In the final three games of the series, the Blackhawks defense allowed 58 shots on goal. If we take it back to the overtime period of Game 3, they only allowed 60 shots. Corey Crawford stopped 52 of those shots.
On the other side, Mike Smith faced 113 shots in that same stretch and stopped109.
In other news, the Blackhawks went 1-3 in those final four games.
I said at the beginning of the series that the one matchup where the Hawks couldn’t be significantly outplayed was in goal and sadly, that’s exactly what happened. And that is why the Hawks season ended quicker than it needed to; more so than an anemic power play, more than a skittish penalty kill, and more than a couple of guys under performing.
If Crawford was able to put up replacement level numbers in these final three games and an overtime period (say a 90% save percentage) the Hawks are probably looking to eliminate Phoenix last night rather than the other way around.
Instead, the Hawks were the ones tasked with winning three straight. The Coyotes had the ability to sit back and let their goalie bail them out of every dangerous situation while they waited for their opportunity.
Yes, a power play goal or two could have helped and so would a few timely kills. But what would have helped even more was a goalie bailing out his team just half as much as the opposition did for his teammates.
–So now the Hawks find themselves in nearly the exact same situation as last year. Without the ability, though, to say they battled back from 0-3 or that they lost to a team nearly half as good as last year’s Canucks squad. This period of self-evaluation is incredibly important for the Blackhawks.
Defensively, the Hawks will have Steve Montador, Nick Leddy, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith. Niklas Hjalmarsson should have a very large question mark next to his name to return. Dylan Olsen will likely have every opportunity to lock down the third pairing. After that, the Hawks could really use a slick, calming defenseman to help stabilize their corps. Johnny Oduya looked to be that guy and I wouldn’t be opposed to him being that, but after watching him in this series, the Hawks could do better and they should aim to, as well.
Offensively, the Hawks biggest questions lie in what the hell Marcus Kruger is. Is he the guy who closed out the regular season by looking like a Swedish demon destined to hold down the Hawks 2nd center position? Or is he the 165 lb. welterweight that was so easily pushed around during the first round against Phoenix.
This is two playoff series in a row now where Viktor Stalberg disappeared. At $870,000, he’s still a steal but it might be worth exploring what cheap talent he would be worth.
Other than that, I’m going to venture the Hawks fill the majority of their needs with their own infusion of talent. Guys like Brandon Saad, Mark McNeil, Brandon Pirri, and Dylan Olsen will be given every opportunity to lock down roster spots rather than aged, expensive veterans. That appears to be the Blackhawk way, after all, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The other lesson the Hawks should have learned from this season is that just because a player once played for Joel Quenneville, that shouldn’t mean that player take precedent over better available options during free agency. Andrew Brunette and Jamal Mayers were both brought under the guise of ‘Joel Quenneville guys’. Yet Quenneville used Brunette for the majority of this season as though he’d never seen him play before and Mayers was so important that he was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the series.
And in goal, well, I’m not sure that can objectively discussed at the moment. The truth is, goalie play is so wildly unpredictable from season to season that next year Corey Crawford could challenge for the Vezina and no one would even bat an eye about it.
Until we meet again.