Sports Summary: The Blackhawks’ Rough Season

Johnathon Tews, Contributing Reporter

With the trade deadline having come and gone, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in an unfamiliar position. For the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Hawks are to watch the playoffs rather than play in them. Although many had high hopes for the team entering the season, bringing in players like Brandon Saad and Connor Murphy, the team failed to live up to their expectations.

A look back at opening night would show a completely different Blackhawk team. After recognizing former-Blackhawk Bryan Bickell, the team beat the defending Stanley cup champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins, by an impressive 10-1 score. The team proceeded to effortlessly beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-1 the following game. However, this quality play failed to continue, as the struggles came quickly for the Hawks.

The first of these challenges occurred before the season even began. Marian Hossa, a dependable top forward for the Blackhawks, was deemed unfit to play in the 2017-18 season after being diagnosed with a progressive skin disorder. Despite being 38 years old, Hossa still managed to score 26 goals last year, being third on the team in the category. Having to replace the leadership and scoring that Hossa provided has proved to be a challenge the team could not overcome.

In addition to the loss of Hossa before the season began, Chicago has suffered from many of their top players not performing up to their pay. This is especially true of Brandon Saad, Artem Anisimov, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Richard Panik. Saad’s scoring difficulties is especially frustrating for fans, as the Hawks traded away now-leading scorer of the Blue Jackets Artemi Panarin to bring him back. The lack of production from Toews can be partially explained by his shooting percentage, which is the lowest in his career, at only 8.6%. Since the start of 2018, Chicago has scored two or fewer goals in 15 of the 25 games, being shut out three times.

The hardest obstacle to overcome has been injuries, and in particular the injury to star goaltender Corey Crawford. In his 27 starts, Crawford had an impressive .929 save percentage, and 2.27 goals against average (gaa), alongside two shutouts and a 16-9-2 record. To put those numbers in perspective, the current favorite for goalie of the year has a .927 save percentage, 2.35 goals against average, and seven shutouts beside his 37-12-2 record. With numbers that rank Crawford among the top goaltenders in the league, the Hawks have failed to find somebody capable of replacing him. The task was assigned to backup rookie goalie Anton Forsberg and call-up Jeff Glass. Although both goalies have had moments of brilliance, neither has stood out. Forsberg’s numbers are significantly worse than Crawford’s, posting a 2.91gaa and a .909 save percentage in 23 starts. With a 3.31gaa and .898 save percentage in his 12 starts, Glass also struggled while with the Hawks. Having recently recalled Jean-Francois Berube, the Hawks are on their third goalie since Crawford, and are yet to get numbers close to that of number 50.

With less than 20 games left, the Hawks look to put this season behind them, as the long run of nine straight postseason appearances may come to an end.