenge. The Blackhawks made short work of them in Chicago in early December to the tune of a 7-2 blowout, but the Flyers are a much better team at home. Presently, Philadelphia is 7-2-1 in thier last 10 games, and Claude Giroux has gone scorched earth, making his early-season difficulties an exceptionally distant memory. The Blackhawks’ ability to contain the Flyers’ offense will be quite a good measure of how well we can expect Chicago’s defense to fare come postseason time; Philadelphia is averaging almost four goals per game in March.
The following night, St. Louis constitutes an even tougher matchup. The Blackhawks haven’t beaten the Blues yet this season, and St. Louis is perhaps the one team in the NHL that has either equaled or had the majority of scoring chances in all games against Chicago. Assuming both of these teams take care of business in the first round of the playoffs (some are not sure that the Blackhawks will), this will be the Central Division’s second round series. Wednesday’s game will be a great indicator of how well Chicago will truly match up with the Blues in their likely seven-game series in a few months.
Win or lose, the Blackhawks’ level of play in these two games will determine if they have really left that dreadful slump behind them and will serve as a preview of whether or not they will be a postseason force once again.