Colin Blackwell and the Blackhawks have struggled to produce offense in January.
AP Photo/Jason Redmond
CALGARY, Alberta — The Blackhawks not only are mired in the worst road losing streak in franchise history, but they’re also in one of the driest offensive droughts in franchise history.
With one game left in January (Saturday against the Flames), the Hawks are 3-10-0 this month, having been outscored 39-17. That rate of three goals allowed per game ranks a respectable 16th in the NHL, but the rate of 1.31 goals scored per game ranks 32nd (last) by a huge margin.
This marks only the second time since 1957 that the Hawks have scored 17 or fewer goals in a 13-game span. The only other modern instance took place in October-November 2006.
Indeed, the Hawks’ ineptitude this season has brought several reminders of just how bleak the mid-2000s were for the organization, given the record now matched by their current 19-game road losing streak was set in 2004.
That era is incomparable to this one, however, because these Hawks basically are designed to be bad and have Connor Bedard and a horde of elite prospects brightening the future. From a short-term perspective, however, it’s difficult to deem this winter anything other than bleak again.
‘‘It’s frustrating,’’ forward MacKenzie Entwistle said after the Hawks’ shutout loss Thursday to the Oilers. ‘‘I don’t even know what to say. We’re putting up a lot of shots. I guess getting more traffic and bearing down on our chances [would help]. As a player, it’s frustrating. I’m sure as fans, it’s frustrating. But we’ve got to find a way to put pucks in the net.’’
Since Bedard’s injury, the Hawks have played with plenty of work ethic and determination. Their philosophical shift toward defense has been fairly effective, and goalie Petr Mrazek has enjoyed one of his best stretches in years.
They’ve just been so toothless offensively that everything else has been rendered useless.
‘‘We had to pick up some guys to help us through this that maybe aren’t used to playing these type of minutes, and they’re still kind of getting comfortable with our systems,’’ coach Luke Richardson said. ‘‘So we’re trying to play above the other teams. Sometimes when you do that, it keeps you away from the other net, so it takes a little away from the offense. But we’re still trying to figure out how to add things as we go.’’
The Hawks already were buried in the NHL basement in every offensive metric when the calendar flipped to 2024, but they’ve gotten even worse. Through Dec. 31, they had averaged 24.1 scoring chances per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, which ranked 31st. Since then, they’ve averaged 22.
Jason Dickinson is their leading scorer in January with seven points in 13 games. Boris Katchouk and Colin Blackwell are tied for second with five each. Only four other forwards have more than one point. That’s because the Hawks have been shut out as many times (four) as they’ve had games in which they’ve scored multiple goals.
The jaw-dropping stats could go on and on, but the picture is clear. The Hawks’ best bet to stimulate their offense might involve activating their defensemen more often, given that Seth Jones, Alex Vlasic and Kevin Korchinski are three of the most dynamic, talented guys in the lineup and have been playing well of late.
‘‘Sometimes we’re going to have to trust our forwards running high in the [offensive] zone and let our ‘D’ jump down into the play, just to break [the opposing team’s] defensive schemes and create more lanes to the net,’’ Richardson said.
Richardson might feel comfortable giving his defensemen green lights to pinch or join rushes more often because the Hawks have improved a lot with their usage of their ‘‘F3,’’ a term for the last forward to enter the offensive zone on the rush or forecheck.
The F3 decides how aggressively to jump into the play or how deep to skate into the zone based on how prepared the two defensemen behind him are to defend against a counterattack. Earlier this season, the Hawks’ F3s were pushing deep frequently; now, they’re being more cautious.
The same goes for the Hawks’ high forwards during offensive-zone cycle situations. They have to cover along the blue line when a defenseman pinches down along the boards and have become more responsible, too.
‘‘It’s just important to not trade [chances] one-for-one,’’ Blackwell said. ‘‘[It’s unwise] to dive down, [going after] a 50-50 puck, and have them poke it away and have some guys jump behind us and give up some odd-man rushes.
‘‘If the opportunity is there, you’ve got the opportunity to go. But sometimes it’s smarter . . . to not be so aggressive and take your chances just trying to weather the storm and have them make a turnover in the neutral or defensive zone.’’
Blackwell said he thinks the Hawks also have been ‘‘stiffer’’ with their neutral-zone traps and gap control, forcing opponents to dump the puck in more often, and sounder in their defensive-zone structure, keeping opponents more to the perimeter.
The Hawks’ penalty kill has been solid lately, too, killing off 30 of 34 opposing power plays (88.2%) since Jan. 5 and allowing the ninth-fewest scoring chances per minute in the league during that time.
That across-the-board defensive improvement helps explain how the Hawks have managed to keep so many games close, despite their offensive ineptitude. Ten of their 13 games this month have been decided by one or two goals (excluding empty-netters). It’s not as though they’re getting blown out regularly.
Instead, they seem to be playing the same gritty, low-event game over and over and coming up on the short end almost every time.