Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
As we get deeper into the month of January, some would say that we’ve crept into the dog days of the NHL season, which is already about to round out its fourth full month.
Given this season’s re-arraigned schedule, due to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, I say that it is. As far as the Chicago Blackhawks are concerned, they’ve played 48 games to this point, posting a record of 30-8-10 with a 7-1-5 mark in their last 13 games, good for second in points (70) in both the Western Conference and in the NHL entirely.
This past week saw the Hawks go 1-1-1 and a disturbing trend has developed that contributed to this record. In the team’s five games prior to Sunday’s win versus the Edmonton Oilers, the Hawks had not scored a goal in the first period. When at their most successful, starting slow in games has not been in the Hawks’ DNA, so it really shouldn’t be there going forward. The Hawks’ best win games by controlling the pace offensively and setting the tempo while opponents adjust, jumping out to early leads helps play a big role in that strategy.
In their last three losses to San Jose, the New York Rangers and most recently against Montreal Saturday, it has been just the opposite early on. Each time, the Hawks were out-hit and turned the puck over more than they’d like while taking bad penalties and playing inconsistent defense. The Hawks sort of reversed this trend with the victory over the Oilers Sunday but that still featured a first period deficit. Fourth-liner Ben Smith scored the Hawks’ first opening period goal in five games to force a 1-1 tie heading into the first intermission.
It has to be noted that the Hawks hold a 23-0-5 record when scoring the first goal, that’s something to keep in mind as this season rolls along.
Captain on Duty
One player who is starting to catch fire is Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews. In his last six games, Toews has scored two goals and tallied five assists. Toews’ passing ability along with his skill in skating in open ice makes him one of the NHL’s most dangerous offensive players. Joining him on this hot scoring pace is Patrick Sharp, who I highlighted last week for his play and is continuing to play lights out.
Entering Sunday, together Toews and Sharp have a combined total of 18 goals along with 27 assists in their last 16 games. For the year, Toews has 17 goals with 30 assists for a total of 47 points.
The end of January will not be kind to the Hawks. This upcoming week could be a telling chapter for the Hawks as where they measure themselves against the top teams in the Western Conference. With games against Colorado, Anahiem and Eastern Conference contender Boston, the Hawks must play solid 60-minute games and not get out of their respective comfort zone. This month ends with four of the squad’s last five games on the road before hitting the “Ice Show” trip to conclude the first half of the season before the Olympic break comes. The Hawks are 16-3-6 at the United Center this season.
*First, to Don Cherry, who during the first intermission of Saturday night’s Blackhawks/Canadiens telecast on the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s Hockey Night In Canada, expressed his outrage regarding Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook being left off of Team Canada for next month’s Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Cherry compared Seabrook to players who did make Team Canada as defensemen — including Drew Doughty of the LA Kings and Shea Webber of the Nashville Predators — saying that they were great players but not having Seabrook on the back line with teammate Duncan Keith was absurd.
Previously, Keith and Seabrook played together on the top defensive line during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, in which Team Canada brought home the gold medal, and of course the duo has also been key in bringing home two Stanley Cups to Chicago in the past four years.
*Next, to birthday boy Marian Hossa, who was named #1 Star of the Game Sunday night against Edmonton after posting one goal and one assist in the 5-3 victory. Hossa is 35 years old, and the way he’s playing right now he can maybe play for another 10 years!
Team Leaders (entering Saturday): Goals — Patrick Sharp (25); Assists — Duncan Keith (40); Points — Patrick Kane (54); Goals Against Average — Antti Raanta (2.27); Penalty Minutes — Brandon Bollig (65).
The Week Ahead (1/13-1/19)
Tuesday — vs. Colorado, 7 PM; Friday — vs. Anaheim, 7 PM; Sunday — vs. Boston, 11:30 AM.
(All times Central)
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