Forget the thought of the Blackhawks making a mad charge toward the playoffs — that shouldn’t be hard to do as they languish near the bottom of the Western Conference — and ask a bigger question: Does their month of improved play signify anything about their future?
Even with their 4-3 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday, they’ve picked up 18 points in their last 15 games.
That’s a 98-point pace if they did it for a full season, but it’s not good enough to climb out of the hole they dug with a pair of eight-game losing streaks early.
There are nights when the Hawks look totally capable of going on a big run, and this one started out that way. They flat-out dominated the first period and would’ve closed it with a 3-0 lead if not for a delayed offside call wiping out a goal by Patrick Kane.
But their early rush fizzled, and they seemed to be either coasting or holding on for dear life. It’s hard to say which would be more disturbing. The Golden Knights cut the lead to 3-2 by the end of the second period, tied it with four minutes left in regulation and won it on Shea Theodore’s goal in overtime.
“Thought the game was in our control, and then all of a sudden they score late there in the second and you could feel we definitely tightened up there in the third,” Kane said. “Sat back, and it was bound to happen.”
Alex DeBrincat, who had two goals, felt as if the team was “praying” that its lead would last to the end.
“We were sitting back on our heels, playing defense. We’re just trying to stay alive, I guess,” he said. “That’s somewhere where we need to attack them, and if they don’t get any momentum, it’s hard for them to win. That’s a big part we need to take from this game.”
At least they’re angry. It was hard to muster anything but dejection early in the season.
There has been inarguable progress over the last month, but it’s not as sparkling as it looks. More telling than anything else, in 900-something minutes on the ice during this run, the Hawks have scored 50 goals and given up 50.
There are many more advanced metrics than that, and all of them indicate the Hawks’ 7-4-4 record is far better than their play. Here’s one: They’ve allowed a league-high 176 high-danger scoring chances during that span. No one needs to be fluent in -analytics to see where that’s headed.
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Wins are all that matter, of course, but getting them this way isn’t sustainable.
A few things are going fine, though, and that’s where there’s long-term optimism. The Hawks are viable thanks to two hot scorers and good goaltending.
DeBrincat is leaving little doubt that he’s a legitimate star. Not a star-in-the-making. He has arrived. He scored two early goals against the Golden Knights, giving him five in his last four games and 23 for the season. He trails only Kane.
Kane has been great, too. He has 12 goals and 16 assists, including one of each against the Golden Knights, in his last 17 games. He has prime seasons left. However the Hawks go about their rebuilding effort, Kane will be in the middle of it.
And while the defense needs a lot of work, Collin Delia has bailed them out frequently. He cooled down after an absurdly good start, but he has all the markings of someone who can be Corey Crawford’s successor. He had 30 saves on 33 shots before overtime and owns a team-best .932 save percentage.
Kane, DeBrincat and Delia weren’t enough against a contender such as the Golden Knights and probably won’t be enough to lift the Hawks to the playoffs, but there’s a lot to like about that trio beyond this year.