The Chicago Blackhawks at 35.

The Chicago Blackhawks at 35.

35 games into the 2011-12 season, the Blackhawks hold out on top of the standings looking down. They currently hold more points than any other team in the league, and have scored more goals than any other team as well. Sure, they have a few games in hand on a some other teams, but these stats are still worth celebrating over, and celebration there has been. However, the year has not been all cheers of jubilation. This post intends on breaking a few things down, dissecting the year up to this point, which is pretty darn close to halfway through. (Warning: This gets lengthy)

The Hawks are 8-1-1 in the last 10 games, making for a pretty spectacular December. The only loss this month cam against the Pens, which is still fresh in our minds and we all know how that game ended. Not too long ago only 5 points separated 1st and 11th place. Today, that number is 12. This stat would lead me to believe that the Hawks are improving, among other things.

Some teams have improved with new coaches, others have dropped below early season production, some have gotten caught in the purgatory of just good enough, and a select few have started realizing their skill level without any big changes in the system.

The Hawks goals for is at 118, a reason to cheer. They have 102 against, bringing their differential to a whopping +16, not so great, but okay. Pay no attention to the outstanding differential of the Bruins holding in at +48. The teams to be looking at right now are those in the West. Vancouver and Detroit have impressive differentials at +32 and 33. Nashville and Dallas have negative ones, and we have often looked at this stat as maybe the most telling of all here at PowWow.

The Hawks have allowed 40 more goals than the Bruins and they have done that with 3 games in hand. This is where the reason to stop celebrating starts, and the complaining begins. But where to point the finger? We could easily throw it at the defensive end, maybe the need for trades, or has it been goaltending? Lets take a look closer.

The Hawks have 2 players in the top 5 of scoring, and 1 player only a goal away from the top 10. There is no other team with that kind of numbers from that many players. Hossa is at the top of +/- leaders, and Kaner is 1 assist outside of the top 5 for assists. This tells us that our core players are producing in the ballpark of what their salaries suggest. Plus, they have contributed to a bountiful amount of clutch goals, especially lately.

This is from the top 2 lines though. Bolland has 8 goals which is okay, but is at a -8, and his linemates seem unable to hit the backside of a barn with the puck, let alone a hockey net. Lets give Bolland the benefit of the doubt. He plays regularly against top lines night after night, and has looked injured for 90% of play so far. Frolik has 5 goals and is a -6, while Bickell is a -9 with 4 goals. Here is where some of our woes start. The 3rd line is not even close to having the dynamic expected before the season started.

2 guys not mentioned yet who have been moved around between all of these lines are Stalberg and Brunette. Both are producing enough to be happy about in the area of scoring, but Bruno is a -10 right now. Granted, he logs a bit of PK minutes. In a short time, Ben Smith racked up a -6 plus/minus. Reasons for pause.

Stalberg is on his way to a 20 goal season and a points production well beyond his paycheck. His recent performance on the 3rd line, serving as a catapult for scoring where it has been rarely seen is a great sign of his growth this year. This growth is instrumental in the Hawks greasing out the kinks from the season's start.

Just for the record, is anyone complaining about Carcillo and Mayers as far as individual efforts are concerned? I for one have been pretty happy. They seem to be doing the jobs they were placed here to do.

Add to the mix a guy like Kruger who can come out of nowhere and fill his role pretty darn nicely and one begins to wonder. Where is the inconsistency of the Hawks production through the season coming from. Besides Frolik and Bickell, I think we can be pretty happy with offensive, individual efforts.

I know, I know, the obvious reaction is to then look to the players on defense. However, nothing has really changed from last year in this area, and defense really wasn't the issue then. And sure, some of them started out rough, but I think it has something more to do with preparedness. Lack of cohesion between the offense and defense. For all you Campbell lovers out there, could this be the result of his loss. Did Campbell fill some some most important role and now has exposed this giant hole in the Hawks overall system of play?

It is my opinion that Leddy filled those shoes, and if not fully, then to a good enough extent to negate the argument that Campbell's loss is the cause of the Hawks concerns. Plus, he is more aware of his and the teams defensive needs. Leddy is more effective in his own zone than I remember Campbell being. The difference was Hjalmer, who often covered for Soupy.

Could it be that what we saw through the better part of the first half was the repercussions of ill paired defensemen at the beginning? Things do seem to be evening out since the right changes have been made. There has still been a few breakdowns of communication amongst the pairs, but I believe that this will begin to fade as the season progresses and everyone gets more used to each other. This only points to the need of nailing down that 6th D-man. Rolling 2 players is okay, but 3 is just adding to the confusion.

Game to game, the Hawks have pulled wins out of late 3rd period heroics by the core, effectively winning more than a handful that should have been lost. They also like to give up early leads, they dominate to great extents at times (as seen in the recent Pens game), showing a ridiculous ability to generate explosive offense at the push of a button, and a complete lack of ability to hold leads when playing back. The stat that shocked everyone was how many times the Hawks had given up the first goal and yet stand at the top of the league.


