When deciding on the top ten most difficult teams for the Hawks to face, it would be easy to rank them by points, but that doesn’t quite give an accurate picture of the different degrees of difficulty. The Blackhawks have shown a tendency to repeat history with certain teams, and that can become a very large issue when you start playing in a best of seven series. So let’s take a look at ten teams that can cause the most trouble for the Hawks when the post season starts.
10) Phoenix Coyotes (Our Record: 3-0-0)
The Coyotes would have been higher on this list, but the Blackhawks seem to have found some extra firepower this season, most likely due to the bad blood from last year’s playoffs. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has played himself into a very nice contract and leads the Yotes in both assists and +/-. Shane Doan continues to be the strong leader this team needs and is currently leading in goals scored. I can’t talk about the Coyotes without mentioning their angry, raging, Olympic diver of a goaltender Mike Smith, who is having an average season at best. With a +1 goal differential, they aren’t exactly a juggernaut. With the Hawks’ control over their games against them, I don’t see them as much of a threat, but you can’t count them out.
9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Our Record: 3-0-0)
Columbus is a very hard working, gritty team that has had to be those things, because they really only have one big name in Marian Gaborik. The main guy leading the Blue Jackets into the playoffs is Sergei Bobrovsky; you know, that goalie the Flyers didn’t want, the guy that has actually been playing some great hockey. His stats completely coincide with the eye test; he’s sitting at a .929 SV% and a 2.09 GAA, and that has been enough for the Jackets to beat teams when combined with their impressive work ethic. When you look at the stats of this team, there are a lot of names in all different categories. This team seems to truly abide by the “play for the crest, not the name on the back” mantra. They have shown that they can out work the Hawks, but their lack of star power keeps them from being serious a threat, and their -10 goal differential backs that up.
8) San Jose Sharks (Our Record: 3-0-0)
The Sharks are a hard team to rank. They have the stars, they have the goalie, but they can’t seem to completely gel. Joe Thornton might be a career playoff choker, but I have a feeling he senses the window is closing for him and the Sharks. Currently he’s leading the team in both +/- and assists, and he could easily carry that into the playoffs. Patrick Marleau is leading the team in goals at 16. However, he is another player that seems to disappear in the biggest moments of games. I would love for the known chokers to do just that, and so would the Hawks, but we know that Niemi can come up big. Niemi is playing like the goalie Hawks fans expected. He’s rocking a .929 SV% and a 2.09 GAA and is the largest reason that the Sharks are where they are. The Sharks can be a deadly team if they can get hot, but maintaining that level of play seems to elude them. While they are more of a threat than Phoenix and Columbus, Hawks seem to have figured them out as well.
7) Detroit Red Wings (Our Record: 3-0-0)
The Red Wheel keeps turning in Detroit but it has slowed down, and it wobbles a bit…. But it’s still running. Lidstrom retiring was a big loss for the team, and it looked like it was going to be their downfall, but they have found some rhythm. Shocking to no one, Datsyuk is really good at hockey. He leads the team in goals at 13, has the highest +/-, and he never stops being a magician with the puck. Henrik Zetterberg is currently leading the team in assists with 27. That’s more than Kane has, to put it into perspective. Jimmy Howard has been decent; he is playing about league average. The Redwings are a surprising -2 in goal differential and have really felt the sting of losing some vet depth on defense. The Hawks can’t take this veteran team lightly. While they are not going to out skate the Hawks, they have a fairly large bag of tricks.
6) St. Louis Blues (Our Record: 2-1-0 )
The Blues were expected to run away with the division, and the conference, but then they ran into a wall. Their once strong goaltending has looked very fragile, their boring defensive system isn’t there, and their goal scorers are struggling. When the Blues play their game and don’t lose focus, they are a very tough team. Their captain David Backes has 125 hits, which, needless to say, is a lot of hits, and a lot of hard work. Chris Stewart leads in goals with 16, while Alexander Steen leads in assists at 18. While Elliot played like Elliot at the beginning of the season, he has gotten his act together and has played pretty well recently. Halak has been injured a lot in his career, and this season he appears to be held together with tape. Unsurprisingly, he is currently injured again. They sort of remind me of an upgraded Blue Jackets team, but with some decent star power, and the Hawks will need to play a full 60 and maybe then some.
