Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Chicago Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
The 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks finished the regular season campaign with a 48-28-6 record and 102 points, good enough for third place in the Central Division and a No. 4 seed in the Western Conference bracket of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Its been a season filled with twists and turns that has brought the Hawks to this point — from the relatively slow start out the gate, to Corey Crawford’s injury in December, to Kris Versteeg breaking his hand on New Year’s Day at Washington, to hometown hero Scott Darling beating out Antti Raanta for the backup goalie spot and, of course, Patrick Kane’s injury that sidelined him for around the final fourth of the regular season.
After ending the season with four straight losses, the Hawks should actually feel good that they’ve won 48 times and posting a franchise-best 24 wins (24-16-1) on the road. After having a chance to reflect on this crazy and unpredictable season, I’ve compiled a list of things that I liked and disliked from this regular season.
It wasn’t easy but I made the best of it, so let’s take a closer look at the ups and downs that have made the ’14-15 season.
Things I Liked This Season
1) Corey Crawford — Already a Stanley Cup-winning goalie, Crawford’s game just keeps getting better. Crawford posted a career high in wins with 33 to go with a league leading 2.27 goals allowed average and a .924 save percentage, good enough to earn a share of the William Jennings Trophy (awarded to the goalie with the best GAA) with Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
Crow started the season hot until an injury sidelined him in early December, when he returned to the lineup at the start of January, his game wasn’t as sharp and it led to him being pulled during a home loss to the Boston Bruins in mid-February. After the team adjusted in the wake of Kane’s injury, Crawford literally carried the Hawks to the finish line and made his presence known that he’s ready for another run at Lord Stanley’s Cup.
2) Jonathan Toews — Captain Serious raised his game to another level after Patrick Kane’s injury on February 24th, posting 17 points (10 goals) and anchoring the first line as its mainstay. Toews makes everyone else around him better with his leadership and his grit for playing tough hockey. With game-winning goals at Winnipeg and at Buffalo late in the season Toews almost crept in as a backdoor MVP candidate, but still he scored a team-high total of 66 points. Not too bad for a superstar who missed his partner in crime during the second half of the season.
3) Scott Darling — After struggling through the minors leagues to start off his career, Darling finally found an opportunity to thrive in Chicago and wound up taking the backup goalie job away from Antti Raanta and running with it.
Posting nine wins for the year along with a 1.95 save percentage, Darling gained confidence after every performance and this was most evident in a 1-0 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden back in March. By making incredible saves and not letting big moments get to him, Darling has proven that hard work through struggle can pay off and it can lead to a remaining roster spot for years to come.
4) Teuvo Teravainen — This young prospect, expected to see more and more ice time as he goes along, started to show signs of why the Hawks drafted him high a few years ago. Teravainen netted home just four goals along with five assists in Kane’s absence but showed much progress in playing two-way hockey. Teravainen has the speed and skill but he still has much room for improvement and by playing on the 3rd and 4th lines he has the opportunities available to sustain his growth.
5) Brandon Saad — This third year forward, better known as the Manchild, exploded onto the scene with a career-high in goals scored (23) along with 29 assists for 52 points. Saad is an interchangeable piece and can play on any line and with the likes of Toews, Kane, Hossa and Sharp, Saad’s scoring has improved, marking an output that matches his speed and offensive skill.
Things I Didn’t Like This Season
1) Patrick Kane’s Injury — Kane broke his left collarbone on February 24th against Florida and was lost for the rest of the regular season. What went with him most obviously was the Hawks’ best source of scoring and play-making ability. The two things that suffered the most was Chicago’s goals per game average (2.7, 17th in NHL) and its power play (17.6, 20th in NHL).
With his superstar skill, Kane elevates his teammates in the open ice and with his speed he creates double teams and increases scoring chances for others.
The Hawks had to switch to a more-defensive approach without Kan and while it worked to survive the rest of the regular season, what makes this team go is their offense and it will be needed as the playoffs begin, luckily Kane has been cleared to go again starting with Game 1 at Nashville.
2) Power Play Percentage — At 17.6, the Hawks’ power play percentage is unacceptable for this team, but this unit had issues off and on before Kane’s injury. At times, Hawks players get too creative with their play-making, which causes turnovers and chances for their opponents. The Hawks just need to keep it simple by staying patient and making plays the easy way.
3) Bryan Bickell — Bickell has been known as a standout postseason performer the last two seasons, his last regular season was filled with injuries but the one that just ended was filled with inconsistency in spite of his being healthy. While posting just 14 goals, Bickell has been asked to provide a physical presence, of which he has done well, but it has come at an expense to his scoring. Bickell’s presence in front of the net will be crucial if the Hawks plan to go far.
4) Brad Richards — At age 34, Richards was brought in last offseason to provide veteran leadership and stability on the second line. After struggling for the first month and a half, Richards found his groove and along with Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane led the Hawks through there winningest month in December.
After the calendar turned to 2015, Richards disappeared again. Richards missed the final three games of the regular season and finished the year with 12 goals and 25 assists. Maybe the playoffs will help turn his game around along with pairing up with Kane and Versteeg on the second line.
5) Losing final four games to end regular season (all to divisional opponents) — While the Hawks had a chance to win the Central Division entering the final weeks of the season, their defensive style, along with their slumping scoring efforts, finally caught up with them. Losing to the St. Louis Blues twice in the same week by scores of 2-1 and dropping a home game to the Minnesota Wild gave cause for major concern with Hawks fans. Luckily, as the old saying goes, once the playoffs start, everyone starts 0-0.
Hawks Record (By Month)
Team Leaders (Final)
Goals — Jonathan Toews (28); Assists — Marian Hossa (39); Points — Toews (66); Goals Against Average — Antti Raanta (1.89); Penalty Minutes — Andrew Shaw (67).
Team Statistics (Final)
Goals Per Game: 2.7 (17th in NHL)
Goals Allowed: 2.3 (2nd in NHL)
Power Play Percentage: 17.6 (20th in NHL)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 83.4 (10th in NHL)
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