Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season
The regular season is finally over for the Chicago Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup Champions finished with a record of 46-21-15 in their reigning season, good for third place in the Central Division of the Western Conference.
Many challenges showed themselves to the Hawks this season. Within their division alone, the Hawks wound up facing four other teams that would make the playoffs, including division winners Colorado, St. Louis and Minnesota. California’s trio of contenders — Anaheim, the L.A. Kings and San Jose — were also tough throughout. Still, with all that constant competition the Hawks maintained one of the best plus/minus marks as a team in the league and finished as one of only 10 teams with 100+ points for the season (107).
What were some of the things that I liked this season? Let’s go by the numbers:
1) 3.2 goals per game (second in NHL) — Offense is what makes this team go, and with the talents of captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marion Hossa, great performances are to be expected. With their fast tempo style, five Hawk players scored more than 20 goals on the season and two Hawks (Sharp, Hossa) scored over 30.
2) 19.5 power play percentage (ninth in NHL) — Given their struggles last season (dredged up again in recent weeks), the Hawks’ power play unit maintained a much better season this year than last. Leading the way were Kane and Sharp, both with a team-leading 10 power play goals, and defenseman Duncan Keith who notched a team-leading 18 assists in the power play. For this team to succeed come playoff time, this unit must stay patient and create high percentage scoring chances, getting bodies to the net and creating havoc in front of the goalie.
On the other side, there were a couple of things that concerned me throughout the year. Let’s go by the numbers again:
1) 2.6 goals against average (12th in NHL) — A hot goalie is needed to get through any playoff season, as are defensemen and forwards keeping pucks out the net, blocking shots and not turning the puck over. A lot of the Hawks’ play this season makes one question if they could do that. Many times this season, especially after scoring a goal, they would give a goal right back to their opponents. This is due to lack of focus and players out of position on the ice.
Corey Crawford doesn’t have the same stats in goal that he had a year ago, but he has come on at the right time (32-16-10 record, two shutouts, 2.26 goals against average) and given what he did in last year’s run to the Cup, there should be no worries about his abilities to lead the Hawks to back to back titles but the players in front of him must do the job of taking pressure off of him.
2) 81.5% Penalty Kill percentage (20th in NHL) — The Penalty Kill unit has had its struggles all year and the off-season trade of ex-Hawk Michael Frolik didn’t help matters, especially at the start of the season. This unit was great a season ago but the main problem with this year’s group has been dumb penalties being made — particularly by the likes of Andrew Shaw — and playing out of position while the opponent has the puck.
This unit did make huge strides after the Olympic break as it was ranked even lower than 20th prior to Sochi. The likes of Marcus Kruger, Shaw, Ben Smith, Brandon Bollig and Brandon Saad must keep the PK play up along with the defensemen, helping out Crawford by staying in their lanes and getting sticks on pucks and not allowing the opposition to create plays.
This season also saw the rise of young talent in the Blackhawks organization with the likes of Smith, Jeremy Morin, Antti Raanta, Joakim Nordstrom and Teuvo Terevainen. All contributed in their own way, adding to the well-established core of Kane, Toews, Hossa and Sharp.
So what did I learn about the Hawks in the regular season? Yes, they have depth on their roster ready to contribute like a year ago. Raanta provides a prime example of that depth — although he is a rookie, he showed in his 25 appearances (2.71 GAA, .897% on saves) that he is a capable backup goalie and if something should happen to Crawford in the playoffs, he’ll be ready to step up. On the fourth line Smith has stood out, he also showed his effectiveness on the third and second lines over the course of the season.
Finally, in its recent time having to play without Kane and Toews, the Hawks showed that for a short time they can survive. But to get to where they want to be, the Hawks will need both will be needed at their healthiest and ready to deliver at a moment’s notice.
Unlike last year, home ice advantage will not be at Chicago’s disposal to start this year’s playoffs. The road back will be much tougher given the competition in the Western Conference. Can the Hawks hold up? You’ll have to find out my prediction in my series preview later this week.
The Week Ahead
The Hawks will play Game 1 of its first round series against the St. Louis Blues Thursday in St. Louis, more details are still to be announced.
Final Regular Season Stat Leaders
Goals — Patrick Sharp (34); Assists — Duncan Keith (55); Points — Sharp (78); Goals Against Average — Corey Crawford (2.26); Penalty Minutes — Brandon Bollig (92).
The full schedules for the first round of the Stanley Cup Finals were released Monday night. Check out our very own Brian Mazique of “Jocks, Geeks and Gamers” breaking down the matchups with full broadcast information on Bleacher Report.
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