How many people could have predicted that in a month when they were without Jonathan Toews and without Duncan Keith, that the Chicago Blackhawks would go 10-2-2, and clinch a playoff spot in the tight race in the Western Conference? It’s likely that very few did, but they managed to do so, with a strong showing in the month of March.
There might not be a more important player to his team in the National Hockey League than Jonathan Toews is to the Blackhawks. It’s not that the Blackhawks aren’t capable of scoring without him, because they can, but for a team already so thin in the middle, missing a Selke Trophy-type center at the top of your lineup really hurts.
Without Toews, the Hawks have rolled with Patrick Kane centering the top line, and Marcus Kruger on the second, with Dave Bolland and Jamal Mayers taking care of the bottom two lines. It’s not an ideal group, but it’s gotten the job done. Kane has elevated his game with Toews out, while Kruger’s line with Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg has thrived of late.
The fact that Duncan Keith was lost to a five game suspension towards the end of the month, just added insult to injury with the captain out.
Losing a guy who logs 30 minutes a game regularly on the blue line wasn’t expected to help the Hawks at all, and many questioned whether or not they would fall hard without Keith, especially after a 6-1 loss to the Nashville Predators in the first game without him.
But just as they have on the forward lines with Toews out, the Blackhawks’ blue liners have stepped up, none bigger than Johnny Oduya. Oduya has been great since his trade from the Winnipeg Jets, and has been the one guy on defense who has elevated his game without Keith, showing that he can shoulder that load.
Of the 14 games the Hawks played in the month of March, 13 of them were against teams that are either locked into the playoffs, or are right on the cusp of grabbing a berth. They won nine of those, with two of the four losses coming in the ping pong tournament that is the shootout.
The good news for the Blackhawks is, as well as they’ve managed to play without them, they won’t have to much longer. Toews has been cleared for contact and could return soon, while Keith is set to return from his suspension on Thursday, against the Minnesota Wild.
When you add their recent play with the return of two of their stars, it’s looking like the Hawks could be a very dangerous team when the playoffs roll around. Now it’s just a matter of determining the first round matchup, which is far from decided with a pair of games left in the regular season.