The Blackhawks have tried all season to fix their defensive flaws and haven’t gotten much better at that end of the rink. Even when things are going well, as they are now, their goaltenders get pelted with pucks nonstop.
So they’ll just have to outscore teams.
And they might be loaded enough to do it.
With Patrick Kane having a career year, Alex DeBrincat emerging as one of the NHL’s premier scorers and Jonathan Toews determined to be more of an offensive force, the Hawks have as much firepower as anyone in the league.
Kane, who scored twice, including the game-winner in their 5-4 victory over the Red Wings on Wednesday, is second in the league with 37 goals. DeBrincat had a hat trick Monday and scored again against the Red Wings, moving into sixth place at 33. Toews had three straight games with a goal before playing the Red Wings to give him 28, already a spike from the last two seasons.
The Lightning, who are dominating the league, are the only team with three 30-goal scorers. The Hawks are the next-closest as they wait for Toews to get there.
“We have the ability to score goals in here — I don’t think that’s ever gonna be the problem with our team,” Kane said. “It never has been with the Blackhawks in general since I’ve been here. I think if we focus and shore up our defensive end a little bit, we still should be able to score goals.”
Solving the defensive issues continues to seem like a lost cause.
Since Dec. 12, when their season turned on a win over the Penguins, the Hawks have been last in the league at 37.4 shots on goal allowed and 15.4 high-danger scoring chances against per game. God bless any man with the guts to play goalie behind this crew.
And those stats only cover the last two months or so, when the Hawks have gone 17-8-4. Don’t even look at the full-season numbers.
How are they possibly winning when their defense is so shaky? The script is usually something along the lines of Kane scores a couple, DeBrincat adds one, they find some others down the lineup and somehow survive.
• Blackhawks tied for wild-card spot after Patrick Kane drops Red Wings in OT
• Blackhawks notes: More twists in Corey Crawford mystery
“I think we’ve been that way, right?” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We have some strengths as a team, and we have some weaknesses.
“We want to keep the strengths and cater to our strengths, but we can still improve, and that’s going to be an ongoing process. I don’t see this being a finished product for some time.”
For this season, though, this is probably as good as it will get.
Colliton has an ambitious long-term vision of what the Hawks will become defensively, but there’s little reason to expect significant change in the final 21 games after what they showed in the first 61.
While Colliton has harped on their defense the entire time he has had the job, the offense has hummed along throughout. The Hawks are seventh in the NHL at 3.34 goals per game, and this will be the 10th time in the last 12 seasons they’ve been in the top 10.
During their recent upswing, they have scored a league-high 117 goals (and given up a league-high 106), thanks largely to hitting the jackpot on power plays. They leapt from last in the NHL at 11.6 percent on power plays through their first 31 games to an unmatched 33.7 percent since.
It’s more than just their big three, too. Brandon Saad, who anchors the third line, scored his 21st goal Monday. The Hawks are one of six teams with four players over 20.
Dylan Strome also has 22 points in his last 14 games, and Erik Gustafsson is tied for sixth among NHL defensemen with 12 goals.
The Hawks are as well-equipped as any team in the league to win a barn burner, as they’ve shown this week by giving up 11 goals over two games and won both.
“We’re never out of a game,” Colliton said.
Neither is whoever they’re playing. It’s exasperating to coach, but it’s a blast to watch.