As the puck is set to drop on the Blackhawks return to action in under an hour, let’s take a look at five keys to the Hawks success down the stretch run.
1. Strong Special Teams
In a role reversal of last season, the Hawks Power Play ranks third in the league while the Penalty Kill sits near the bottom at 26th. Prior to the Olympic break, the PK stabilized and climbed a few spots away from the bottom. It was an encouraging sign as the Hawks have done a good job blocking shots and clear the net in front of the goaltender. As we saw with last year’s Hawks team, you can get away with a poor performing PP as long as your PK effectively kills off penalties. In the playoffs, the Hawks have the offensive potency where they don’t need to worry about burying their PP chances. At the same time, they cannot afford to dig a hole by letting their PK remain stagnant.
Unlike Walter White, Coach Q doesn’t seem satisfied with sticking to the same old formula. His constant line juggling can be one of his best and worst assets. The only consistent lines this year have been the first (Sharp, Toews, Hossa), and fourth (Bollig, Kruger, Smith). Depending on the context of the game, juggling the lines can help spark some momentum for the team. However, it would be nice to go into the playoffs like last year knowing which lines/players have chemistry with one another therefore giving Coach Q the confidence to roll four lines effectively.
3. Bringing In Reinforcements
While this will somewhat contradict the previous key, health trumps all. While this will be difficult to do due to salary cap constraints. The Hawks each night will have two players scratched and ideally will utilize this extra space to give guys a night off if they are not at 100%. As we’ve seen in playoffs past, you never know when you will need to call upon a player to insert in the lineup. The fresher they keep guys, the less likelihood minor tweaks will occur that will set them back.
Corey Crawford has had a nice run ever since his return from injury. His performance and performance in the playoffs needs no defending. Anttii Raanta on the other hand, is still a mystery. While he played admirably during Crawford’s absence, he has struggled in the few appearances he’s had since Crawford resumed as the full time goaltender. Raanta is still relatively raw and having him appear in a Stanley Cup Playoff game isn’t ideal, but the same thing was said about Anttii Niemi and that turned out alright.
While I am optimistic that the Hawks have gotten over their dog days of winter doldrums, it’s imperative that the Hawks stay consistent entering the playoffs. If they remain on the course they are on, they are in good shape to take either the first or second seed in the division, and home ice advantage as well. While road games haven’t been a problem for this team, the United Center is one of the toughest environments for an opposing player to come in and play in. Let alone in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. Each team needs every advantage they can get come playoff time, and the Hawks would be well suited to be consistent heading into the playoffs.
Tags: Chicago Blackhawks