I've found that this season has been my most difficult as a Blackhawk writer. The team is so good, with so few problems, that the season has become a long preamble to the playoffs. It's difficult to write the "everything is great" blog over and over again.
That said, there are couple of issues that could become problematic as the season continues.
My biggest concern is the team's lack of a quality backup goaltender. When they signed Nikolai Khabibulin, I didn't hate the move. He had decent numbers for an Edmonton team that was (and still is) brutal defensively. This season, however, Khabibulin has been awful. His numbers looks like something from a 90s hockey video game. 4.73 goals against average. .818 save percentage. Worst of all, Joel Quenneville has completely lost faith in him. Corey Crawford played back to back nights of a road / home stretch Saturday and Sunday. If he's going to be on the roster, Khabibulin has to play. Crawford can't be expected to handle that kind of work load throughout the season. If Khabibulin can't, the Hawks will have to find someone who can. Antti Raanta, who has been playing in Rockford, is the top option, but in an ideal world the Hawks would like him to have some more time to adjust to the North American game. If Khabibulin doesn't get a start this week, or doesn't perform well in a start, then Raanta might want to start packing his bags for Chicago.
As for the skaters, can anyone tell me why Joel Quenneville is opting for Sheldon Brookbank at forward over Jeremy Morin? There is no valid explanation for this decision. Yes, Morin's defensive game needs to develop...just like every young forward in the league. How does that game develop? By playing. Quenneville is trying to send a message, but there is no indication that Morin isn't trying to improve. It's not an issue of defensive effort, but defensive understanding. We hear athletes and coaches talk about practice vs "game speed" all the time. If he's going to learn, he needs to play.
Obviously, Quenneville has earned the benefit of the doubt, and I don't think the 3rd line right wing spot is going to be the difference between winning or not winning the Stanley Cup, but the best players should play. Morin is still considered a top prospect in the organization. He's learning nothing in the press box.
Aside from these issues, the Hawks are certainly on a roll. The offense is firing on all cylinders, and the penalty kill is starting to look better. I guess the luxury of being near the top of the Western Conference means you get to worry about the backup goalie and 3rd line right winger.
Get me to the playoffs.