5) Minnesota Wild (Our Record: 1-1-1)
The Wild are a team that no one really puts in the upper echelon of elite teams, and rightfully so, but against the Hawks specifically, they seem to be up there. They were another team that on paper should have been dominant but started off slow. The one thing a lot of people forget is the chemistry aspect; a lot of new faces were on the team, and they needed time to gel. They are starting to find their rhythm, and Ryan Suter is earning his contract with 25 assists, not too shabby for a defenseman. The other big name signing was Zach Parise, and he has quietly led the team in goals with 15 and currently boasts the best +/-. While Backstrom is an upper tier goalie, he has struggled a bit this year and has been average at best; might be age catching up with him. Despite most likely needing more time to become a more cohesive unit, they have continued to cause the Hawks trouble. In the last four games, the Wild have taken the Hawks to the shootout three times. Of those, the Hawks lost twice. The Hawks can’t play down to their opponents, and especially to a team who knows they can hang in there against us.
4) Edmonton Oilers (Our Record: 1-1-0)
As most Hawks fans know, the Oilers have caused some massive headaches for the Blackhawks. Most games in recent years have been lopsided affairs, and while evenly split, you don’t really want to have a 50% chance in a series against a team that is statistically a lot worse than you are. While admittedly the Oilers may not make it into the postseason, they are one of the more dangerous teams for the Hawks. I haven’t exactly put my finger on what makes them our kryptonite, but maybe it’s just the youthful speed and apparent inability to accept that the Hawks should win. Oh, and the massive amount of number one draft picks playing. The Hawks need to come out hard and strong against them, because they can wear you down with speed alone.
3) Vancouver Canucks (Our Record: 1-0-1)
Of course a top 10 list couldn’t be complete without those pesky Canucks showing up. They haven’t exactly been dominant this year, and there are two reasons for that. First, injuries galore, and second, the emergence of the Wild. The Nucks may not have been able to bring it consistently, but they certainly do when it comes to facing the Blackhawks, and with Kessler coming back very soon, they will be poised to try and take us down. The Sedins are having a decent year but struggled early on, and their goalies have been hot and cold. And, I don’t know if you heard, but Vancouver has had a little bit of a goalie controversy going on, and it’s still a mess. While they seem to have settled on Schneider, who has been playing very well in the last five games, you never know when they might need Lu to step in. They are a strong team, but their true consistency doesn’t show until they are facing down the Blackhawks. Hawks can’t expect any slack from our hated rivals, their tenacity and affinity for cheap shots will bring the pain.
2) Los Angeles Kings (Our Record: 2-1-0)
The defending champs have come out of their cup hangover and have been playing much better overall. As we saw during our loss to the Kings, they can really out work the Hawks’ defense with their relentless fore-check. They have the solid defense and goaltending that would be needed to repeat, and their offense has awakened. The Hawks can’t throw away the puck in their own zone at all against the Kings, otherwise it will end up in the back of the net. This second half of the season has shown that we can sometimes get very sloppy in our own end, and this team knows how to completely destroy opponents that give them any opportunity. Hawks need to keep their head on a swivel and really support each other in their own end.
1) Anaheim Ducks (Our Record: 0-2-1)
The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are the only team that the Hawks couldn’t figure out. This is largely due to the ageless wonder Teemu Selanne, who, against all laws of time, is still putting up points. That man is a wrecking crew against the Blackhawks; he always seems to score a timely goal and cause Hawk fans to shout at their TV’s. Perry has struggled a bit this year, but struggled is a loose term; he still has 31 points. Getzlaf is leading his team with 13 goals and 30 assists, but has sat out a few games with a day-to-day injury that can potentially debilitate the ducks if it nags him going into the playoffs. The Ducks are fairly deep, but they are a bit slower than the Hawks. Still, they are a much larger team. They love to hit and that might be why they were able to put the Hawks away in third periods; they wear you out. Their goaltending tandem has been strong, even with Hiller showing some struggles early on. The Hawks can’t underestimate him; he is still a star goalie. In a grind-out series, the Hawks have the advantages of youth and the ability to roll four solid lines. The Ducks’ bang’em up strategy can wear the opposing team down, but if you can’t focus on just one line, you end up wearing yourself out. That’s not to say that the Hawks can’t reciprocate and send some tough love back to the Ducks’ stars. The Hawks need to bring some intensity not just to this team, but to all future opponents on the road to the cup.