It's a beautiful day in Chicago, a rare occurrence this winter. Yes, we know it's short lived. Yes, we know we'll be going right back into hockey weather starting tomorrow. Let us enjoy this, will ya?
But speaking of hockey, as winter gets closer to ending (Lord we hope so, anyway), the Blackhawks' regular season is also rolling toward its conclusion. The Blackhawks are still in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race; entering Monday's games they remain in third place with 90 points, four behind first-place St. Louis, three behind second-place Anaheim and one ahead of fourth-place San Jose.
Yep, it's going to be a tremendous finish in the West, much like it always is. So with the Blackhawks taking an off day and us taking a hiatus from their game in Buffalo on Sunday, we bring you random musings.
1. What a game for Niklas Hjalmarsson on Sunday night. His painful sequence of blocked shots proved pivotal for the Blackhawks in their 2-1 victory over the Sabres. Seemed like he had more than the three blocks he was credited for on the scoresheet — partner Johnny Oduya led the team with four — but it was a tremendous night for him. Bit of a surprise he didn't make the Three Stars but he's got the black and blue marks to show for his outing.
[WATCH: Blackhawks down the stretch]
2. Speaking of Three Stars, I'd abolish them if I could. Dumb, dumb, dumb. And I don't even like them when the selections are good ones. Just a goofy add-on to the game. Can we just get rid of them?
3. Whoever talked about a sluggish return for the Olympic players apparently hasn't been watching Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks captain has six goals and an assist in his last four games. Toews hasn't looked like he's stepped off the gas since scoring the game- and gold-winning goal for Team Canada over in Sochi. Perhaps it's the euphoria from that gold; or maybe it's just the captain getting on a hot streak at the time the Blackhawks need it.
4. For those who think a player moving up and down the lines can't still perform well, please see the Brandon Saad story. Saad has done well everywhere, recording 18 goals and 25 assists; he's also a plus-29, fourth overall in the league in that category. Yeah, he's only moved around a little this season: top line, second line, third line, left wing and right wing. No excuses for Saad: he just adjusts and plays. That's what good players do.
5. Don't worry, folks, Antti Raanta will be getting his starts down the stretch. Coach Joel Quenneville said he'll start some time this week — going to guess that means the Nashville game, unless Quenneville throws us and Corey Crawford a curveball vs. Colorado. The Blackhawks also have four remaining back-to-backs (yes, four more) before the regular season ends. So he'll get in there.
6. Perhaps a trip home will jump-start Patrick Kane's goal scoring. The right winger put the Blackhawks up 1-0 early on Sunday, scoring his first goal since Feb. 3, when he notched two a few hours after finding out his grandfather passed away. The Blackhawks need him to get going again.
7. The Blackhawks went 0-for-5 on the power play on Sunday night. They also went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill. It's starting to look like last year again in so many ways.
8. Marian Hossa (upper body) could start skating this week. Still, the Blackhawks will and should be careful with him. With just 17 regular-season games remaining we expect Hossa to go back to his scarce practice/skate schedule once he's up and running. Fine, go ahead. Considering his results heading into the Olympics, nobody's going to argue that itinerary.