Sunday, December 29, 2013
Blackhawks at the midway point
By Scott Powers
Here’s a look at some positives and negatives for the Chicago Blackhawks after 41 games, the regular season’s midway point.
Kane's excellent first half has shown him to be among the NHL's best scorers.
Patrick Kane: Kane would be many people’s pick for the Hart Memorial Trophy at the midway point of the season. He has 23 goals and 30 assists and is just two points behind Sidney Crosby for the league lead in points. Kane is currently on a career-best 13-game point streak and previously had a 12-game streak this season. He’s recorded points in 25 of his past 26 games.
Patrick Sharp: Sharp has been in a scoring zone for much of December. He has 12 of his 22 goals this month. He’s scored six goals over the past three games. He’s tied for fourth in the league in goals and tied for fifth with 41 points.
Duncan Keith: Keith has said he’s felt great this season, and that’s shown in his numbers. He’s first among the league’s defensemen with 35 assists and 38 points. He’s also averaging a team-high 24:24 of ice time and has a plus-15 rating.
The overall offense: The Blackhawks lead the league with a 3.73 goals per game average. They have scored five or more goals 18 times this season. They have six players with at least 10 goals and four players in the league’s top 20 in points.
Power play: The Blackhawks’ power play has a lot to do with the team’s offensive success. It ranks second in the league with a 24.8 power-play percentage. The unit was 19th last season with a 16.7 percentage.
Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa: The Blackhawks’ top line of Sharp, Toews and Hossa has often been behind the Blackhawks’ offensive output. All three players have 10-plus goals and 30-plus points. They’ve combined for a plus-53 rating.
Depth: The Blackhawks are winning again because of their depth. All four lines have been contributing. Kane and Kris Versteeg have developed some chemistry on the second line. The third line of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad has been solid on both ends of the ice. The fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith has often been given the responsibility of playing the opposition’s top line and has held its own. Kruger has also especially improved his faceoffs this season.
Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson: The defensive pairing of Oduya and Hjalmarsson has often been given the assignment of the opponent's top lines. They have combined for a plus-28 rating and both rank in the top 26 among the league’s defensemen in Corsi percentage. The pairing could represent Sweden in the Olympics as well.
No Cup hangover: The Blackhawks had a feeling they were going to overcome a Stanley Cup hangover with all the personnel they had returning, but you never know with such a short offseason. The Blackhawks avoided that by gaining early success and building a 13-3-4 record through 20 games. They had a 9-9-2 record after 20 games during the 2010-11 season. The Blackhawks are currently 27-7-7 and are tied for a league-best 51 points.
Divisional play: The Blackhawks have gone 18-1-5 against the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference’s Pacific Division, but they haven’t been as dominant against their own division opponents. The Blackhawks are 9-6-2 in the Central. The Blackhawks’ main concern has to be their 0-1-2 record against the St. Louis Blues so far. The Blues are expected to the Blackhawks’ biggest threat for the division crown. The Blues currently trail the Blackhawks by six points for first place, but the Blues have played four less games.
Penalty kill: The Blackhawks pulled out a lot of close games last season because their penalty kill was one of the best in the league. They have gone from having an 87.2 penalty-kill percentage last season to 76 percent this season. They have shown some progress as of late and have killed off 19 of the opposition’s past 21 power plays.
Among Chicago's biggest storylines is Corey Crawford's inability to stay consistent between the pipes.
Injuries: The Blackhawks have dealt with their fair share of injuries this season. Hossa, Bickell, Michal Handzus, Mike Kostka, Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin have all missed five or more games due to injury. The Blackhawks are finally getting healthy. They could return Crawford in the next few weeks and would be without only Khabibulin.
Crawford’s inconsistency: The Blackhawks would like Crawford to regain his consistency when he returns to the lineup. His Quality Start percentage has dropped from 71.4 last season to 54.2 this season. His 2.42 goals-against average and .907 save percentage rank in the bottom half of goaltenders in the league. His power-play save percentage is also down to 78.4 this season after being at 89.6 last season. Antti Raanta has proven to be a reliable backup and should help Crawford fresh prior to the playoffs.
Shootouts: The Blackhawks have been leaving points behind due to their shootout struggles. The Blackhawks are 4-5 in shootouts and have dropped their past three shootouts. Kane especially has struggled in shootouts and hasn’t converted on any of his nine chances this season.