Sidney Brown provides dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom throughout the hockey season.
The Men in Red finished the 2015-16 regular season with a record of 47-26-9, good for third overall in the Western Conference. In between opening night on October 7th of 2015 and this past Saturday we’ve been treated to a roller coaster of a Stanley Cup title defense, to say the least.
From Patrick Kane’s off-season troubles to Kane’s historic point streak to the franchise’s 12 game winning streak to injuries to key players to their struggles against division opponents and to a suspension of a marquee star, the Hawks have withstood just about every test available to them in an effort to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
Let’s take a look back at what made this regular season interesting to watch throughout both epic stretches and mundane periods:
Things I Liked
1) Artemi Panarin: 77 Points (47 assists) — The Bread Man made a huge impact in his rookie season and playing on the 2nd line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov made a world of difference. With his speed and skill, Panarin has made Kane a better player and much more dangerous against their opponents. Will this momentum continue in the playoffs? We shall see.
2) Power Play Percentage: 22.6 (2nd in NHL) — A lot has been written and said about the Hawks power play throughout the years because of the talent on the roster. This season has been nothing short of outstanding with Patrick Kane leading the way with 17 power play goals and 20 power play assists.
The combination of players with the likes of Kane, Toews, Hossa and Panarin would make any coach smile but it’s the execution in scoring goals is what counts. Defenseman Duncan Keith was 4th on the team with 14 power play assists while his defensive partner Brent Seabrook was 2nd with 19.
3) Trevor Van Riemsdyk: 14 Points (11 assists) — Last season was a nightmare for Trevor as suffered a devastating knee injury which set him back during his rookie season but made it back in time to collect his Stanley Cup ring.
This season, Van Riemsdyk played in every game and was paired with Brent Seabrook to try and form a solid defensive pairing. It was an up and down season at times but as the second half of the season continued, Van Riemsdyk has turned the corner with his defensive play and contributing offensively including two assists in his last five games. Trevor is expected to be a major contributor when the playoffs start.
4) Patrick Kane: 106 Points (60 assists) — What’s there left to be said about Kane’s career season? From day one, it was known that Kane is one of the top players in the NHL, but was there another level that he could reach? The answer was YES.
From the historic 26 consecutive game point streak to becoming the first Hawk since Tony Amonte to score 40+ goals in a season, Kane has put himself in the conversation for league MVP and will win the Art Ross Trophy for leading the NHL in scoring, becoming the first-ever American-born hockey player to earn that honor.
Plus, playing with rookie Artemi Panaring and Artem Anisimov doesn’t hurt either as the second line was the most productive line from start to finish. As we all know, Kane raises his game come playoff time and this year especially shouldn’t be any different.
5) Corey Crawford: 35-18-5 Record, 2.37 Goals Against, .924 Save Percent, 7 shutouts — With two Stanley Cups under his belt, Corey doesn’t have much to prove. After going through the trails and tribulations to maintain the starting job in net, Crawford’s mentality hasn’t been more stronger than right now. 2015-16 shaped up to be the best season of Crawford’s career until he suffered an upper body injury on March 14th.
Despite the injury, Crawford along with Kane were the team’s best players carrying Chicago through tough stretches. Crawford made key saves and literally carried the team on his back to keep the Hawks atop the Western Conference. As the playoffs near, will Crawford get the consistent help that he needs?
Things I Didn’t Like
1) 13-12-4 Record vs. Central Division — The Central has been as rugged as ever, featuring the revamped Dallas Stars — led by former Hawks Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Antti Niemi –, the fast roster of the Minnesota Wild and the tough, defensive-minded St. Louis Blues all have given the Hawks trouble all season.
Whether it was fatigue, timing on the schedule or just being outplayed for that night, Chicago failed to show up against top competition in the division while beating up the bottom cellars of the division.
2) Bryan Bickell: 2 Assists in 25 games — After a stellar postseason in 2013 and a contract extension that followed, Bickell has struggled with his play ever since and this season was sent down to Rockford twice. It was to be believed that Bryan has been struggling with his confidence and suffering an injury during the Western Conference Finals last season against Anaheim didn’t help matters either.
Bickell has regained his form with Rockford but has his time come to an end in a Hawks sweater? With one year left on his contract, the Hawks try once again to move him this summer for roster and salary cap reasons.
3) Penalty Kill Percentage: 80.3 (21st in the NHL) — For the first half of the year, the Hawks PK unit were in the top ten in the league until the injury to Marcus Kruger on December 17th. The unit carried on with rookie Phillip Danualt (who was traded to Montreal in February) until the All Star break, but started to struggle more game that Kruger missed.
Kruger made his return to the lineup at the end of March and made an immediate impact not only to the 4th line but to the PK unit finishing on a high note. If the Hawks want to be successful in the playoffs, the PK unit must be on top of their game. In all three of their Stanley Cup victories, the Hawks PK ranked in the top half of the NHL during the playoffs.
4) Duncan Keith Suspension — After the slashing incident on March 29th at Minnesota, Keith received a six game suspension including one playoff game. Keith was very fortunate that he only received one playoff game for his actions on Charlie Coyle. With an average of 25 minutes, 14 seconds of action on the ice, this time according to some, was much needed carrying the top defensive pairing.
Keith has shown that he’s the best in playing with an edge against top players, but he has to be a lot smarter because everyone is now watching him and the playoffs is a big stage and that’s where he’s at his best. Keith finished his 2015-16 campaign with 9 goals and 34 assists for a total of 43 points.
Chicago’s trade deadline acquisitions of Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann have made the Hawks a tougher out to come for playoff competitors, completing a roster that’s deep in depth and well-versed on all four lines.
Ladd’s 8 goals and 4 assists on the top line with Hossa and Toews has given the Hawks a veteran presence. Fleischmann’s impact on the third line with four goals and an assist has given a little scoring threat on the bottom two lines while Weise’s presence on the fourth line with Andrew Shaw and Andrew Desjardins make this line dangerous against opponent’s top scoring lines.
These additions will be expected to make a major impact overall, making Chicago a more complete, skillful veteran roster.
Team Leaders — Final
Points: Patrick Kane (106); Goals: Kane (46); Assists: Kane (60); Penalty Minutes: Andrew Shaw (69); Goals Against Average: Corey Crawford (2.37)
Team Stats — Final
Goals Per Game: 2.9 (6th in NHL)
Goals Against: 2.5 (10th in NHL)
Power Play: 22.6% (2nd in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 80.3% (21st in NHL)
Hawks Round 1 Schedule*
Wednesday at St. Louis Blues — 8:30 pm^
Friday at St. Louis — 7 pm^
Sunday vs St. Louis — 2 pm#
April 19 vs. St. Louis — 8:30 pm^
April 21 at St. Louis — TBD (if necessary)
April 23 vs St. Louis — TBD (if necessary)
April 25 at St. Louis — TBD (if necessary)
*All times central
^Broadcast on CSN-Chicago & NBCSN
#Broadcast on NBC
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