For the quickest explanation for why the Blackhawks are standing outside of the postseason picture looking in just past the halfway point of the year, their lack of dominance at the United Center is a good place to start.
"It's been a missed opportunity for us," coach Jeremy Colliton said of the Blackhawks' play at home. "You want to be around .500 on the road (or) of course you want to be better (and) then at home you have to make some hay, and we just haven't done that."
The Blackhawks' 21 points at home ranks 27th in the NHL, their power-play percentage of 12.9 is 28th and their penalty kill rate ranks 26th at 77.8.
On the road, the Blackhawks are 15th with 21 points, 12th on the power play at 18.8 percent and second on the penalty kill at 85.7.
Clearly, the United Center has not been the friendliest of confines for the Blackhawks this season.
So, what gives?
"I don't know if there's anything specific you can point out," winger Patrick Kane said. "I don't know if we have more of a defensive-first-type of attitude on the road and then maybe sometimes you get at home and you have 22,000 people there and you try to maybe play a little bit too much offense and try to put on a show a little too much."
That has led to some slow starts at home, which helps opponents build confidence and dictate the pace of the game.
"At home, I think the other teams think we're going to be fired up and we haven't had the greatest starts," center Dylan Strome said. "We have to get off to a good start and try to take them out of it right away. I think we're a really, really good team when we get one or two in the first period and we just keep rolling."
During their four-game road winning streak that was snapped by the Canucks on Thursday night, the Blackhawks yielded a total of nine goals against the Jets, Avalanche, Blue Jackets and Flames, respectively.
"We have to find a way to bring the same recipe that we play with on the road at home," Kane said. "If that's a boring, defensive-first type of game then that's what it is. We're trying to do anything we can to win games so that seems like that type of foundation in games suits us a little bit better."
Colliton agreed with Kane's assessment that defense must come first, even if the crowd wants to hear "Chelsea Dagger" blaring early and often.
"We just have to find a way to give ourselves a chance by playing more of a road game at home," Colliton said. "(It's) being patient, being clean with the puck, making good decisions with the puck, willing to defend, play more zero-zero shifts and that's a formula that can give us success."
'Zero-zero' shifts put the onus on the forwards to concentrate on helping keep pucks out of the Blackhawks' net before worrying about putting them in opponents'.
"Don't get scored on, be satisfied with that," Colliton said. "Of course you want to score, but sometimes it's just not there. If you're a forward and you're going to play 20 shifts in a game, play 0-0 for 18 or 19 of them and come through for one. (Then) you've had a good night."
All this talk of improving at home comes for a reason: The Blackhawks are settling in for a four-game homestand that begins Sunday night against the Red Wings. The Flames, Predators and Ducks, respectively, will follow and the Blackhawks are looking to make up for some lost points at home against four teams currently out of the playoffs. It is the longest stretch of games at the United Center since the Blackhawks hosted seven consecutive games at the arena at the start of the season and went a disappointing 2-3-2.
"These games are huge," Strome said. "We blew that seven-game homestand at the beginning of the year pretty badly so we have to have a good homestand. Home games are important. You're never guaranteed to win on the road but you should be guaranteed to win at home. We have to have good efforts here and take hopefully four out of four or at least three out of four."
Added Kane: "I don't know what the record should or shouldn't be but we definitely have to win games. I think we're worried about one at a time but it's nice knowing we have four here at home and we're home for nine days. That's something we haven't been doing too much of lately - it seems like there's been a lot of travel. It will be nice to settle in and play well here at home, get some points and try to use that momentum going forward."
Tasked with getting the Blackhawks off to a fast start - at least - will be goaltender Corey Crawford. The veteran is expected to get the start against the Red Wings and possibly for games in the near future as Robin Lehner missed Saturday's practice with a right knee injury that the team is still evaluating.
Crawford, who hasn't played since Dec. 23, knows the importance of taking care of business at the United Center.
"We definitely want to be better than we have been at home," Crawford said. "We've had some big wins on the road and then we come back and it's kind of like you lighten up a little bit, I think. We've had that in the past so we just have to try and feed off the energy of the building. If we want to make the playoffs we definitely have to step our game up here."