Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks have many personal highs in sight after Olympic break

brouwerbreak.jpgAlready it's been a season like none other for most Blackhawks.

There are 21 games remaining in the regular season and 21 is our lucky number. We have two 21-year-olds in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who have us believing this will be a year for the ages, young and old and eternal.

Patrick Kane has 25 goals in 61 games, same as he had last season in 80 games. He owns the club high of 67 points, three short of his 2008-09. History will be made immediately after the Olympic break and Kane will move onward and upward in writing his legend.

He needs 33 points for a 100-point season, and while that's likely out of reach, Kane will have us imagining anything's possible as he and the Hawks push to be at their finest for a pressure-packed postseason.

Toews missed several games with a concussion, but his 30 assists in 55 games leave him just five assists short of matching last season's output. As Kane becomes increasingly dangerous as a goal scorer, Toews' assist totals shoot skyward as well and so a personal best figures to come his way, too.

Toews would require 20 points in the 21 remaining games to equal last season's points total and land at 69, but whether he does it or not, Captain Courageous has left his bold mark on the team regardless of whether he dials up that same number again. I'm willing to consider a personal mark in assists plenty good enough.

Numbers can deceive, but like the 41-15-5 team record, they can also point to where we have been and what the club has achieved in becoming one of the dominant forces in the NHL. I'm leaving the goalies out of this equation, because that argument deserves some time to rest during the Olympic break so we can tear at it with renewed vigor in a couple weeks.

It will be a banner statistical season for the majority of Blackhawks. Besides Kane and Toews, here is a list of the regulars who have a chance to score (or have scored) in one category or another more often than they did a season back: Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien, John Madden, Colin Fraser and Ben Eager.

When 10 guys on a hockey team, ranging from studs to standbys to mules, can statistically play better than the year before, you have a lot working in your favor.

Injury held Sharp to 61 games and 44 points last season, but his current 52 points have him primed to surpass his career best of 62 points in 80 games in 2007-08. Hopefully he adds to his current four power-play goals, because he had nine last season after the same number of games he's played this season.

Keith's 53 points have already surpassed his 44 points from last season, better to this stage by three goals and six assists, and Seabrook needs just four more to match his 26 points from last season. How can he be denied?

Brouwer's 32 points in 61 games have taken him past his 26 in 69 games last season. His seven power-play scores are three ahead of 2008-09.

Keith and Brouwer in particular are having blowout years, same as Kane.

Byfuglien may not always satisfy us with his consistency of physical play and overall performance, but with six more points his 2008-09 totals will be matched, and you probably noticed the last two games how Byfuglien's decision to muscle at the net dragged opponents with him and foes took two penalties trying to hold him back.

His statistical letdown has been plus/minus. He finished plus-7 last season and currently stands at a minus-6. He, Madden, Tomas Kopecky, Fraser and the just-returned Dave Bolland are the only Hawks in minus territory.

You can't always measure what Madden provides in stats, but his present 18 points in 59 games has him five short of the 23 he scored for New Jersey a season back, and his nine goals are more than his 7-goal production in his final year as a Devil.

Of course, since he was a little devil in Vancouver in his night out with Kane and Kris Versteeg, Madden is scoreless and a minus-2. Just coincidence? Once he is healthy again you expect matters will rectify themselves. Even little devils get out of jail sooner or later.

Speaking of doghouses, Versteeg was chained there by coach Joel Quenneville in Columbus Sunday with just under five minutes of ice time. Chances are, going without a goal in 16 games has Versteeg trying to freelance more than usual.

Like Toews, Versteeg would need 20 points the rest of the way to equal his 53 points last season that had him in the NHL Rookie of the Year competition. That seems unlikely and how Versteeg harnesses his exuberant attitude in the remaining time left will be an interesting subplot.

While some still think he'll be traded, I don't. Say what you will about him, but Versteeg was a plus-15 last season and is a plus-14 now. Turning 24 years of age in May, he has too many pluses to give up on him.

