Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
So the Chicago Blackhawks ended the first half of their season with a 3-1-2 record on a six-game road trip out West, completing a 35-11-14 campaign so far. Not too shabby.
For a team defending its Stanley Cup championship from last year, consider these developments as they have played out from the start of this season last fall.
The Bad: Continued inconsistent play in the penalty kill. Here are the numbers through the first 49 games — the Hawks have allowed 34 power play goals with a PK percentage of 76.4, which ranked third from last in the NHL. In 10 games leading up to this past Friday’s game versus Phoenix, the Hawks gave up only one goal on the PK for a 97% rating. This recent improvement provided a bump up to 26th in the NHL in PK percentage (79.7) but there’s still work to be done in the final stretch leading to the postseason.
Game to game, Chicago hasn’t done its best job blocking shots or clearing pucks from around the goalie, both deficiencies have led to bad goals against the team. Overall, the Hawks’ goals against average ranking is 13th in the League (2.6), an average number that will need to improve regardless of whoever is in net, starter Corey Crawford or Antti Raanta.
The Good: Ranking third in the League with a 22.1 percentage, the Hawks’ power play has been clutch and a clear example of why this team is the NHL’s best scoring group overall, scoring 3.4 goals a game. This is a light-year leap ahead from the 2011 defending Cup champions, who could not match this year’s team in regards to depth on all four lines and Crawford’s play in net is much sharper than anything the franchise has seen in this era.
Working the Road
Another stat that Hawks fans should ponder over during the Olympic Break is the squad’s road record over the last two seasons in trips of four or more games.
January-February 2013 (4-0-2)
March 2013 (3-1)
November 2013 (6-1)
January-February 2014 (3-1-2)
In its time away from the United Center, the Hawks are 35-11-2 overall during that span. For this season they are 17-7-7 on the road with 41 points collected, the most road points in the NHL.
Looking Past the Break
What’s waiting for the Hawks after the Olympic Break? Three of their first four games are in Chicago, including its Outdoor Classic game against Pittsburgh at Soldier Field and those Penguins highlight three Eastern Conference opponents in that initial stretch.
This current 20-day break will do some good for the Hawks, I believe, allowing for some downtime away from the continuing pressure to hold off St. Louis and Anaheim for power atop the Western Conference while repeating as champs. The playoff push will be full-fledged for every team when this break is over, for the Hawks securing one of the top two spots in the West is crucial for a long playoff run to be made.
The Week After the Break
Feb. 27 — at NY Rangers, 6 PM; March 1 — vs. Pittsburgh at Soldier Field, 7 PM; March 4 — vs. Colorado, 7 PM; March 6 — vs. Columbus, 7 PM.
(All times Central)
*First to Patrick Kane, who also has my deepest condolences along with his family for the loss of his grandfather last Monday. Kane scored two goals last against the Los Angeles Kings that night in a 5-3 victory, a momentous tribute performance if there ever was one.
*Finally, big props and good luck to all of the Hawks players who are participating in the Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. The Hawks have representatives in five nations but of course its GO USA over here. Below is the full list of Hawks in the Olympic tournament:
United States — Patrick Kane; Canada — Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp; Sweden — Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, Marcus Kruger; Slovakia — Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus; Czech Republic — Michal Rozsival.
The men’s hockey games begin Wednesday at Noon here in the states with Rozsival’s Czech team going against Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Kruger and Team Sweden, check the complete schedule on the official Sochi games website.
Team Leaders: Goals — Patrick Sharp (28); Assists — Duncan Keith (45); Points — Patrick Kane (63); Goals Against Average — Corey Crawford (2.35); Penalty Minutes — Brandon Bollig (69).
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