The Chicago Blackhawks have continued their points push through the NHL schedule and aren’t showing signs of slowing down.
In the beginning of February, Chicago lost their second overtime game of the season to the Vancouver Canucks, but were still able to take a point home. From then on it was all regulation wins through the Calgary Flames (3-2), San Jose Sharks (5-3), Phoenix Coyotes (6-2) and the Nashville Predators (3-0).
Finally, on February 12, Chicago dropped another overtime game to the Anaheim Ducks 3-2, but were still able to steal a point. The momentum was picked right back up, however, as the Blackhawks took a 4-1 win over the Sharks at home. The regulation wins along with the overtime points have propelled Chicago to the top of the NHL standings. However, there are a few cracks starting to show. Weather these small cracks will break open into gaping wounds is still undecided.
There is no doubt that Chicago is an offensive powerhouse. With a roster including Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marion Hossa, it’s no surprise that the Blackhawks have no trouble finding the back of the net. That is, unless it’s on the man-advantage. Chicago’s power-play has been lacking as of late, a turnaround from the beginning of the season when it looked like Chicago could score at will with the extra man. Though on the recent road trip, the Blackahwks were two for 23 on the power-play and both of those two goals came with a five on three advantage.
Chicago had two opportunities to defeat Anaheim in overtime with the extra man, and failed to put the game away. Those are chances that Stanley Cup eligible teams need to capitalize on. Chicago can, and should be able to, do just that. They hadn’t up until they faced the Sharks at home, when they were able to net one power-play goal from Andrew Shaw. One name that often comes up on the power-play line yet hasn’t shown up in the goals column is Patrick Sharp. He’s contributing on the line with assists and threatening scoring opportunities, but he has yet to cash in. Sharp’s lack of goals isn’t a big concern, as it’s just a matter of time for the Sharp-shooter, but the sooner he can start burying goals the better.
Outside of offense, the other boogy-man haunting Chicago is injuries. Daniel Carcillo is starting to come back from his injury. The return for Car-Bomb is slow, though his physical play and instigating presence would surely help the Blackhawks. Again, another case of the sooner, the better.
But the biggest injury to hit Chicago recently is Corey Crawford. Crawford has been playing well as the Blackhawks’ number one goaltender, and has been rising to the high expectations for this season. His lower body injury put him out of commission for day-to-day operations, and while this isn’t a scary concern, it does raise some interesting situations.
Chicago has already brought Henrik Karlsson from the Rockford IceHogs, and Karlsson isn’t a stranger to NHL experience. While Karlsson provides a decent backup, the spotlight is on Ray Emery. Emery will have to continue the performance he has already set for this season, winning all three games he has started headed into his start against San Jose in Chicago.
The silver lining here is that both Emery and Karlsson will get more NHL experience with Crawford mending his wounds. The extra attention has helped Crawford rise to the expectations of the season and, in the early stages, Emery as well. If Emery can keep it up, Chicago has the potential to develop a solid pair of netminders with Karlsson, who is getting more and more comfortable in the NHL, on ready alert.
The few weak links that Chicago is showing have the potential to be quickly strengthened and even provide for a stronger team. Chicago’s power-play has the potential to be an even bigger threat to opponents if it starts capitalizing on opportunities Sharp will become the dangerous shooter we know him to be as soon as he cracks the slump and starts netting goals. Carcillo’s return will add another physical presence on the Blackahwks’ bench, and he’ll be just as eager to return as fans will be to see him play. The same goes for Crawford who will hopefully be back in net soon.
Chicago may be slowing a little, but it’s nothing to worry about as the momentum they have been building so far this season looks as if it could last for a while longer.