As we cross our fingers and hope for all our boys to come home from the wars in Vancouver without a scratch, either from the foes at the Olympic games or the females at the after parties, time to reflect on where we have been this Blackhawks season and where we are heading.
Since the positives far outweigh the negatives, taking February inventory is mostly a fun task, not nearly as taxing as the other IRS accounting we will soon need to have.
It heightens our anticipation to resume the NHL tug-of-war as soon as possible, because the good guys are great, great, great for a change, instead of another tiresome snow job in the waning of a dogged Chicago winter that always refuses to quit plenty more times than Brett Favre ever did.
After being subjected to having my tongue sewn together Sunday night at the emergency room after losing a wrestling match with my attack dog (although I suspect my wife may have been giving her secret hand signals), I have chosen to wag the dog rather than just my tongue to take your focus off whether our boys kill each other off in the Olympics, as Team USA seeks fame and Team Canada engages in some nerve-wracking Russian Roulette Wednesday night.
When you haven't won a Stanley Cup in so long, I consider that the more pertinent issue of Olympic-sized proportions and one the Blackhawks need to concentrate on.
I invite you to play along with my lists of what has been the good, bad and ugly for the Hawks. Add what I have left out, chasten my choices as always, pick your own winners and losers, clobber me over the head--but, please, leave my personal Patrick Kane mouthguard alone. I still have need of that battered tongue to explain away all my mistakes.
And what better protection than my Kane mouthguard, which I got free from my latest package of Trojan Her Pleasure Crackerjack condoms. It will protect me from those unwarranted blows of fate that befall us when we least expect. Only 88 cents.
So without further adieu...
WHO'S MVP AFTER 61 GAMES?
a. Duncan Keith
b. Patrick Kane
c. Jonathan Toews
d. Troy Brouwer
I PICK: Keith, who engineers the train at the same time he pulls the caboose.
WHO'S BIGGEST UNDERACHIEVER?
a. Kris Versteeg
b. Dustin Byfuglien
c. Tomas Kopecky
d. Cristobal Huet
I PICK: Versteeg, who is struggling to find his niche as well as the net.
WHO'S MOST UNDERAPPRECIATED?
b. Patrick Sharp
c. Brian Campbell
d. Brent Seabrook
I PICK: Sharp, who has survived 100 trade rumors to prove time and time again we'd miss him if he's gone.
WHO'S UPGRADED THEIR PERFORMANCE OR BEEN THE ROSTER ADDITION THAT'S BENEFITTED THE TEAM MOST?
a. Brouwer with 32 points and 7 power-play goals
b. Antti Niemi with a 17-4-1 record, a 2.16 goals-against average and .913 saves percentage
c. Marian Hossa with 34 points in 37 games (17 goals, 17 assists)
d. Niklas Hjalmarsson with a steady hand on defense to go with his plus-10 and 10 points.
e. John Madden, whose work ethic has been stalled a bit by a recent slump.
I PICK: Niemi, because it's hard to say where we'd be if there was never an alternative to Huet.
WHAT PLAYER COULD HAWKS LEAST AFFORD TO LOSE TO SEASON-ENDING INJURY, ONE THAT MIGHT SCUTTLE CUP CHANCES? LET'S GO NINE DEEP
I PICK: Toews, because Kane would be lost without him for one thing; plus, faceoffs would suffer, power play would suffer, defense would suffer...Toews positively affects more portions of this game than anyone.
WHO WOULD YOU PICK FOR A NIGHT OUT WITH TO SHOOT THE SHIT OR MATCH THEM SHOOTER FOR SHOOTER? LET'S GO NINE DEEP.
a. coach Joel Quenneville.
I PICK: I put them in order of my preferences for a shooting-the-shit match. Why Q at the head of the table? Because coaches know where all the bodies are buried and I love grave digging, always have.
MOST IMPORTANT TEAM STATISTIC?
a. 33 power-play goals scored against them, third fewest in league after Buffalo (28) and Boston (30) for a penalty-kill success ratio of 84.4.
b. The strong combo of 24.4 shots against per game, stingiest in the league, and 33.8 shots per game, most prolific in the league
c. 8-5 record in shootouts, tied for most shootout wins with Boston and Los Angeles.
d. 52.3 per cent success in faceoffs won, third best after San Jose (55.6) and Minnesota (53.3).
e. 8 shutouts combined with 4 apiece for both goalies, good for their confidence and a hallmark of the team defense.
