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Friday, March 30, 2012
Three areas of improvement for Hawks

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO -- With the Chicago Blackhawks a virtual lock for the postseason, here are three things they need to shore up over the final four regular season games.

Power play


Toews
The Hawks especially miss Jonathan Toews on the power play.
Ranking: 25. It belongs at the top of the list. Power-play goals in the playoffs are difference makers. Right now, the Hawks have very little going because they refuse to shoot the puck. They haven’t scored a goal in 15 attempts over four games while managing just a single shot on net over their last 11 attempts. That’s unheard of. They’re not shooting because they aren’t moving their feet to find lanes. That’s where they do miss Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith. The power play had its problems with them in the lineup, but at least there was some action toward the net. Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Dave Bolland and Keith are the Hawks’ best options to shoot the puck from the point. Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy are not natural shooters, though Oduya has shown some abilities in that department. He could take Bolland’s place if he isn’t working out. And it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Viktor Stalberg doesn’t see some time on the power play. All he does is get chances. Those lead to goals.

D-zone awareness


Goals-against ranking: 22. Hawks’ blue-liners could learn a thing or two from 40-year-old Sean O’Donnell. He may have his quickness/speed issues, but he’s about the only defender who will at least try to push people out of the slot. It’s so important for goalies to see pucks, but the Hawks have given up too many tipped, re-directed or screened goals this season. And they do it with the opposition setting up in front of Corey Crawford like it’s their crease. O’Donnell will lay a body without taking a penalty. It doesn’t take much to slightly and slyly move a guy in order for the net-minder to make the save. If the Hawks tweak their play around the net, Crawford’s numbers will get better. The Hawks have played the puck possession game much better since the arrival of Johnny Oduya, limiting the opposition’s chances and shots on net. But the other team is going to get some looks. If Crawford sees them he should stop them. But first he has to see them.

Goaltending


Crawford save percentage: 39 out of 46. Crawford is playing fine, but he’ll need to do more than just fine to win in the playoffs. Even the most diehard of Hawks fans can’t deny just about all the other Western Conference playoff goalies have had better seasons. That’s proven statistically as well as by watching them and then watching Crawford. Having said that, the Blues’ Jaroslav Halak wasn’t perfect against the Hawks on Thursday. Bryan Bickell’s first-period goal was save-able -- but Halak faced 40 shots. Crawford faced 18 and let three in. By his own admission, Jason Arnott’s little wrap-around chance in the third period needed to be stopped. One or two weak goals in a series are understandable, but one or two a game are unacceptable. Not in the playoffs. Opponents’ shots totals have been lower lately, if they shoot up will the weak goals increase as well? The Hawks have gone 78 games without a shutout. Imagine what it would do to Crawford’s confidence if he earned one in the final games of regular season. Even he said recently getting one “once in a while would be nice.” Now is as good a time as any -- except for the postseason of course.