NHL PLAYOFFS 2013: Chicago Blackhawks – Primed and Ready…
As we get closer to the playoffs, IceNationUK will be taking a look at each team’s roster as they clinch a spot in the postseason.
First up, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Chicago Blackhawks were the story for much of the first half of the season. They came flying out of the gates and, well, they pretty much kept on flying. They set a new franchise record by starting the season 6-0-0, and by game 16 had tied the NHL record for points earned in consecutive games to begin a season, set by the 06/07 Anaheim Ducks, beating the number of points in that record by 1 with 28 overall. They stretched their streak all the way to 24 games (21-0-3) – which included a franchise record 11 consecutive wins – before bowing out to Colorado on March 8.
Since then however, they have still only lost 5 games the entire season, an incredible feat and one that has cemented them as one of the favourites for the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup.
2012/13 Season Team Stats (to date):
39 Games – 30 Wins – 5 Losses – 4 OT Losses – 64 Points
Goals For = 129
Goals Against = 83
Goal Differential = +46
Home Record = 14-3-2
Away Record = 16-2-2
BRANDON SAAD – JONATHAN TOEWS – MARIAN HOSSA
PATRICK SHARP – MARCUS KRUGER – PATRICK KANE
VIKTOR STALBERG – MICHAL HANDZUS – BRYAN BICKELL
MICHAEL FROLIK – ANDREW SHAW – DAN CARCILLO
DUNCAN KEITH – NIKLAS HJALMARSSON
NICK LEDDY – BRENT SEABROOK
JOHNNY ODUYA – MICHAL ROZSIVAL
EXTRA: JAMAL MAYERS, SHELDON BROOKBANK, STEVE MONTADOR
INJURED: DAVE BOLLAND (C)
The depth on the Blackhawks roster is readily apparent, with superstars Kane, Toews, Hossa, Keith and Seabrook representing the cream of the crop. Sharp, Kruger, Saad, Stalberg and Leddy are the second tier, and they are all high quality NHLers – most would be top 6 forwards or top 4 defenceman on other teams around the league.
The remarkable thing about this roster is that every player on the team is genuinely capable of playing NHL calibre hockey. Mayers, Brookbank and Montador are obviously the lower end – but they are where they should be, in the press box until required. Michal Handzus isn’t having a great season, but the eventual return of Dave Bolland – one of the top two-way forwards around – will push Handzus down a line.
Brandon Saad is garnering a lot headlines this year, and rightly so – his strong performance has him in the conversation for rookie of the year. However, rookies tend to find themselves buried in the lineup come the playoffs as coaches tend rely on veteran, experienced hands to get the job done. Nonetheless he’ll be an important part of the team, but don’t be surprised if his minutes get cut. It’s just the way the league works.
On defence, Keith and Seabrook are two of the best in the league at their positions, with Seabrook being particularly underrated with his two-way ability against tough competition. Leddy has been a revelation the last couple of years, and despite the fact he is still young and learning, he is a top young defender. Hjarlmarsson’s had an up-and-down career, but he’s not bad and playing with Keith should be able to offset most concerns there.
Of course, as mentioned, the lions share of the work up front will go to Toews, Hossa, Sharp and Kane. Toews is the heart and soul of the team, as well as being one of the top two-way forwards in the world. He is also playing at a point-per-game rate this season, so his offensive skill is as good as its ever been. Hossa is also a great two-way forward, and whilst his offence is slowing down as he gets older, and he represents a slightly injury risk, when he’s healthy he’s brilliant.
Kane is the flash-and-dash on the team, representing extreme skill in both passing and scoring. In fact, were this a full season he’d be on pace for 42 goals and 96 points – far and away the best totals of his career. Sharp meanwhile, is usually a consistent goal scoring threat. He’s off the pace so far this season after struggling with injury, but I wouldn’t expect that to last long. He often raises his game in the playoffs so you never know.
In goal, Corey Crawford is having a bounceback season after a poor sophomore year. He has a 2.01 GAA and a .922 SV% along with 22 wins in 24 games. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but having a good goalie with a lot of confidence helps no end. Backup Ray Emery is no slouch, if not even better, with a 1.90 GAA and a .924 SV% through 19 games (17 wins). He has experience having taken the Senators to the finals in 2007, and will be ready to go should Crawford falter.
STAR PLAYOFF PERFORMER
This may a little obvious, but I think Kane will be their top offensive performer this year. He’s having a great year, and seems to have really found a goal-scoring groove. Not to mention he scored the Cup-winning goal back in 2010; if anything can be classed as “clutch”, that was it.
Whilst it’s early to be making playoff predictions, I’m almost certain the Blackhawks will make it to at least the Western Conference Finals and probably the Stanley Cup Finals. From there it depends who the opponent is, but they are as sure a contender to win it all as we’ve seen in recent history.