I PICK: It has to be the penalty kill and fewest shots per game, hands down.
MOST UNDERRATED TEAM STATISTIC?
a. A plus-minus of plus-20 on the road with 70 even-strength goals scored and 20 allowed, second only to Washington's plus-30. As many as 21 NHL teams carry around a minus-rating in this category.
b. A 6-13-1 record when trailing after two periods for a .300 winning percentage, better than anybody else other than Washington's 6-8-3 (.353) and Vancouver's 7-15-1 (.304). The game's never over until it's over.
c. No overtime goals allowed, one of just four teams to be perfect in the extra period so far, and five overtime goals scored, tied for second most in NHL after Montreal's eight.
I PICK: I love their road production, because that's usually a sign of a team that will go far in the postseason.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM STATISTIC?
a. 18 power play goals in 31 home games, tied with Toronto and Calgary for second fewest in league in front of a team's own fans.
b. Just 56 third-period goals scored, putting them in a 15-place tie in the league. That's a far cry behind Washington's 88 third-period goals and Vancouver's 76. (The Caps have allowed 55 third-period goals, the Canucks 45 and the Hawks 44).
c. There isn't a single Blackhawk listed among the top 35 players in the league with 8 power play goals or more. That must change.
d. While Huet has 24 wins in 42, there are 11 goalies ahead of him with more wins because 9 of those goalies have been trusted with between 52 to 58 starts, including several goalies the Hawks might have to beat in the playoffs. Do those clubs have the advantage of relying on a NO. 1, while Chicago doesn't.
I PICK: The bad power play, especially at United Center. It must get better. Or we're just playing with fire and bound to get burned.
MOST IMPORTANT INDIVIDUAL STATISTIC?
a. Niemi's 2.16 goals-against average, tied for second best in the league
b. Kane's 67 points, ninth best in the league
c. Keith's 26:47 average ice time per game, tops in the league, including a best 20:54 at even strength.
d. Hossa's 5 shorthanded goals, best in the NHL.
e. Brouwer's 7 power-play goals.
f. Toews' 7 shootout goals on 12 shots, best in the NHL.
I PICK: Kane, who is coming into his own with a more developed game and should make a good run at 90 points.
MOST UNDERRATED INDIVIDUAL STATISTIC?
a. Kane's plus-19
b. Toews' 56.7 faceoff win percentage with 568 faceoffs won and 433 lost, tied with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for 10th best in the NHL and his 55 takeaways (tied for seventh best).
c. Huet's four shutouts
d. Seabrook's 127 blocked shots (tied for ninth in NHL) and his 158 hits (tied for 18th).
e. Byfuglien's 164 hits (tied for 16th)
f. Campbell's 1,434:07 time on ice, 19th best in the league, and Seabrook's 1,408:06, 26th best. No other club has three defensemen among the top 26 in ice time, so these guys are carrying the load.
I PICK: Campbell and Seabrook, who along with Keith, are the anchors of this show.
MOST DISAPPOINTING INDIVIDUAL STATISTIC?
a. Huet's .903 saves percentage, 32d in the league, while facing 957 shots, 29th in the NHL. Huet had a .909 saves percentage last season when he saw 1,087 shots in 41 games, one game fewer than he has played already this season.
b. Sharp's 4 power-play goals after he scored 9 in just 61 games last season.
c. Hossa's 2 power-play goals after he had 10 last season for Detroit. He may come nowhere near an acceptable fraction of his career-best 17 power-play goals for the 2006-07 Atlanta Thrashers in a full season.
d. Kopecky a minus-6, a small reflection of his overall lack of impact in his first year in Chicago.
e. Versteeg's 33 points, 20 below last season with 21 games to play. He's without a goal in his last 16 games.
f. Andrew Ladd's 27 points, 22 below his 49 last season in 82 games. Ladd is a minus-4 in his last six games with only an assist to his credit.
I PICK: Hossa, who has to find his place in the power-play program.