The Hawks play a certain type of game very well, and they need to have an excuse to play that game. This excuse had been absent against struggling and underperforming teams. It often never shows up within a game, and it has often fallen on Captain Toews to be that motivator to win. Against Eastern teams, the Hawks seem uninterested at puck drop, and it becomes a guessing game as to whether or not they will attempt a win as the game progresses. Sometimes, the hole is to deep, and others, the excuse never comes.

Is this something that a trade can fix? Would finding a replacement for Bickell make everything better, or is the answer in Rockford? I think little things will get better with subtle changes in the roster, much like a bandaid, but it does not house the ability to change the greater issue.


I recently read an article from ESPN that spoke to Q's 600th win. It spoke of Q as a player's coach. One of the main reasons for such a statement was the amount of time off Q likes to give his team. Since everything is alright in the standings, the team gets frequent days off, and allows other players to miss practices on occasion. When the Hawks got a beat-down against the Oilers, they enjoyed their Vegas trip days after. Now I am not saying the players did not deserve that little vacation, but the article did spark a few concerns in my head.

It is my opinion that the constant issue with the Hawks is in their readyness from game to game. Could this article give added evidence to that view?

The article also pointed to the use of the 3rd and 4th lines which are not filled with the same level of talent as the top 2. In order to be ready for the playoffs, the 3rd and 4th lines are going to have to eat some of the top-lines' ice, resulting in a rested and healthy core. For this to happen, the Hawks need to get better at getting leads and protecting them, which requires a greater level of preparation and then defensive practices.

There also needs to be a greater level of synergy.

I realize that this post has gotten a little out of hand, and will therefore take up this topic again at a later point in time. We didn't even touch on goaltending yet. I look forward to hearing your responses to this point so far, which will undoubtedly have an effect on my response to this long-winded post in a couple days.

Cheers, and Happy Holidays!


Leave a comment
  • I am pleased with where the team is right now. Seeing as how we backed into the playoffs last year and brought in several new faces this year, being at the top of the standings looking down is pretty good. That is not to say I am completely satisfied.

    I thought Bickell would be better than he has been. He has been playing pretty good these last few games, but how long will it last? Frolik has not gotten on track all year long. I expected him to score some goals for us. The PK and PP have not been as good as I expected.

    The offseason pickups have fared pretty well. Carcillo has been better than expected. He is exactly what this team was missing last year. Mayers has been pretty good. I would have been more impressed with him if I still didn't have the sour taste in my mouth from the Pittsburgh game where he did not answer back to any of their hits. I expected more from Brunette, but he has been coming around as of late. O'Donnell and Lepisto have been ok when they play. I expect to see more minutes from Lepisto in the second half of the season. Montador has streaks where he is great, then disappears for games. I expect more from him as the season goes on.

    As far as Bolland goes, I am not too worried about him. He has been banged up all season long. He seems to be getting healed up and his play is reflecting it. I think his -8 has more to do with the rest of his linemates than his play.

    I still think the loss of Campbell, while necessary, was a huge reason for our early struggles. He is one of the top 2 or 3 offensive D-men in the league. His ability to get the puck out of the zone and start the rush is good. I still think that is what we have been missing.

    When Campbell is your team's #3 D-man (behind Seabrook and Keith), that is a talented blue line. Now, with Campbell gone, we have Leddy as our third best. That is a huge drop off in talent. Not just talent, but he is a totally different player. He is still young, undecisive in his decision-making, and just doesn't have the talent of Campbell. That is not to say that he won't be as good some day, but he isn't there yet. Leddy's rush up the ice the other night against the Ducks where he dished it back to Bolland for a goal was, hopefully, a sign of things to come. The coaching staff has been wanting Leddy to be more aggessive and that was a thing of beauty. He still needs to learn when to gamble and when not to, but I like what I see in him when he is playing aggressive.

    As far as what answers may be in Rockford, that is slim right now. Olesz is down here and doing pretty damn good. His playmaking skills are head and shoulders above most of these players. He may have gotten too deep into Q's doghouse to bring back. I think he would also need to clear a re-entry waiver to be bought back up and his salary cap hit is around $3.1 million I believe this year. If I understand it right, if someone picks him up on the re-entry waiver, they get him for half that and we have to pay the other half. I like Andrew Shaw. He is an aggressive center who loves to forecheck and mix it up around the net. He is a little smaller than Pirri. Other than that, not many players doing alot here. I would not be surprised if Brett McLean gets the call-up as the playoffs get near. He is a veteran who was brought in for just that reason. It is similar to when the Hawks brought in Nick Boynton and he played in Rockford until the playoffs. He paid huge dividends in the Stanley Cup run.

    Other than that, everybody have a Merry Christmas!

  • Unexpected call of from work today! Happy Holidays to every one!

