Sidney Brown provides dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
Sure, winning Stanley Cups has become somewhat routine in Chicago, but if coming into this current season if any of you Chicago Blackhawk fanatics expected another Stanley Cup hangover with very little to talk about until the playoffs, you were bound for disappointment.
The 2015-16 Chicago Blackhawks have provided moments of frustration and elation, enough for an entire championship defense campaign, but here we are, just saying “hi” to the All-Star Break, which takes place this weekend.
From its temporary struggles to find an identity, to the rise of young players like Artemi Panarin, to the solid play at second line center, to the Marcus Kruger injury, to the solid play in net and of course the franchise record of 12 straight victories…the Men in Red haven’t let up a bit and while its allowed little time for the devoted Hawks fan to rest, you gotta love the results so far — first place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference with a 33-16-4 mark.
The Hawks have stumbled recently, losing three of their last four games, but there’s a lot to be proud of the old squad right now and a lot to look forward to for the rest of the regular season. Let’s take a careful breakdown of the first half of the 2015-16 campaign.
The Second Line (Patrick Kane, Artem Anisimov, Artemi Panarin):
This line has been consistent since opening night led by MVP candidate Patrick Kane (30 goals, 43 assists) who has seen a resurgence in his game and his historic 26 game point streak propelled him to new heights to be considers as the best overall player in the game.
Kane’s line mate and rookie sensation Artemi Panarin (17 G, 29 A) leads all rookies in total points and his speed and skill has helped Kane become that much more dangerous creating nightmares for opponents.
This 2nd wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Artem Anisimov who was acquired by trade in the offseason has filled the role of 2nd line center to perfection, a position that the Hawks have lacked for years. Anisimov who has 17 goals and 10 assists has provided leadership on and off the ice along with winning key faceoffs.
The Fourth Line:
With the play of Andrew Desjardins (6 goals) and call up Phillip Danault (4 assists), the Hawks bottom lines have contributed mightly by not only shutting down opponents top lines, but added scoring at key times in games.
Danult who replaced the injured Marcus Kruger in December, has filled in nicely and the penalty kill unit that was expected to take a major hit hasn’t disappoint. The PK is currently ranked 9th in the NHL and hopefully the position remains the same until Kruger’s return at the start of the playoffs.
In just 8 games since joining the team from Toronto, Gustafsson has provided much needed depth along the blue line tallying 8 assists. Expect Gustafsson to be a key player down the stretch on defense as the regular season winds down.
With two Stanley Cups under his belt, what’s there to complain about when it comes to Mr. Crawford? Corey lead the league in shutouts with seven and has compiled a record of 28-12-2 with a 2.14 goals against average and a save percentage of .931. Let’s take a closer look at Crawford’s amazing first half:
Starts — Home 24; Road 18
Record (W-L-OT ) — Home 18-5-1; Road 10-7-1
Goals Allowed — Home 38; Road 49
Goals Allowed Average — Home 1.59; Road 2.93
Save Percentage — Home .947; Road .909
Shutouts — Home 7; Road 0
Bickell’s playoff performances of 2013 and 2014 have gone by the waste side with his struggles in last year’s playoffs which have carried into this season. With only two assists on the season, Bickell has been sent down to Rockford (AHL) twice and hopefully Bryan can find his game again along with confidence. Bryan may be a wild card should there be injuries.
A key player on the fourth line and on the penalty kill in recent years was lost for the rest of the regular season on December 17 with a wrist injury. Yes, Kruger’s presence will be missed but so far, the PK hasn’t missed a beat thanks to rookie forward Phillip Danault who replace Kruger on the roster from Rockford.
Who Needs To Step Up?
Marian Hossa — With 8 goals and 17 assists, age has caught up with Hossa but his two way game on the ice is still strong and has been an factor on the top line with Jonathan Toews. Hossa must score with a little more consistency if the Hawks want to take the next step.
Teuvo Teravainen — After last year’s playoff performance, everyone expected Teravainen to take the next step in his development. Being shuffled from the top line to the third line has been rough for Teuvo but his stat line of 9 goals and 13 assists is still pretty impressive. His scoring along with his recent strong play on defense must improve dramatically.
So What Now?
A solid record of 21-5-1 at the United Center is what fans usually expect, but what should be a concern is the road record of 12-11-3 and a 9-6-1 mark within the division.
The Hawks play in the division has improved in recent weeks thanks to the historic 12 consecutive game wining streak and will face another strong test coming out of the All Star break with a game at the Dallas Stars next Saturday. The 4-0 loss on December 23 in Texas and a goal from ex-Hawks star Patrick Sharp should come to mind for Hawks fans.
The Western Conference is there for the taken if the Hawks want it and with a record of 20-7-3, there should be motivation to at least finish the regular season strong. Coming out of the All Star break is the current five game road swing in which the team is currently 0-1. The remaining schedule should be manageable with a strong division opponent to wrap up the trip.
The load of games gets a little bit lighter during the month of February in which the Hawks should continue their dominate play.
NOTE: Don’t forget to listen to the D & Davis Show on chicagolandsportsradio.com this Saturday at 1:20 pm central as Cheryl Raye Stout of WBEZ-FM joins me and the D & D crew in breaking down the Hawks’ first half. Also, listen to the Sid and X Show immediately following D & Davis as Xander Morgan and myself discuss the Men in Red with James Neveau of nbcchicago.com at 3 pm this Saturday.
Goals Per Game: 2.8 (6th in NHL)
Goals Against: 2.3 (5th in NHL)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 82.6 (9th in NHL)
Power Play Percentage: 21.5 (4th in NHL)
Points: Patrick Kane (73)
Goals: Kane (30)
Assists: Kane (43)
Penalty Minutes: Andrew Shaw (41)
Goals Against Average: Corey Crawford (2.14)
The Road Ahead (Thru 2/6)*
Tuesday (Feb. 2) at Colorado Avalanche — 8 pm
Feb. 4 at Arizona Coyotes — 8 pm
Feb. 6 at Dallas Stars — 7 pm
*All times central
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