That's right: there was 18 days between home victories for the Chicago Blackhawks. Last year the team lost a total of eight games at home, and this year they have nearly matched that mark already, with a 5-7 home record.
Although the team has looked sharper in the last week, despite going 1-2-1 during that stretch, the Hawks just haven't been able to find a way to close teams out in the third period. Time after time, third period leads dwindle away and turned into stunning regulation losses or deflating overtime defeats. This looked to be the case again last night as the Anaheim Ducks tied things up in the third period to force overtime, but Viktor Stalberg put an end to the home ice drought, redirecting a Duncan Keith shot with just under 30 seconds left and lifting the Hawks to a 3-2 victory.
That goal gave the Hawks a much-needed win to end the team's three game losing streak. Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa found their way back onto the scoresheet as well, as each tallied both a goal and an assist in the eventual winning effort.
Just the night before, Stalberg and company watched their third period lead slip away and turn into a shootout loss to the Nashville Predators. The Hawks held leads in the two games prior to the Nashville game as well.
Stifled offensively after the first period in both games, the Hawks surrendered two third period goals to the Edmonton Oilers on November 7 to lose 2-1 on home ice, and then proceeded to give up two second period goals to the Phoenix Coyotes on Nov. 10, to lose 2-1, again in front of the home crowd.
This road trip could not have come at a better time for the Hawks. Despite blowing leads recently, the team seemed to be coming together. The passing has been less sloppy and Coach Q's adjustments to the defensive pairings appears to have woken up some of his defensemen. That being said, the Hawks' inability to close-out games was rising to alarming levels. Thankfully, for the time being, Stalberg has taken all of our minds off that.
With today and tomorrow off, the Hawks can regroup and head out of town as a fresh unit. Hopefully some Mario Kart can loosen the team up while time away from the United Center will take a bit of the pressure of their backs. The Hawks have found ways to make road trips beneficial in the past, and I expect to see a more sound and confident Hawks team return for their next home game on November 30 against the St. Louis Blues.
The blame has to be tossed all around for the team's mediocre performance thus far in the young season. Many of the newcomers have been solid, and although many of the players you would expect to see leading the Hawks in points are doing so, it has been sloppy play at key points in games by these players that has hurt the Hawks.
Duncan Keith has been a frequent victim of turnovers turning into goals lately, something which was nearly nonexistent last year. On the other end of things, Patrick Sharp, who leads the team in goals (10) and points (19), has the worst +/- rating on the team (-11). That statistic sums-up the Hawks season thus far for me; the Hawks have been outscored by 11 goals while their best scorer has been on the ice. No matter how well certain players have done, or how well the team has looked during brief stretches, the results just have not been there.
The team has struggled in three key areas:
- Closing teams out/third period play
- Shutting a team down after scoring
- Shutting a team down after giving up a goal
Time after time it seems as soon as the Hawks tie a game or take a lead, they give up a goal within two to three minutes and lose any momentum they had gained. Likewise, they have had a knack for allowing teams to put up multiple goals in short spans; like Edmonton's two third period goals separated by just 14 seconds, and the Coyotes' second period push resulting in two goals in 35 seconds.
It sounds nice and easy, but the Hawks simply need to stop teams from answering right back after they score and from putting up multiple goals in tiny amounts of time. Many of these blunders have taken place in the third period, so fixing these two key areas should improve the overall third period play of the Hawks as well.
There is still plenty of talent and ability on this team, and by the season's end I still expect the Hawks to be legitimate contenders for the Western Conference. Months and months separate us from then, and I have full faith that, by then, the team will not look nearly as sloppy or unsure of themselves as they do now.
Until then, let us be happy that this road trip was scheduled when it was. The Hawks will likely benefit from some time away from Chicago, and hopefully this will develop into a better home ice team when they finally do return.
At the very least, Stalberg helped to free our mouths of that bitter hockey taste before this road trip with his clutch, home ice, overtime goal last night. After all, what would a four-game losing streak, and an even worse five-game losing streak at home, feel like while waiting for the upcoming road trip? Thank you Stalberg: thank you, thank you, thank you...