Meet The Rivals: Chicago Blackhawks

Travis Hrubeniuk
September 16 2013 02:05AM

 

Finally, after two long and rather ridiculous seasons that saw the Winnipeg Jets based out of the Southeast, the league has undergone re-alignment and have the team in a realistic division: The Central. Over the next week I will provide a preview of the Jets new Divisional Rivals, giving you with a brief review of last years’ stats, each team's potential opening day lineup, strengths and weaknesses, and a few major storylines (both Jet and non-Jet related). Today we start with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.

The Chicago Blackhawks

Scheduled Meetings

  • November 2nd – Winnipeg
  • November 6th – Chicago
  • November 21st – Winnipeg
  • January 26th – Chicago

2012-13 Review

 

Hawks

Jets

Record (Point %)

36-7-5 (.802) – 1st in West

24-21-3 (.531) – 9th in East

Home/Away

18-3-3

18-4-2

13-10-1

11-11-2

Goals/Game

3.38 – 1st

2.62 – 16th

Goals Against/Game

2.02 – 1st

2.94 – 25th

Power play %

16.7% - 19th

13.8% - 30th

Pentalty Kill %

87.2% - 3rd

79.7% - 24th

Fenwick Close %

55.80%

49.71%

5v5 Corsi For %

54.1%

49.5%

PDO

1019

995

Opening Day Projected Lineup

Bickell – Toews – Kane
Sharp – Pirri – Hossa
Bollig – Handzus – Smith
Saad – Shaw – Hays
 
Keith – Seabrook
Oduya – Hjalmarsson
Leddy – Rozsival
 
Crawford
Khabibulin
 
Additions: Khabibulin, Peckham
Subtractions: Frolik, Bolland, Stalberg, Carcillo, Emery, Montador, Olesz

Strengths & Weaknesses

You don’t win the Stanley Cup by accident folks. The ‘Hawks have very few glaring weaknesses in their lineup, and unlike the last time they won it all in 2012 they will look very similar coming into this season. They aren’t perfect though, and have a couple areas of concern. 

The Power Play

Despite the loaded, high scoring and highly skilled lineup this team will roll out, Chicago’s power play remains a bit of a question mark. It finished a very mediocre 19th last year with a 16.7% success rate, and became a major area of concern in the playoffs clicking at a horrid 11.4%. Having such a glaring problem with a team that led the league in goals per game makes very little sense, but it is something that the Blackhawks coaching staff has to figure out.

Goaltending?

This offseason, the ‘Hawks extended their contract with Stanley Cup Champion goaltender Corey Crawford for another 6-years, totaling $36 million. Yet, I am hesitant to say that the team is set in goal. The 28-year-old net-minder has had up and down seasons throughout his career, ranging from his unbelievable .926 SV%, 1.94 GAA last year, to his .903 SV%, 2.72 GAA season the year before. This trend has followed Crawford not only in the NHL, but in the AHL as well, which leads me to think it was pretty smart for Stan Bowman to go out and add an experienced goaltender should things go south throughout the year, but it's not as if Nikolai Khabibulin is without question marks of his own.

The Blackhawks make up for their lack of overall weaknesses with an abundance of generally self-explanatory strengths:

Puck Possession

Chicago is one of the best puck possession teams in the league. They were near tops in both Fenwick and Corsi-For percentages, which had to be a factor involved with the minimal number of penalties they took (4th least in the league). When you have the puck for over half of the game, you score more, get scored on less, and often win a lot of games.

Goals For & Against

As I just mentioned above, when you have the puck for the majority of the game, you tend to put the puck in the net more, and get scored on less. Even with the struggles of Dave Bolland, and the apparent mis-management of Viktor Stalberg last year, the Hawks scored more goals per game than any other team in the league and got scored on less per game than any team in the league. With the minimal player turnover this year I don’t see the goal scoring or puck possession numbers dropping too far, and it would take quite the drop off from Corey Crawford (which is possible) for the goals against to drastically plunge.

Overall Skill

Bickell, Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook. This team is loaded with talent. Goal scoring, puck handling, speed, they seem to have it all. The only way this could hurt would be if too many of them get banged up during the Olympic break. Need proof? Check out this recently released video of Patrick Kane’s hands. It’s unreal.

 

Penalty Kill

There is one facet of the Blackhawks that I really wasn’t sure where to place. The penalty kill. Yes, they finished 3rd in the NHL last year with an 87.2% kill rate, but they lost a huge player on the unit when Frolik moved to the Jets (Woooo!). Frolik was second among forwards in short-handed ice time with 108:17, with the next guy (Toews) with only 66:35. The ‘Hawks will be looking for someone to fill that roll, and if they struggle to do so the penalty kill could drop off a fair amount this year.

Storylines Entering the Season

Can They Repeat?

The NHL has not had repeat Stanley Cup Champions since the 1996-1997 & 1997-1998 Detroit Red Wings. With the introduction of the salary cap it has becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for teams to stick with the same group of guys year for two years in a row. This upcoming season especially, considering the drop in the cap from last year. Yet, unlike the Champion Blackhawks of 2010 that saw major players like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Kris Versteeg forced out due to cap restraints, this years' squad will look amazingly similar to the team that dominated the league last year. Clearly the ridiculous 24-game point streak that the Blackhawks started the year with last season won’t happen again (they didn’t lose a game in regulation until March 8th for goodness sake). There is no doubt though that this team was far and away the best, most consistent team in the league last year and they are almost all back to try to do it again. 

Which Corey Crawford Will Show Up?

With the 6-year, $36-million extension behind him, the pressure and expectations have never been higher for Crawford. Will he be able to level out his play this season and limit regression toward an unflattering mean? Will he continue to improve and possibly have an even better season than last year? Or will he follow his career trend and drop off, leading to a lot of questions and doubt in Chicago? The success of Corey Crawford will likely be a major storyline this year.

Jonathan Toews in Winnipeg

Finally, for the first time in his career, Jonathan Toews will get the chance to play a regular season NHL game in his hometown. It’s extremely unlikely that ‘Captain Serious’ will show any kind of emotion when he steps on the MTS Center ice in November, but there will be a little something inside the ‘Hawks captain when he gets to play in a city that has honoured him with a key and has a community center named after him. Expect a lot of 19 jerseys in the stands that night, and a lot of emotion for an early November matchup.

Conclusion

The Chicago Blackhawks are one heck of a team. There is little doubt that this team won’t be one of the Central Division representatives in the playoffs, and will provide a difficult challenge for anyone. With another Stanley Cup Championship anything but out of the question (it would be their 3rd in 5 years), we could be looking at a potential dynasty team right before our eyes. And in our Division.

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