Even the little fish such as Fraser could rush past last year's stats. His 17 points in 81 games a season back might be left in the dust with Fraser now just five points back. Eager has been held back by injury, but his 10 points in 40 games this season is near his 15 over 75 games a season back.

Bolland is a wild card down the stretch. The Hawks keep saying he hasn't regained his usual jump since coming back from back surgery. If that stays the same, the Hawks have a big hole without their usual second-line center and a guy who should be benefitting Marian Hossa.

Bolland is minus-4 in his six games back with one goal, one assist. But his ice time leaped to just over 19 minutes Sunday, so maybe he can use the Olympic break to strengthen himself and come back stronger. After all, he was a plus-19 last season and scored 12 points in his 17 playoff games.

The Hawks need the old Bolland back.

Even Hossa has a chance for a career best, even though his season didn't start until late November. His five shorthanded goals have him two away from tying his career-best seven for the 2005-06 Atlanta Thrashers. But he did that over 80 games, so to have five shorties from simply 37 Hawks games is already historic.

It would be nice to see Hossa add quite a bit more to his two power-play goals so far. We just want him healthy for the playoffs, where he scored 15 points (six goals) for Detroit last season in 23 games.

Nik Hjalmarrson has been a boon most of the time to the defense in his first full season, and that shows up more by watching him than his 10 points, plus-8 effort.

A little-acknowledged stat is how much more the Hawks have received from the contributors that emanate from the periphery.

This season, from the four guys at the bottom in time served, the Hawks have an amazing 11 points (four goals). That's the combined totals out of Jordan Hendry, Bryan Bickell, Jake Dowell and Jack Skille.

The few bottom feeders last season in games played, including Hendry, Dowell and Skille, mustered just a single point. It was Skille's goal. So I would have to say the great team dynamic the Hawks have going has extended even to players who only get on the ice now and then, led by the valuable Hendry.

Stats aren't everything. Brian Campbell has had a good season, and had a stretch where he was being praised for playing his best hockey as a Hawk.

But with 35 points in 61 games, Campbell could fall short of his 52 points in 82 games last season. Same with Andrew Ladd. While he's played well for the most part, his 27 points most likely won't swell to the 49 points last season in 82 games.

Campbell and Ladd have played all the games again this year, though, and deserve credit for their staying power. Kane, Keith, Sharp, Brouwer and Byfuglien, in addition to Campbell and Ladd, have all logged 61 games this season.

While only Ladd, Campbell, Toews and Seabrook played 82 last season, seven Hawks are on target to play the entire schedule this time around. That's a stat a lot of guys can be proud of.

Numbers certainly don't tell it all. But these pleasing numbers tell us many Hawks, a broad-based coalition, will be rewriting their own personal record books.

Hopefully that'll be true for the organization, as well.

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3 Comments

Dean Youngblood said:

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I have especially enjoyed watching Kane improve. He is so confident now and not intimidated by the bigger boys. He has the puck more and is shooting more, stealing pucks from the opponent and causing turners. Add to that a check now and then, he is a great package.

Olympic update...
Vancouver hockey talk had in the studio, Roenick and Olczyk who each gave their gold, silver, and bronze hockey teams.

Roenick: Russia, Canada, United States.
Olczyk: United States, Canada, Russia.

I say, GO USA, but Roenick is more realistic. What do you guys predict?

Mike Kiley said:

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I'll go Canada, Russkies, Good Guys. And I only hope I'm right the USA can finish in the top three.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Great posting Mike. Always good to have a status update with many positives and very few negatives. Even the negatives are positive. Let's also pray to go injury free the rest of the way. And bring back the line 4 chemistry of Burish & Eager. I miss that energy and wild abandon.

Don't forget Sopel. His shot blocking can't be measured except in bruises. He's saved many scoring opportunities on the PK. Campbell is having a good season and I feel much more comfortable with him back there now. And watch for a big breakout for Sharpie. He'll be wild, free, and rested as a winger.

Although I have an uneasy feeling about a playoff sweep, that's what makes watching the games so completely, gut wrenchingly fun. But, as they say, it looks great on paper but that's why they play the games, same goes for the Olympics. Go Hawks, Go USA, USA, USA.

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