Chicago sports fans: we know how you feel. The Bears took you to the brink of exhaustion and excitement today before falling to the Green Bay Packers.
But we come bearing great news: while the Bears season has come to an end, the Chicago Blackhawks’ season has just reached the halfway mark. That’s right: 41 regular-season games are done, and there are 41 to go. So while Bears fans lick their no-postseason wounds, we’ll give a look back at the Blackhawks’ first half of the season: the good, the bad and the ugly.
OK, we could be here a while. Yes, the Blackhawks would’ve loved to close out the first half of their 2013-14 season with a victory against their new Detroit Red Wings (aka the St. Louis Blues), but it was not to be. But the Blackhawks’ first-half success speaks for itself: 27-7-7 for 61 points, good for second place in the Western Conference. Not bad for a team that was supposed to be going through a Stanley Cup hangover.
The Blackhawks weathered injuries, from early concerns with Marian Hossa’s back to Bryan Bickell’s knee to both Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin suffering maladies. Once again, their depth helped. So did their stars having fantastic seasons thus far. The top line of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Hossa has been lethal. Sharp has pretty much written his ticket to the Winter Olympics with his recent goal-scoring extravaganza. Patrick Kane’s garnered points in 26 of 27 games, including his current (and career-best) 14-game point streak.
Duncan Keith is putting together another Norris Trophy-worthy season as part of a strong, deep defense. Throw in a very successful power play (third overall, scoring 24.8 percent of the time) and the Blackhawks aren’t having many troubles in the goal-scoring department. There’s a lot that’s gone well for the Blackhawks through the first 41, and so far, coach Joel Quenneville has been pretty happy with everything.
“We’ve liked he way we’ve played,” he said. “We were happy with our start, knowing there was some uncertainty there. We’re playing our best hockey as of late. If we can finish the second half the way we did the first half, we’d be happy.”
We have to bring up the Blackhawks’ penalty kill here. The good news is, it’s gotten better as of late. The bad news is, it’s still near the bottom of the league in effectiveness (76.0 percent, 28th overall). The Blackhawks had their “rock-bottom” moment, as Quenneville called it, when they gave up one power-play goal with one second remaining on the one power play they faced against Anaheim on Dec. 6. It had been on a roll lately but, unfortunately, was responsible for giving up the tying goal to the Blues on Saturday night.
This was the Blackhawks’ well-oiled machine last season; this year, not so much. The Blackhawks are at their best on the kill when they’re confident and being aggressive. They need to get those aspects corrected in the second half.
There’s not much that falls into this category, save, perhaps, the shootout. It’s strange that a team with this much offensive skill struggles in the shootout. But the Blackhawks had the same skill with the power play last season; it was a stinker then, stellar now. So there you go.
Anyway, the Blackhawks have been up and down here. When they have scored goals, like they did on Saturday night, they can’t stop enough at the other end. For as good as Antti Raanta has been in his brief time with the Blackhawks, he’s struggled in the shootouts. So has Patrick Kane (0 for 9 this season). But when a guy has put up points like he has during regulation and overtime you’re very careful to nitpick. Still, it’s an area the Blackhawks want to improve.