Blackhawks at half: The good, the bad & the ugly

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Blackhawks at half: The good, the bad & the ugly

Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011
5:41 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

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:

THE GOOD

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

THE BAD

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.

THE UGLY
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.

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Incentive. For many young prospects trying to latch onto an NHL roster, there's already plenty of it there. It's a chance at playing on a bigger stage, a bigger opportunity for a career and, if you're on a two-way contract, a bigger paycheck.

Tanner Kero already had that incentive but in November, received an even more special one: he and his wife welcomed their first child, a boy. Now when Kero plays, it's not just what it means for him. It's what it means for his family.

"It's been a fun experience. It's something a little extra special that you play for," Kero said. "You get your mind away from the game when you go home. You just relax and enjoy that part of life. It's just something extra to play for and it's been special."

Kero has been making the most of his second shot with the Blackhawks, recording two goals and two assists on the Blackhawks' dads trip. That included a three-point night against the Colorado Avalanche and a building chemistry with line mates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa. 

Coach Joel Quenneville likes what he's seen thus far.

"He did a great job for us," Quenneville said. "Defensively, we like his availability in his own end. We like his positioning offensively. He had a nice couple of games to finish the dads trip but he's been good for us. I like the consistency."

Rockford coach Ted Dent said Kero started playing better in November, not long after Kero became a dad. Whether or not that had anything to do with it Dent didn't know, but the results were there nonetheless.

"I think he'd be the first to say his season started off slow with us and he finally caught his stride, maybe 15-20 games into our season," Dent said. "He was skating better, skating stronger, he had more confidence with the puck and things just came together."

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Kero's line is a good blend of familiarity, defense and skill. Kero and Hinostroza are good friends who played together plenty in Rockford. Hossa is... well, Hossa, and pretty much benefits any line mate.

"It's been good," Kero said. "We've been trying to continue, get some secondary scoring. But we also want to be relied on defensively, be counted on to play in big situations, a defensive draw, at the end of a period or end of a game. We're trying to focus on being good defensively, being simple and hard to play against. We're getting fortunate enough to contribute offensively as well."

Hossa, whose game-winning goal in Boston came off a Kero feed, said the 24-year-old is adapting well.

"Since they called him up he took it to his advantage. Right now he's playing the 200-foot game, [he's] real smart in our zone, doesn't panic, makes the right play at the right time, and he's showing more offensive abilities," Hossa said. "It seems like things are going well for him and we're glad we can help as a third line right now in scoring some important goals. With young players, that's definitely big."

Kero's made an impact and an impression with the Blackhawks. Quenneville said on Sunday that, even when Marcus Kruger returns from his injury, Kero will likely remain where he is – "I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

"That comment tells you the trust level he's gained in Kero," Dent said. "I knew over time that Kero was a player that Q was going to love. I've gotten to know Q over the years and in talking to him I know what he likes in players and it was just a matter of time because Kero's a responsible two-way player. He doesn't cheat the game and he's very aware of his defensive responsibilities and that's what Q loves, first and foremost. A lot of us coaches love that."

Kero is making strides in his second stint with the Blackhawks. He already had plenty of incentive to make an impact on this roster. Now a new father, he has that much more of one.
 

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