The Bruised Juggernaut

The Chicago Blackhawks were as relentless at finding ways to win in the first half of the season as the media were in referring to the team as an unstoppable juggernaut.

Alas, after notching at least 1 point to their historic record against every team in the Western Conference, the juggernaut’s run was halted by a crushing 6-2 defeat last Friday by the Colorado Avalanche.  Then just to make sure the bruise stuck, the Edmonton Oilers punched Chicago in the arm at home to deliver a 6-5 loss at home.

The first two losses of the Blackhawks’ season.  The first back-to-back losses.  The first games where both goaltenders were pulled in favor of the other.  The first two games of the season without Patrick Sharp.

What went so wrong?

Exhaustion.  Plainly and simply, the Blackhawks have been playing a lot.  Edmonton marked the 9th game in two weeks for the Hawks.  They’ve been seeing a ton of ice time and playing against teams who all had it out for them to end their streak every single game.  There were no easy wins.

Broken Lines.  Patrick Sharp can’t be the only reason for this slump, but his shoulder injury that will keep him out for another 2-3 weeks certainly caused Quenneville to get a little funny with the lines.  It’s a nice thought to think that a good hockey player can play well with anyone, but that just isn’t the case.  A delicate balance of talent and familiarity of play goes into each line, and it was a mess on Friday and again on Tuesday.

Penalty Kill.  The Blackhawks were all the rave at the top of this season with one of the best penalty killing units in the league and had maintained that role pretty steadily until these last two games when they allowed 5 goals on 11 PKs and dropped from an 89.0 PK% to 84.4%.

Goalies.  While Ray Emery may still hold a NHL record for a 10-0-0 start, he and net minder Corey Crawford don’t have a lot to fix between the pipes.  Both extremely capable, these goaltenders are a BIG reason that the Blackhawks streak lasted for as long as it did.  Coach Q able to depend on both goaltenders equally, it’s a little disturbing to have witnessed what can go so so SO wrong if either (or both) are having an off night.  This isn’t so much a goalie issue as it is the Hawks’ dependance on Emery and Crawford.

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