For the first time since the season opener on January 19th, the Chicago Blackhawks have found themselves looking up at somebody in the standings. Thanks to an amazing 14 game winning streak by the Pittsburgh Penguins the Hawks no longer have home ice advantage if they were to make a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
As the Hawks’ 28 game unbeaten streak continued to grow throughout January and February, the same comment kept arising from naysayers: “Well I’d rather be hot at the end of the season than the beginning.”
Ummm…of course you would. You must be a college grad.
That streak, however, helped the Hawks amass a ton of points early on AND taught them how to play—and win—big games under very bright lights.
Now that the Penguins and their winning streak have rudely stolen the spotlight away from the Hawks they should get an opportunity over the next few games to take a good, honest look at the team. The NHL’s attention has switched back to the Eastern Conference and so Chicago can focus on cleaning up any nagging, loose ends heading towards the playoffs.
Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp are not playing tonight against the Anaheim Ducks and that’s perfectly okay. Get em healthy. Despite the reports that the apocalypse is upon them, the Hawks have won eight of their last 12 and are five points ahead of the Ducks for the Western Conference one seed with a game in hand. The Hawks need to jump on Anaheim at home while they’re sliding— they’ve lost four in a row—and give goalie Corey Crawford the same type of effort defensively that they’ve been giving to back-up Ray Emery. Crawford’s mental fortitude will be crucial to the Hawks playoff run and so if it means sending him right back out after a lackluster effort to show continued faith then so be it.
And the power play situation needs to be fixed. Yes I know Hossa and Sharp are out, but there’s enough talent on this team to place them higher than 19th in power play scoring. Whether it’s continuing to change up lines to find the right combination or boosting the ice time of big guns Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, coach Joel Quenneville needs to keep searching. Defensively the power play is solid at 6th in the league although in essence it’s slipped a bit, as for the vast majority of the season it was far and away number one.
Finally the Hawks need to work on keeping their intensity for three full periods. In each of their four regulation losses there appears to be a period where the team loses focus, and that’s when they’re giving up costly goals. Tonight’s game versus the Ducks should also provide plenty of reason to stay on point as to date Anaheim is the only team in the league that can comfortably say they’ve got the Hawks’ number (the Ducks lead the series 0-1-1).
So enjoy the silence. Let the Penguins and their new toy Jarome Iginla bask in all the glory. Go ahead and quietly tighten up as the playoffs come closer and get back to the form that got you 44 of 48 possible points.
Besides, if the Hawks can get back to the Cup and run into Pittsburgh, they’ll have this for some billboard material: “1992 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins defeat Blackhawks four games to zero!”