Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Chicago Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
Most experts and fans alike expected the Chicago Blackhawks to struggle to score goals, and thus struggle to win, in the time it will take for Patrick Kane to come back from his recent injury.
While the Hawks’ overall goal scoring average has dropped them to the middle of the pack in the NHL, the Hawks have managed to stay on the right side of the scoreboard with their name still coming regularly before their opponent’s. So far during Kane’s absence, Chicago is sporting a 7-1-1 record, a mostly improbable run that has put the team in as good a position for the postseason as its been in a couple months.
The team’s offense hasn’t been unstoppable but when on a roll the Hawks have managed to put together impressive performances like their 6-goal outburst in a victory over the San Jose Sharks last Saturday.
Prior to its March 12th game versus Arizona, the Hawks scored one goal in their previous five periods, including their being shutout in a 1-0 overtime loss at home to the New York Rangers. In that same game, the Hawks failed with their man advantage going 0 for 4 in the process.
During their current four-game winning streak, the Hawks have scored more routinely in the power play, including converting in 4 of their first 11 chances in games against Arizona and San Jose. Later this week the team dominated its chances against the New York Islanders (4-1) and the Rangers, who they got a swift measure of revenge against by shutting them out 1-0 in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday behind Scott Darling’s first career shut-out.
Goaltenders Making Difference
Darling’s big moment Wednesday may have been a defining moment of this recent stretch but regular goalie Corey Crawford has been the real rock holding things down for Chicago while without Kane. Crawford has allowed a total of 8 goals in his last six starts along with collecting just under 200 saves while posting a .958 save percentage.
Crawford has a 5-0-1 record in his last six starts and judging his play right now he’s fully back to being one of the top goaltenders in the league with play similar to his stellar start in the first two months of this season.
Doing Time in Q’s Doghouse
While trying to stay sharp in preparations for the playoffs, head coach Joel Quennevile is not messing around. Usually Coach Q’s message of playing hard-nose hockey is received fine by his players but every once in a while another message is of need when a guy is just not playing consistently.
Forward Bryan Bickell found that out the hard way when he was scratched from the lineup against the Rangers on March 8. The wakeup call apparently worked for Mr. Bickell, as he scored his 12th goal of the season in a 6-3 win over the Sharks last Saturday and has maintained his proper role in the Hawks’ rotation since then. Bickell must bring scoring capabilities along with his toughness if he expects to be part of a successful Hawks postseason.
Another player that has recently felt Coach Q’s wrath is Kris Versteeg.
Versteeg’s ice time was cut short against San Jose last Saturday and there was a good reason why. In his last five games, Versteeg has tallied only one point, an assist in a 2-1 victory over Arizona last Thursday. For a player who overall has had a nice comeback season from a 2013-14 season full of injury, now is the wrong time to play inconsistently. Versteeg, expected to be a healthy scratch Tuesday against the Islanders, wound up playing but his luck only lasted until Wednesday when he was scratched for the Rangers.
“We’re just looking for the guys that are going. We’re just looking for more,” Coach Q told the media earlier this week.
To Brad Richards for netting home his 900th career point in the NHL with his 10th goal of the year on the power play, an eventual game-winner in the Hawks’ 2-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
For his career, Richards has a total of 287 goals along with 615 assists, the latest goal came deliciously against his former team, the Rangers, to decide that 1-0 game on Wednesday.
Also, props to the entire Blackhawks organization for bringing the fathers of the Hawks players along for their recent two-game road trip through Arizona and San Jose. The move proved to be a good luck charm as the Hawks swept the trip. For some behind the scenes footage of the players and their dads, go to chicagoblackhawks.com.
Goals — Patrick Kane (27); Assists — Kane (37); Points — Kane (64); Goals Against Average — Antti Raanta (1.89); Penalty Minutes — Andrew Shaw (59).
Goals Per Game: 2.7 (13th in NHL)
Goals Allowed: 2.21 (2nd in NHL)
Power Play Percentage: 18.2 (16th in NHL)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 86.3 (2nd in NHL)
The Road Ahead
Saturday at Dallas Stars — 7 p.m.
Monday at Carolina Hurricanes — 6 p.m.
Wednesday at Philadelphia Flyers — 7 p.m.
*All Times Central
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