The Blackhawks are concluding their All-star break, and bye week, and now will start practicing tomorrow for the second half push for the playoffs. Maybe, the playoffs. They also could be starting the second half push for draft picks and trading bad contracts. I needed to speak to the guy with all the answers our, In My Opinion, hockey insider, John Markiewicz.
In My Opinion: Johnny! How is it going? Where should we start?
John Markiewicz: Hello brother! First off, what a week for Patrick Kane. He gets his 1000th point, wins a new skills challenge at the All-Star Game, and scores two goals against the Pacific division in 3-on-3 play. The 1000 points is a major accomplishment and there will be no doubt at his career end, that he was the greatest American player ever in NHL history.
IMO: It's the unofficial halfway point in the season and the Blackhawks find themselves, surprisingly, only three points out of the final playoff spot. What does this mean?
JM: The team has embraced the title of underdog and have really started to gel. They will be put to the test over the next two weeks, however, with thirteen of the next seventeen games on the road, and nine of them against Western Conference opponents. If they can get off to a good start, by beating a good Arizona team, I think it gives them a big boost. Arizona is just three points ahead of them in the standings so a huge game.
IMO: I'm liking the current set-up of the four lines. They all seem to have something going, finally.
JM: I agree. The lines Colliton has been running out are starting to pay off. He will need to keep matchups in his favor and ride the hot goalie for a while. Being on the road is usually a great time for the team to stay focused on playing without the distractions of being home. They can practice longer, talk about things together, and just stay more focused.
IMO: I mentioned at the beginning that the Blackhawks need to decide if they are sellers or buyers. Your thoughts?
JM: I believe that if they can win seven of the next nine conference games, and/or, twelve of the next seventeen, then they will be solidly in the playoff picture with fourteen home games left after this tough road trip, which should set them up for a strong playoff run. On the other hand, if things go South and they lose ten of seventeen, then I believe they will start clearing out contracts, starting with one of the goalies, and, possibly, shipping Duncan Keith to Florida to play for Q.
IMO: Final thoughts?
JM: Things are getting interesting for the Hawks and this road trip will truly be a season defining stretch.
It's been interesting to follow the national media coverage of the Hawks during this winning stretch. Many of them are pointing out that this year is different from last for them based on their stats. They are scoring more. They are playing better with the puck. They are getting great goalie play. All this is leading the media to, lightly, pencil them into a playoff spot.
On the other hand, the local media is still saying management hasn't decided if they will be sellers, or buyers, yet and they point to this stretch coming up as the decider. Since the local guys are there day to day, I'll lean towards their take on the situation.
Start feeling good about this team though, I like what I'm seeing right now, and if they can keep it up, I feel good things will be happening in April for them.