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Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks First Semester Report Card

Chicago BlackhawksNow Playing: Lupine Howl – The Carnivorous Lunar Activities of Lupine Howl

The Blackhawks have completed the first half of the ‘09-’10 campaign, and while it’s hard to find anything negative going into the second 41 games, I’ll do my best to shed some light on where the team grades out thus far.

Offense

As of Sunday morning, the Blackhawks are fifth in the league and third in the Western Conference with 128 goals for in 41 games, an average of 3.12 per game. While that’s impressive in its own right, they are in that spot without a 20-goal scorer, but six players (that’s two full lines, for those of you scoring at home) in double digit goal territory. Combined with solid contributions from Andrew Ladd and the newly acquired John Madden and Marian Hossa, the Blackhawks have shown that it takes more to beat them than shutting down any one player. They send the offense in waves, sustaining pressure and wearing down the opposition until they make tired mistakes resulting in Blackhawk goals. If anything could be improved, it would be the recognition of when they need to dump the puck deep in the zone if their opponent is stacking up defenders at the blue line. One guy to watch would be Ben Eager. He’s big and strong, and he has surprisingly good puck control for someone of his size. If he can sync his physical play and his puckhandling skills, he will be a serious force that could eventually flirt with the 20-25 goal mark.

Grade: A-

Defense

With the Blackhawks potent offense getting so much attention, it’s easy to overlook the stellar defense that has allowed the fewest goals and shots per game in the NHL, and has the Blackhawks as the only team sporting a goal differential per game of over 1. The two defensive leaders, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have played every bit as well as expected, playing to +11 and +15, respectively. The rest of the defensive corps has really stepped up and eased the burden on the top 2, with solid play from Cam Barker, with Brian Campbell and Brent Sopel really finding their stride in the last few weeks. In late November and early December when the Blackhawks had a seven game stretch where they only potted two goals more than once, and the strong defense helped them salvage a 3-3-1 record during that time. What makes the Blackhawks defense so dangerous is their potential to join the offensive play so seamlessly that they go unnoticed sometimes until the puck has already left their stick for a goal. Duncan Keith leads all defensemen with 6 goals and 35 points, with all regular Hawks defenders having at least one goal. The player to watch here is the young Niklas Hjalmarsson, a player whom Scotty Bowman predicted would win the Norris Trophy one day, and compared to future Hall-of-Famer Niklas Lidstrom. This kid has great vision, incredible speed, and a quick shot; all tools that will serve him well in the NHL, and hopefully in Chicago.

Grade: A

Special Teams

After a mid-season soft spot for the power play unit highlighted by an 0-7 night against San Jose, the Blackhawks have really turned up the intensity with the man advantage capitalizing at least once in each of their last seven games going 8 for 25 in that span. The Blackhawks power play is one of the most talented in the league, a fact that seems to trip them up at times, as their struggles were often the result of making one pass too many instead of just putting the puck on net. As soon as they simplified their approach and got more rubber towards the front of the net, the goals started to come much easier. The penalty kill, however, has been outright dominant and among the league-leaders all season. Besides holding opponents to only 4 power play goals in their last 52 chances, the Blackhawks are tied for the league lead with 6 shorthanded goals. Players to watch here are two guys who make their living killing penalties, John Madden and Brent Sopel. You have to love the guys who grind out the gritty minutes.

Grade: B+

Goaltending

A hot-button topic ever since the Blackhawks let Nikolai Khabibulin go, the goaltending this season so far has been much better than most expected. Cristobal Huet’s rocky start had many people looking for Joel Quenneville to do his best Mike Keenan impression and give him the hook. Quenneville, however, stayed true to his habits and kept Huet as the starter, all the while giving backup Antti Niemi spot starts to ease the load. This has buoyed the play of both goaltenders, and will surely lead to a well-rested tag team when the playoffs come around.

Grade: B

Coaching

It’s hard to criticize a guy who has just recorded his 500th career win, it’s a good thing there’s nothing negative to say. Joel Quenneville and his mustache obviously know how to get the best out of talented people, and how to make adjustments when adversity arises. He is quite possibly the perfect mentor for the Blackhawks young talent, their minds being the sponges that they are. Granted, there will inevitably be injuries and maybe even a trade or two, but with Quenneville at the helm, Blackhawks fans can feel confident that he will roll with the punches and keep this rig on the road.

Grade: A

Overall

The Blackhawks sit amongst the league leaders at the halfway point in the season, there’s very little else to say. They own the best home record in the league, and one of the best defenses as well. They will have a target on their chest as they’ve had all season, and teams will try to knock them off their game by being physical, trying to frustrate the fast, young team. It will be important to remember the things they do well, and know they have the talent to overcome those types of approaches. Then, hopefully, the playoffs. And then, all bets are off.

Grade: A-

As always, I look forward to your feedback! Let’s go Hawks!!!

-Hackett

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Discussion

One comment for “Blackhawks First Semester Report Card”

  1. Your team frightens me, but for my Sharks we have one thing working in our favor - ‘The Hossa Factor’. For some reason he seems to jump ship to the wrong team :)

    Posted by sharksfanNo Gravatar | January 5, 2010, 10:14 am

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