    Nice conversation starter HH and nice follow up Jack. Looking at the Hawks record and the goal differential paints a pretty accurate picture. This IS a good team, they CAN score a buttload of goals and the HAVE been defensively challenged. Looking at the records of the other teams in the west right now, I don't think the Hawks standing is a fluke. Every team has had struggles so far and I think in the Hawks case, they have managed to pile up their struggles in games where they got brutalized (Edmonton) rather then stretch it into multi game losing streaks.

    On the defense, I do think the team misses Campbell, or at the least, they missed him early season more then they do right this moment. I thought Leddy should have had Campbell's spot from the get go. Not because I thought he was as good already, but more because I thought he was good enough to try that spot. Playing him Keith was kind of a disaster. Keith way overplayed the puck and Leddy was clearly not being allowed to figure things out for himself. Compounding this, IMO, was the inclusion of a veteran D man in Montador who only now seems to be finding a solid place and role to perform.At this point, whether Leddy is as good as Campbell or not doesn't matter as much to me because he is becoming solid there.

    On the Olesz thing, I think he probably needed that kind of stint to really get back into shape. It was a risk to send him down because sooner or later he must clear waivers to either come up and play or come up and get traded. It's a gamble no matter how you look at it. Is he what the team needs right now? I honestly don't know. I have kind of accepted at this point that the Hawks are not going to evolve into a systems team this year or likely any year that Q is coaching. However, I don't think it's their biggest issue. Provided he can clear waivers, a fully healthy Olesz can probably be an upgrade from Bickell, or could possibly bump Frolik. Pirri V Kruger is an interesting dilemma. I've liked what I've seen in Pirri, but I was also thoroughly happy with the progress Kruger had made. When Kruger is on the ice, I know we at least one guy who will be fearless in both creases. I like what he brings and that leads to one last related thought before wrapping up this long ass comment.

    The Hawks have now been involved in three incidents where a player from an opposing team got suspended. Setting aside the Seabrook hit, Smith and Kruger were both injured after blatant head shots. What I find interesting is that both of these players are two of the more aggressive playing Hawks who do not play the perimeter game that other hawks have been guilty of. Is this coincidence? While I do believe Smith does have a bad habit of not keeping his head up, I believe both players were targeted for being rookies and for being aggressive and I am afraid it's only a matter of time before someone lines up Pirri. Somehow, the entire team needs to deal with this better. Scott's response the other night was spot on, but it ultimately hurt the Hawks even worse then losing Kruger. Even allowing the Seabrook thing is more bad luck for both players then anything else, I don't think the other two were just mistakes. Other teams are not likely to destroy the top four, but if the team doesn't start standing up a little better for rookies, this will be a bigger problem.

    Sorry that got so long.

  • Happy Holidays all.

    The Chicago Blackhawks at 36!
    Good points made by all, so I'll not reiterate what's been said already.

    Well, after another 20 minute performance last night there are some things which are giving me cause to be cautiously optimistic. I mean what's not to like about leading the league in wins and points and having four players in the top 23 in scoring. All seems well, and I expect that games against the Kings, Wings, and Flyers in the next week will give me a better idea of where this team slots as one of the elite squads. Important to note is the difference in team play when the 'hawks play with the lead, or as has been the case recently score the first goal. The ability of Q to roll the lines in these instances is what is enabling the "team" efforts we are seeing.

    The recent trend of better defensive efforts, comfortable 2 or more goal winning margins and contributions from all four lines has shown me that the team is capable of playing as a "team", that there is some synergy between the players, and that—get ready for this— Stalberg actually has some upside. The presence of VS on the third line seems to have ignited DB and BB and they actually look like they can create and capitalize on scoring chances.

    Despite the fact they are leading the conference, there are some areas where improvement can be made. Last night's game was another example of not being prepared to play from the outset —although being off the blades for four days should be factored in. Toews and Kane looked to be skating with a runners parachute strapped on and it had the number 15 on it. No matter though as contributions from the other lines won the game anyway, and this, to me, is why the 'hawks are winning with regularity of late. Still, stronger starts are needed and 60 minute efforts would make this team scary good.

    Clearly, there is a need for a more consistently physical net-crasher up front, and likewise a defender who can do the same at the other end of the ice. There's no secret here … can it be done though? With the cap space available, I think we'll see trades made before a roster spot is turned over to Pirri, Smith, or Morin. There's another window here this year for a run at the cup and SB will be seeking veteran presence, IMO.

    On goaltending, CC was once again overplaying pucks and leaving fat rebounds. At the moment I feel better with Emery minding the twine and his ice-time could be a blessing down the stretch. Goaltending is adequate at best. However, good solid two-way "team" play can cover for this I think. We won the cup this way.

    In short, the team appears to be gelling in many phases and barring serious injuries to the core players should remain in the top four in the conference and make a solid run in the playoffs. There's been progression in all aspects of the game. Even the special teams are slowly climbing back to respectability.

Leave a comment