Nothing but questions as Blackhawks hit All Star break

For those of you who have been consumed with Bear mania, you may have missed what the Blackhawks have been doing this season.

If one word comes to mind to describe the 2010-11 version of the defending champs, it would have to be "ordinary." 

There have been nights of good, and nights of bad, but even when they've been good,  they've been a shadow of last year's teams. 

At the time of this post, the Hawks hold the 8 seed in the Western Conference.

A lot of people have asked if it's time to panic.  Well,  I'll let you decide. 

REASONS TO BELIEVE

The powerplay : The Hawks have the NHL's top powerplay at 25.6%.  That's
very good.  Special teams play a huge part in teams' success,
especially in the playoffs, should the Hawks get there.

Patrick Sharp :  Sharp has been the best and most consistent Blackhawk
all season.  His 26 goals rank 5th in the league.  His 6 game winning
goals are tops in the league.  If Sharp can maintain this play, the
Hawks will be in good shape, assuming the core begins to play up to
their level (more on that later).

Troy Brouwer : Every game that goes by, Troy Brouwer gets richer.  He's
emerged as one of the top power forwards in the league, and is on fire
with 5 points in his last 5 games.  He seems to have found a home
(again) on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.  For more
on Troy Brouwer, check out Tab Bamford's excellent blog.

Corey Crawford : The Hawks' rookie goaltender won the starting job from
veteran Marty Turco in November, and hasn't looked back.  His 2.19 GAA
is 5th in the league, and he's gone 12-6-2 in his last 20 starts.  He's
been solid nearly every night, and is gaining confidence with every
start. 

The Core : Aside from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, the core of the
Blackhawks has not been close to their 09-10 level.  Patrick Kane, who
has been playing on a sore ankle, has been invisible most nights
lately.  Marian Hossa, who is also playing through a shoulder injury has
been left off the scoresheet far too often.  In his 13 games since
returning, Hossa has 9 points...3 of which came in one game. 

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have looked exhausted, and have turned
the puck over far too often.  Last year's Olympic / Cup run seems to
have taken a toll on the duo.  The All Star break couldn't come at a
better time. 

How is this good news you ask?  Well, all of these players are proven
NHL stars, and it's safe to assume most, if not all, will return to the
form we're used to seeing. 

REASONS TO DOUBT :

Late collapses :  Through 50 games, the Hawks had allowed 58 third
period goals, while only scoring 47.  That has lead to four blown third
period leads.  When tied after 2 periods, the Hawks are 6-8-1.  (Thanks
to Nick Shepkowski and Tab Bamford for the stats)

Length of Cup hangover :  At some point, it's no longer a Cup hangover,
and the team just isn't that good.  I think we may have reached that
point.  On paper, the Hawks seem capable of ripping of a 10-15 game
winning / point streak, but they haven't shown that ability on the ice. 
Their longest streak of the season is 5 wins.  With only 12 of their
remaining 32 games on home ice, the Hawks are going to have to get hot
on the road. 

Injury woes : Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane have all
been injured this season, and seem to be playing through their pain. 
These three forwards are the most important on the roster.  Their health
could determine the rest of the season.  They need to heal up, and
quick.

Penalty Kill : Of the 30 teams in the NHL, the Hawks rank 26th in the
NHL in penalty kill.  78.3% is simply not good enough.  Having a poor
penalty kill destroys in game momentum, while getting an opponent who
may be down back in the game.  This is the single most important element
the Blackhawks need to improve. 

The Blackhawks have 32 games to answer these questions, and get on the
right track.  They certainly have the roster and skill to do so.  Stay
tuned and see what the champs have in store. 

 

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