In the Wake of the Cup

The Blackhawks are a standup organization. I’ve known it for years, but it’s never been as true as it is now. With their defending-champ season coming to a break for the Olympics, it’s a good time to take a look back at how they’re performing this year as a whole. Here’s a brief overview and a deeper dive into a few of their stars.

The 2013 Cup

Stanley Cup Finals - Chicago Blackhawks v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Six

Needless to say, the edge of my couch saw a spike in usage during last year’s playoffs. With their last Stanley Cup appearance being opposite the horribly cocky Vancouver Canucks, the Bruins found themselves in much more historic waters for the cup against the Blackhawks. I’ll go out on a limb and say that this cup was the best one I’d ever seen. It was gritty. It was angry. It was hockey. We all know what happened, but it’s important to remember because it makes this year even more amazing.

Speaking of This Year…

So now that the ice chips have settled and team standings have leveled out a bit, I wanted to take a look at how Chicago’s squad is shaping up this year. Many teams take a nose dive after winning the championship, but not the Hawks.  They’re at the top the Central Division, with an impressive 82 points, falling second in the entire NHL only to the red-hot Anaheim Ducks. However, Chicago’s home record boasts 18 wins, while they’ve won 15 on the road, putting them in a pretty good position to take their division (if the Blues don’t catch up).

While Chicago, in recent years, hasn’t really been an ace-driven organization, they tend to cover their bases pretty well: commanding prowess on offense and defense. What was alarming this year was to see a usually well-disciplined group of guys falling to an abysmal percentage for penalty kills. While it does seem to be turning around in recent weeks, staying on top of short-handed minutes is the key to success, and the Blackhawks just weren’t cutting it up until this point. Still, as long as Crawford shows up and top-tier scorers pull their weight, the Hawks are in a great position to defend the Cup.

Key Players and What to Look For

I’ll close this breakdown with a little spotlight on a few guys that I think deserve some callouts. Obviously, I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out the Patricks. Sharp and Kane have both posted almost 200 fantasy points so far (with 28 and 27 goals, respectively) and there is no sign of them slowing down. What’s truly impressive about these guys is that their +/- ratings are both handily in the green, with Sharp’s reaching 16. Though it is worth pointing out the frustrating own goal from Kane just a few weeks ago, he showed a new kind of emotion in a postgame interview last night after his grandfather passed away.

I’ve harped on him a few times already, but an NHL team is nothing without their guy between the pipes. Last year, when I thought Emery was going to get even split time, Crawford had the hot hand almost the entire season. So, it’s nice to see him with 20 wins out of 36 starts on the season. He isn’t lighting up headlines, but he is keeping his team looking forward. It is important to note that he hasn’t posted any shutouts, which is a testament (or lack thereof) to his blue line defense pairs. Either way, you can expect to see these guys in the playoffs and seeing how Crawford handles a follow-up playoff appearance (and the pressure that comes with it) will determine this year’s legacy.

Bottom Line

The Blackhawks have done a great job shaking off any post-cup hangovers and are well on their way for a deep playoff run. They have a few concerns, like all teams, but when you’re second in the entire league it’s hard to be too critical. I’ll be going into more detail later in my posts, but wanted to step back for a moment and look at the big picture. It will be great to see what happens after the Olympics. Let’s hope the Cup ends up back in Chicago where it belongs.

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