Win one, lose three, tie two, lose four, is not a recipe for playoff hockey and yet that seems to be the Blackhawks game plan so far this season. Even if by some miracle they do make the playoffs, does anyone really think they are going to be more than one and done?
Taking time out of his busy Christmas shopping schedule, baking holiday cookies, and trying to write a better Christmas carol than Mariah Carey, our hockey guru, John Markiewicz, sat down for an update and the state of the hockey franchise, formerly known as Stanley Cup champions.
In My Opinion: Thanks for letting us interrupt your busy holiday season. Before we begin, here's my wish list. The goalies seem to have hit a wall or am I dreaming this?
John Markiewicz: No, I don't think they have hit a wall. The defensmen are trying to get used to their new pairings, and with all the defenseman injuries, the goalies are trying to get used to what they are seeing in front of them too. Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford are still one of the best goalie tandems in the league right now.
IMO: Is it my imagination or has the Hawks defense actually gotten better without Duncan Keith?
JM: No. They haven't gotten better they are just playing more defensively than earlier in the season. That being said this team is not built to win defensively anymore. They are blocking more shots but they also have a harder time clearing the zone without Keith in there, even if he is on his last legs. They don't control the puck enough and are predictable clearing the zone. Adam Boqvist looks to be the heir apparent to Keith and the Hawks are going to let him play.
IMO: Speaking of Boqvist, it appears that Stan is going to let the kids play and burn a year of control. Is this the right thing to do, especially with them going nowhere this year?
JM: It is actually the best time to do so. The playoffs are a dream so why not find out what you have for the future. I'm not sure why they won't let Kirby Dach and Boqvist play in the World Juniors to gain that experience, but why take a chance on injuries and ice time when you can play them against the very best in the NHL.
Guys like Highmore, Gilbert, and Sikura are not going to be NHL regulars it appears. Where the Blackhawks farm has depth is in the Juniors and college, but that puts guys 2-4 years away from having an impact on the big club.
IMO: I was surprised to see Alex DeBrincat on the third line the other night. Is Jeremy Colliton sending a message or just messing around with line combos?
JM: I think it's a little bit of both. They are missing some players with injuries so he may be trying to even out some lines and get scoring up on the bottom six. In the case of DeBrincat, he has been slumping and playing him with linemates he may not be used to is not going to help his slump. On the other hand, they are going nowhere so why not.
IMO: Special teams continue to be not so special. Why haven't they been able to fix this for the past 52 years?
JM: If I knew I'd be on staff. Look, the only hope going forward for the PP is to leave the lines together. They are having some success five on five so why mix and match. Also, I do not like having a forward playing the point on the PP. They aren't used to sliding side to side like a defenseman is, and our defensemen actually have better shots from the blue line than the forwards. You need to shoot it low and hard, not high and they are more used to that shot. Overall the PP just sucks, like it has for 50 years.
As for the PK it is as it usually is for the Blackhawks. Four guys running around chasing guys they won't catch and getting tired in the process and then giving up an easy one. They need to play in a diamond box and force the other team to pass outside along the boards. Most teams aren't good enough to score from there unless you have a Patrick Kane, and they don't.
IMO: Any final thoughts?
JM: I think they will continue to play hard until they are officially eliminated, which looks like it may be around daylight savings time change this year. I expect them to be sellers at the trade deadline and hopefully Stan Bowman can finally get his payroll under control so he doesn't have to suit up only 19 guys again this year for a game. Erik Gustafsson is going to be traded for sure, possibly even before the deadline.
A COUPLE OF LOOSE PUCKS IN FRONT OF THE NET
STAT ACTUAL NHL RANK
Power Play 16.6% 23
Penalty Kill 79.6% 19
Goals Against 106 11
Goals Against/Game 3.12 13
Goals For 93 21
Goals For/Game 2.73 21
Shots Against/Game 36 1
When you give up more goals per game than you score you will not have a winning record. When your special teams are not special, as John discussed above, you will not have a winning record. And when your goalie(s) face more shots per game than any other team in the NHL, you will not be a winning team. But at least we lead the league in something.
(Rare shot of a Blackhawks goalie not making a save.)
The rumor mill is swirling with reports that head coach Jeremy Colliton is on his way out, and very soon. It has only been one year since he was named to replace fired future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks have been a mess since then. At some point Stan the man Bowman has to be held responsible for the lack of talent on this team. A Christmas house clearing is looking like a real possibility.
Finally. The Blackhawks announced last night that assistant coach Marc Crawford will return to the team on January 2nd after they completed an extensive investigation in conjunction with the NHL headquarters. Crawford has been accused of hitting, choking, and kicking players on multiple occasions. He has apologized to those players involved and has been getting help and regular therapy for a few years now.
Recently the NHL has been under siege as multiple head coaches and assistant coaches have been fired or suspended for their behavior in the past. With Crawford returning, the NHL has sent a clear message to players and staff. They will not under any circumstances, and rightly so, tolerate any racial or sexual abuse in the workplace, but assaulting staff and players is OK.
Thank you Gary Betteman.