Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Chicago Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
The finish line of the NHL regular season is well in sight now and playoff positioning has teams bunched up together shoulder to shoulder looking for some space to burst forward as the regular season draws to a close.
With a 7-3-1 record in their last 11 games the Chicago Blackhawks look like a team that’s getting the job done despite some inconsistent play from the guys casting shadows on their efforts at time. In all, the Hawks’ form may not be pretty, but this is still a team that knows how to move forward by any means.
Consider this — the Hawks have been shutout three times in their last 12 games, they’ve allowed 9 goals during even play (5 on 5) in their last four games and starting goaltender Corey Crawford was recently pulled during the 1st period of Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets after giving up 4 goals.
If you weren’t a fan who has followed this team from the start of the season, reading what I’ve just laid out may have caused you to think that the Hawks are a last place team, one whose lack of consistency and effort has cost them games at Dallas (last Saturday) at Philadelphia (last Wednesday) and at home to Columbus during what can be said is an inconvenient time — at third place currently, the Hawks are trying to chase down the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues for the Central Division title.
On the other side of this hurdle, the Hawks can be lauded for staying respectable in the most competitive division in hockey. The central features four of the top six point teams in the Western Conference. With 96 points, Chicago is holding on to a 1-point advantage over Minnesota, St. Louis is directly ahead (and catch-able with seven games left in the season) at 99 points. Nashville looks to be in good control with 102 to lead the division, that’s also good for second in the conference behind only Anaheim (105).
At 9-4-1 in games without their superstar Patrick Kane — still recovering from his recent injury — nothing less than a total team effort offensively has allowed the team to put goals on the scoreboard, the following three players have stood out most as of late for different reasons:
1) Jonathan Toews — Toews has put up 6 goals and 6 assists in the month of March, including tallying the game-winning goal in Sunday’s victory at Winnipeg.
As the top anchor of the first line, Toews sets the tone for the rest of his line mates and when he’s skating and passing the puck, especially in open ice, no one does it better.
2) Patrick Sharp — In his last 6 games, Sharp has scored 2 goals along with 2 assists while splitting time between the first and second lines. Sharp’s scoring pace may be starting to heat up as the Hawks close in on a playoff berth, the team may be hoping hard that his recent output is not a mirage — #10 was pointless in 8 of his prior 11 games before the recent 6-game stretch.
3) Andrew Shaw — Known as the enforcer, Shaw’s role is to help shutdown the opposition’s top scoring lines. For most of the season the team’s penalty minute leader has been most noticeable for the occasional questionable penalties he’s taken but this past week Shaw’s scoring has also warranted some mention. In his last 4 games, Shaw has scored four goals, including a two-goal performance in a 3-1 win at Carolina last Monday.
Shaw’s last week has been a perfect example of what an X-factor he can be if he can cut down on the penalties and increase his scoring chances.
Starting goalie Corey Crawford has taken his share of criticism at times throughout this season but during this recent stretch of games Crawford has given up 17 goals in his last six starts. His numbers look shaky on the stat sheet but Crawford should not be blamed for the Hawks recent struggles.
Due to the restrictions of his position, Crawford can’t score goals and Corey can’t play defense. The defensemen and forwards before him all have certain responsibilities they need to take on in order to calm down opposing scoring chances, if they don’t do those things then its much easier for the Hawks to get scored on, simple as that.
Crawford has made spectacular saves that has kept his team in games, but the lack of consistent offense from the five skaters in front of him have diminished his efforts and they’re going to make some tough losses look even tougher.
Goals — Patrick Kane (27); Assists — Kane (37); Points — Kane (64); Goals Against Average — Scott Darling (1.84); Penalty Minutes — Andrew Shaw (61).
Goals Per Game: 2.7 (17th in NHL)
Goals Allowed: 2.3 (3rd in NHL)
Power Play Percentage: 18.0 (19th in NHL)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 85.2 (3rd in NHL)
The Road Ahead
Tonight vs. L.A. Kings — 7:30 p.m.
Thursday vs. Vancouver — 7:30 p.m.
Friday at Buffalo Sabres — 6 p.m.
Sunday vs. St. Louis Blues — 6:30 p.m.
*All Times Central
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