Before the Hawks started the month of March we were clear here, at The Fourth Period and on social media that this month would be a serious test of the young Blackhawks. The Blackhawks had a good month of February – against the bottom half of the division. Their schedule went straight to the top immediately in March and there wasn’t a break for three weeks.
So now that the Blackhawks are on their way back to Chicago, what have we learned?
We’ll start with a note from Twitter regarding the Blackhawks losses to Tampa this season.
@UniWatch Before 2021, the NHL usually kept teams to 3 unis and play an opponent up to 4 times/year. Anybody know another time a team beat an opponent 4 times in 4 different unis in the same year?— Joe in the Hat (@joeinthehat) March 20, 2021
TB over CHI
3.20 black pic.twitter.com/PeSapGGc2j
Obviously the state of Florida hasn’t been kind to the Chicago Blackhawks this season. The Lightning and Panthers have abused the Hawks and led to many fans quickly flipping from handing Jeremy Colliton the Jack Adams to wanting him fired. Both of those positions is an overreaction.
Some fans are calling the Blackhawks soft, clueless, undermotivated or just plain bad. Those, too, are overreactions.
But the road trip (and the three home games against Tampa) did reveal some significant issues the Blackhawks need to address quickly.
If we look at the Blackhawks team stats in the month of March, the offense gives us pause. Alex DeBrincat has had a strong month, leading the team with five goals in nine games. But only one Hawks skater, Mattias Janmark, has scored more than two this month. Indeed, even Patrick Kane has hit a rough patch; Kane is shooting only 3.2 percent in the month (one goal on 31 shots on net).
Colliton continues to rely heavily on Kane. Now 32, Kane is skating the second-highest ice time per game (21:59) of his career. To his credit, Kane is averaging almost one full assist per game (30 helpers in 32 games) but he has only one game-winning goal.
We’ve talked about the Blackhawks issues in the faceoff circle all year (the premise of our suggestion they call Buffalo earlier this month). While Dylan Strome missing significant time because of a concussion complicated the center situation, he wasn’t going to make matters better at the dot.
In March, only one center on the roster – Carl Soderberg – has won half of his faceoffs (min. 25 faceoffs). David Kampf, who is usually Chicago’s best at the dot (with Jonathan Toews out), is winning 51.3 percent of his even strength faceoffs but he’s at a paltry 39.5 percent when the Hawks are short-handed. Pius Suter has won 41.9 percent of his faceoffs this month. Those are the only three Chicago skaters to take more than 50 faceoffs in the last nine games.
On the blue line, the youth movement has had its moments. It has also been inconsistent. And part of that has been driven by Colliton’s distribution of ice time.
Adam Boqvist has had a pretty good month. He has five points (one goal, four assists) with three helpers on the power play. He’s looked more comfortable and confident more consistently. But his ice time in the month has been up and down. Here’s Boqvist’s ice time in March by game:
Three of Boqvist’s five points came in games in which he had under 17 minutes of ice time (two assists on March 11, one goal on March 13).
Ian Mitchell has also received inconsistent ice time, but his production has been significantly less than Boqvist. He was a healthy scratch twice in the month and has more penalty minutes (four) than shots on net (three) in his seven appearances. Here’s Mitchell’s game-by-game ice time in March:
Colliton has voiced his support for Mitchell, especially in the wake of his time on the taxi squad while the Hawks were in Dallas. But he’s found himself lost in the rotation far too frequently; meanwhile, Nikita Zadorov is averaging 18:43 per night.
What we’ve learned about the Blackhawks is what we expected: they’re a young team learning how to compete in the NHL. There were games during the road trip where the final score was not indicative of the game play; empty net goals padded leads in a few games (see March 15). There were other games where the Hawks were flat for 60 minutes and paid for it with a loss (see the last two games in Tampa).
As the Hawks return home (for two more games against the Panthers), they’ll need to find more consistency and balance.
The good news: nobody in the division is putting pressure on the Blackhawks in the final playoff spot. Dallas continues to struggle to put together any kind of win streak and Columbus is a dumpster fire.
The 2021 season is about gaining valuable experience for this Blackhawks roster (and coaching staff). The road trip provided plenty of learning moments for this squad. How they move forward with their toughest stretch in the rearview mirror will show us a lot about the entire organization.