Friday, Dec. 24, 2010
By Chris Boden
The "Kids" are Alright...
...and by that mean we mean, the less experienced, rather than the youngest.
Consider that Bryan Bickell (24), Jake Dowell (25) and Jack Skille (23) are all older than 22-year-olds Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Corey Crawford turns 26 in one week. Dave Bolland (24) and Troy Brouwer (25) are on the same experience level as Toews and Kane, but like the other four have stepped things up and been as key as anyone in getting this team's arrow pointing upward again during the absence of Kane and Marian Hossa.
The older we get, the more Christmastime is about enjoying the excitement and anticipation of the youth around us. In this case, it's about that group providing Hawks fans with enjoyment and excitement about what they've been doing lately, right when this team's needed it most. This team was showing signs of coming together during the Circus Trip, right before Hossa and Kane would each be sidelined for a few weeks each. Those could've been crippling injuries to this team with the Western Conference so tight and competitive. The kids were needed, and they've answered the bell and been at their best so far, meshing with their more experienced 'mates to actually give them momentum, instead of a bigger hole to climb out of. At the beginning of the season, we wrote about how the growth of some of these players would be crucial in how serious a threat they'd be in the daunting task of repeating as Stanley Cup champs.
In the seven games that both Kane and Hossa have been sidelined this month, here's a look at how that six-pack's produced:
Corey Crawford: 4-2-1 record, 15 goals-against (3 power play), .919 save percentage.
The five forwards provided 13 of the offense's 25 goals over the seven games, and on top of that, have also picked up on their other responsibilities they must maintain to remain on the ice in Joel Quenneville's system. They, and this team as a whole, has found the right degree of urgency, discipline, and physicality to control the action, particularly the last three games. Crawford's come up with big saves, has faced just three short-handed situations in the three-game win streak, and over these seven games, hasn't seen more than 31 shots. Only in the two games versus Colorado has he been faced with an inordinate amount of prime scoring chances.
With Hossa and Kane on the cusp of returning, there always seems to be an adjustment period in the lineup, even when great players get thrown back into the mix. That's not a bad thing when considering the caliber of players they are. But if the Blackhawks continue maintaining this level of play from this point forward, a little maturity from this group at the right time just might go a long way in being as strong an option as any in the West when the playoffs open.
That's still a long way away, and much can happen. But this group has provided a nice little present on Christmas week, and optimism about their capabilities of filling the void left by those departed Cup champions.
I hope all you Blackhawks fans, visitors of this page, and CSN viewers are having a wonderful holiday season, and best wishes for health, happiness, and fun watching the Blackhawks in 2011.
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.