CHICAGO — Patrick Kane likes what he’s seeing.
The Chicago Blackhawks are finding their scoring touch again and that, combined with the steady goaltending they were already receiving, has helped them win four straight games and go 6-1-2 in November. And Kane said the Blackhawks may just be starting to hit their stride.
“I still think we can play better to be honest with you,” the forward said after the Blackhawks defeated the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 at United Center on Sunday. “There are parts of our game that can get even better, starting with the power play and also maybe not giving up as many [scoring] chances. It’s all a work in progress, and you just have to continue on here.”
The winning streak has helped the Blackhawks (9-7-4) rise in the standings; they are one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames for the second wild card from the Western Conference into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, after struggling to find consistency in the first month of the season, when they were 3-6-2.
“It’s a lot easier to play when you’re happy and I think the key for us is to continue to earn that feeling, to earn our bounces,” said coach Jeremy Colliton, whose team will next play at home against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCH, FS-CR, NHL.TV).
“We’re scoring on our chances, we’re getting some saves, we’re also getting a bounce here and there. It’s important that, from the start, we’re ready to play and then it’s a good chance it’ll continue.”
Rookie forward Kirby Dach scored two goals against the Sabres, and Kane and Jonathan Toews each had one. Kane is on a nine-game point streak, all in November, with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in that stretch, and has scored goals in six straight games, the longest such streak in the League this season. He had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 11 games during October.
And Dach, who has nine points (five goals, four assists) in 14 games, is on a four-game point streak (six points; four goals, two assists).
Goalie Corey Crawford saved 33 of 34 shots against the Sabres, one night after Robin Lehner made 39 saves in a 7-2 win against the Nashville Predators.
Chicago’s goaltending has been solid all season, so Colliton has been able to divide starts evenly, with 10 starts each for Crawford (4-4-2, 3.02 goals-against average, .914 save percentage) and Lehner (5-3-2, 2.46 GAA, .936 save percentage).
Now the Blackhawks are also getting the offense to complement their goaltending. The increased production hit stride when they tweaked their scheme prior to a 5-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 7. The Blackhawks had been playing with four players (two defensemen, center and one wing) down low in the defensive zone but were struggling to get out of the zone once they regained puck possession. So, the low wing moved closer to the blue line to support the high wing and ease their transition to offense.
“I think we’ve done a good job of the low three, someone jumping by and then we can create more space off the rush and we don’t have to chip in,” Colliton said. “We can enter clean, make some plays and I think the guys are feeling good about it.”
Since that change, the Blackhawks are 5-0-1 and have outscored opponents 28-15; they’ve scored five or more goals in four of those games.
“That seems to be rolling for us right now,” Crawford said. “We were able to get chances in other games, but the puck’s going in a lot right now, so that’s kind of nice. It’s a nice stretch for us. But obviously we’ve got to keep going and still try to get better.”
As Kane said, the Blackhawks are a work in progress. They’ve scored nine goals on 62 power-play opportunities (14.5 percent, tied for 25th in the NHL). They’d like to give up fewer chances; the 37.1 shots on goal per game they’ve allowed are the most in the League. But the Blackhawks are getting more scoring and more confidence. More importantly, they’re getting positive results.
“Obviously we’re getting production from all over the lineup right now and I think that’s key if you’re going to go on some winning stretches,” Kane said. “It’s nice to get on a little bit of a run here. It’s something we’ve been waiting for all season.”