Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
In the recent Winter Classic, the Washington Capitals showed once again that they are a challenge for the Chicago Blackhawks, but beyond the Caps not much seems to slow down the Hawks these days.
At 26-11-2 overall, the Hawks just keep on rolling, winning three of their last four games while posting a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games.
In spite of the last-second loss to the Caps on New Year’s Day, the Hawks are in top form and scoring goals at their usual fast pace, standing fifth in the NHL overall with a 3.1 average per game. While the scoring is hot, the starts to games recently has been ice cold for Chicago.
In their last four games, the Hawks have given up a total of seven first period goals. Many reasons are possible for this hiccup in play — from fatigue to defensive coverage and a surprising one — goaltending.
Since returning from injury, Corey Crawford hasn’t been his best, giving up 18 goals in six games, but Crawford has kept the team in games, made key saves and not turned the puck over. Although his goals allowed average has gone up since the return, Crawford is among the least of the Hawks’ problems and his overall stat line proves that (15-7-2 record, 2.20 GAA, .919 SV %, 1 SO).
Wiping away the possible reasons, my pinpointed reason for the Hawks’ slow starts are a lack of focus in the early parts of games.
When the Hawks start games at their pace they are very hard to beat, but when they let their opponent set the tone, the other team has confidence and the Hawks have to spend energy in coming back to win games. This formula was worked against lesser opponents but on a bigger stage against a more capable opponent in the Capitals it caught up with them.
If the Hawks don’t cure this problem now, they’ll continue to falter on big stages against capable opponents — not the type of diagnosis Chicago wants come playoff time. In the playoffs when opponents get a lead they’re more likely to keep them. You can’t flirt with disaster against the more powerful teams in the NHL.
Still, there’s a silver lining to the Hawks’ tendency to shoot it out with teams — no team is on their level weapons-wise. The Hawks have the best differential of goals scored above goals allowed in the NHL with a +39 (124 to 85).
Now we’re into the fourth month of the 2014-15 NHL regular season as well as two weeks away from the all-star break and the Hawks are in a heated battle atop the Central Division with the Nashville Predators, tied at 54 points apiece.
The schedule for the month of January is tough and very balanced with six home games and six road games, including a seven-game road that bridges this month and February.
Opponents for the Hawks are not kind, with the likes of the Minnesota Wild (x2); Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes and another match with the Dallas Stars on the agenda.
As we’ve learned time and time again, the Hawks like to step up their game against better competition and often bring out their best. With a 14-4-1 home record this season, the Hawks must continue to collect points at the United Center because their road trip at the end of the month is stacked with the very best in the Western Conference.
At 12-7-1 overall on the road, the Hawks can retain some confidence that they’ll maintain ground in their division and the soon-to-be relevant conference postseason race.
Big props to the five Chicago Blackhawks who were voted in by the fans for the 2015 NHL All Star Game in Columbus on January 25th — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford.
Overall fan voting:
1) Zemgus Girgenson (BUF), 1,574,896
2) Patrick Kane (CHI), 1,232,201
3) Jonathan Toews (CHI), 1,217,210
4) Duncan Keith (CHI), 1,198,173
5) Corey Crawford (CHI), 1,099,504
The remaining roster will be revealed this Saturday, January 10th.
To Kane, who with his 19th goal of the season versus Dallas tied himself with Troy Murray on the all-time Hawks list with 197 career goals.
To CAPTAIN SERIOUS, Jonathan Toews for becoming the NHL leader in career points in outdoor games with five overall (2 goals, 3 assists).
Player of the Week
Patrick Sharp — Sharp is officially back from his recent injury and is now back in superstar form, riding a season-high four-game point streak ( 3 goals, 2 assists), including the game-winning goal against Dallas Sunday and a power play goal against Washington in last Thursday’s Winter Classic.
With Kris Versteeg injuring his hand in the Winter Classic, both Joakim Nordstrom and Teuvo Teravainen were called up from Rockford (AHL). Versteeg is expected to be out a month.
Sharp moves up to the team’s second line alongside Patrick Kane and Brad Richards to replace Versteeg in the lineup.
Goals per game: 3.1 (5th in NHL)
Goals against: 2.2 (1st in NHL)
Power Play percentage: 18.9 (15th in NHL)
Penalty Kill percentage: 89.9 (1st in NHL)
Goals — Patrick Kane (19); Assists — Kane (23); Points — Kane (42); Goals Against Average — Antti Raanta (1.73); Penalty Minutes — Andrew Shaw (30).
The Week Ahead
Tonight — vs. Colorado, 7:30 pm; Thursday — at Minnesota, 7 pm; Friday — at Edmonton, 8:30 pm; Sunday — vs. Minnesota, 7 pm.
*All times Central
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