So, how good are the Hawks?

So, how good are the Hawks?

The last two weeks in the history of the Chicago Blackhawks have been a roller coaster ride.  A big win in Vancouver was immediately forgotten after two embarrassing, blowout losses in Calgary (a 5-2 loss) and Edmonton (a 9-2 loss).  Then, the Hawks played their best game of the trip in San Jose, only to lose 1-0.  Two wins over Anaheim and LA, and a peek at the standings (the Hawks are first in the West) have everyone feeling better, but somehow, those big losses linger.

Long time hockey observers will tell you, "those games happen," and they do.  But the games in Calgary and Edmonton were alarming, especially since they were in back to back games.

In all likelyhood, those games will be a silly footnote to a long playoff run, but that bug is planted in my brain.  How does that even happen?  How does a team as talented as the Blackhawks look so God awful?  I have no recollection of any recent Red Wings team ever getting punked in back to back games like that.

Champions don't play that way.

Here are a few things that need to change if the Hawks expect to contend for another Stanley Cup:

1.  Duncan Keith must be better :  In the two games in Calgary and Edmonton, Keith was on the ice for 11 of the 14 goals scored.  I think plus/minus is an overvalued stat, but that's more than a coincidence.  He's been prone to turning the puck over and passing up great scoring chances.  Yes, he's a world class talent, but he's at his best when he's playing a simple game, and using his speed to make plays.

2.  Physical play must return : The free agents the Blackhawks brought in this offseason were signed to make the team tougher, and they did, for a while.  Daniel Carcillo and Jamal Mayers have been pretty invisible so far.  Carcillo has admitted he's been bad lately, and was a healthy scratch Saturday night in LA.  These two guys were different players the first month.  That style needs to return.

3.  Special Teams must become more consistent :  Early in the season, the Blackhawks' penalty kill was outstanding, and the power play was awful.  Now it's flipped.  The power play has been pretty good lately, while the penalty kill has been horrible.  The Hawks need both aspect of their special teams to at least be average.

4.  Improve the defense : What was supposed to be a strength hasn't been.  If Joel Quenneville feels that John Scott is a good option more than once or twice a month, he's trying to send a message.  Sami Lepisto and Sean O'Donnell have been ok, but Lepisto is redundant with puck movers like Keith and Nick Leddy on the team.  O'Donnell has been ok, but he's not getting any younger.  I think this roster is good enough to contend for a Cup, but that #6 dman is proving more important than any of us thought.

In a month, maybe we'll all be laughing at the silly concerns of November, but I'm not there yet.  Despite the wins, and the solid slot in the standings, there have been trends that are not reflective of a champion.  Let's hope they disappear soon.


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