Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011
By Tracey Myers
LOS ANGELES The Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 victory against the Los Angeles Kings was somewhat symbolic to the first half of their season: a so-so start, moments of brilliant play punctuated by costly errors.
On Monday, the Blachkawks dug in and got the slim triumph. Now they have to dig in if they want to even have a chance at defending their Stanley Cup. Not making the playoffs is always possible. But can the champs say theres no chance they dont make it?
I think its crazy to think were the type of team thats not going to be there. I think thats ridiculous, Jonathan Toews said. We hope things keep getting better from here on, were going to stay optimistic. Well all be pretty disappointed at the end of the year if we cant accomplish our goal of doing that, but its a long season.
For people who make guarantees and say things are going to happen, thats probably not the smartest thing either. Were not going to do that, Toews continued. Were going to let the way we play speak louder than what we say. Hopefully we try to keep playing well.
So the Blackhawks will trudge on and try to solidify a spot among the top eight in the West. Its usually tight in this conference, but this seasons wiggle room is as small as ever. Yes, the wild West is even wilder. So with that in mind, heres a quick look at the good, the bad and the ugly for the Blackhawks through 41 games:
Jonathan Toews: The captain has shown his resiliency and importance on this team constantly, providing the anchor the Blackhawks need. He proved that again on Monday night, returning to the lineup just two games after suffering a right-shoulder injury.
If Toews was ailing at all, he certainly wasnt showing it. He took a few licks, recorded six shots on goal, still went into the tough areas and was right in front of the net to deflect the game-winner against the Kings on Monday.
Toews, who was voted to play in the 2011 All-Star game, said he wouldnt be there without the fans. Maybe, but the overwhelming talent doesnt hurt, either.
Patrick Sharp: Well say it one more time; he shouldve been on the All-Star ballot. Heres to the forward getting the call to Raleigh, N.C., for the All-Star game later this month. But whether he does or not, Sharp has been stellar and steady for the Blackhawks this first half of the season.
He tallied his 23rd goal on Monday night, leaving him two shy of what he reached last season and 13 away from his career high of 36 set a few seasons ago. Hes been successful no matter what line hes on, hasnt gone more than two games without a point and has scored five-game-winning goals and 19 power-play points. Enough said.
Potent power play: As much as the Blackhawks are struggling in the standings, theyd be even worse off if it wasnt for the success of their power play. Its ranked No. 1 in the league and has bailed them out more than a few times, and Monday was no exception (two goals on four opportunities). Now with that being said
Holey penalty kill: As good as the Blackhawks have been on the advantage theyve been just as poor facing the oppositions. As of Monday they were ranked 25th in the league on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks have allowed a lot of goals in the waning seconds of their penalty kill or just after the kill expired. Its hurt them, and it has to get better.
Injuries: You could probably count on one hand the number of games the Blackhawks have had a completely healthy lineup this season. Brian Campbell missed a month to start the season (MCL). Marian Hossas been out twice (upper- and lower-body). Patrick Kane (ankle) was out three weeks and Toews (shoulder) went down just as Hossa and Kane got back last week.
When the Blackhawks play on Wednesday, itll be the second straight game they should have everyone available. Theyll need that health to continue over the final 41 games.
Third-period meltdowns: Coach Joel Quenneville didnt hesitate when asked the biggest problem of the first half: No question, the number of games when we were tied in the third period and came up with no points. I dont have the exact number.
My esteemed colleague, Chris Boden, wrote about that earlier this week and gave a breakdown of said games and lost opportunities. The Blackhawks have to reverse that trend immediately.
The Blackhawks know whats at stake and know it will be tricky. They cant lament first-half problems anymore. The page has turned. Their success level and fortunes have to, too.
Its definitely been more of a battle; not every team can waltz through a regular season, defenseman Duncan Keith said. Were in the same position as a lot of other teams. Its a close race, its tight right now, and thats the importance of coming to play every night. You can never have a game now where you dont show up. We need to go out every night and try to get two points.
Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.