Hawks answered the question of “who is the best team this regular season?” against Edmonton on Wednesday night when they secured the President’s Trophy. Now the more important questions need to be answered: what do the Hawks need to do to survive the first round and make it through the playoffs?
10) Can the Hawks handle a potentially desperate Wild team in a best of seven series?
The Wild struggled in April winning only 36% of their games and dropping to the eighth seed. The Hawks took five out of a possible six points this season, but most games against the Wild tend to be one goal affairs. The Wild have a solid team game, and they like to hit. They have the potential to wear the Hawks down. Chicago will need to be prepared for a very physical contest during the first few games. The Wild have a lot to prove, and they’ll want to show that they are a serious contender.
9) Can the Hawks tame Suter and Parise?
In the three games these teams met up, Parise didn’t factor into any of the goals scored, and Suter only had an impact on the power play. The scoring has been completely spread out for the Wild; not one player has scored more than one goal in the entire series against the Hawks. The Hawks will have to remember to not overplay any one shooter and stay well positioned because the Wild have shown us their scoring depth and ability.
8) Will the Hawks underestimate their opponent?
It doesn’t matter if the Hawks are at the top and the Wild are at the bottom because these two teams seem to frustrate each other. The Hawks have developed a stigma of playing down to their opponents, and there is no room for that at this point in the year. The Wild gave the Hawks their first shootout loss and have shown that they can play with the high flying Blackhawks. While I can’t see the Hawks holding back in the postseason, sometimes old habits die hard.
7) Will Crawford slay his playoff demons?
I know I’ve written on this before, but I honestly believe that one solid playoff series is all he needs to get his head in the right place. There is always the possibility that Crow loses his cool and just forgets how to goalie. The Hawks team is built to prevent that for the most part, and we have seen a number of goal line saves by defensemen this year, so Crow is primed for success. With Emery out with injury, it puts the pressure all on Crow. He controls his destiny, and Chicago’s.
6) Will the rolling of four lines continue? How effective will it be?
I don’t see why the Hawks would do anything different from what brought them success. The third line has showed it can score and torment the opposition, and the fourth line is shaping up to be a solid possession line. No, I don’t see any reason why that would change, especially with how tough the road to the cup can be.
5) Which stars will shine the brightest for the Hawks against Wild?
Well if you look back at the series two names show up most, Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell. Hossa has two game winning goals and an assist, and Bickell has two goals and assist. Not to be overlooked, Toews had a goal and two assists as well; in fact the whole first line was just phenomenal, producing eight points in three games.
4) Can the men of four feathers avoid penalties against a Wild team that can frustrate the Hawks?
I can understand the worry that if we can’t crack their system that we might take some dumb penalties. They like to hit, and while they aren’t trying to decapitate like the Blues, the controlled element to their hitting can be even more frustrating. I believe that sustained clean physical play can be just as frustrating as a game of cheap shots, because their just won’t be a whistle to stop the relentless assault. The Hawks have been a composed team all season, with the occasional snapping, but the Hawks should have the experience to know better. At least, that’s the theory.
3) We’ve seen some health problems this season; how much should we be concerned by this?
That is one of the bigger question marks for the Hawks. Sharp and Bolland have been out multiple times due to injury and Hossa will forever be susceptible to head shots. The league seems to have attempted to send a message that hitting players in the head is frowned upon, but if Hossa is heating up, there’s always a fourth liner that is expendable. Generally, the Wild won’t employ the cheap shot, but you can expect Clutterbuck to legally demolish our stars any chance he can get. Injuries can be a concern no matter the opponent.
2) How much stronger will our blue line be this year?
Everyone is back to top form this year. Keith has been dependable all year, Hjalmarsson is playing the best hockey of his career, Seabs is back to being Seabrook, and Leddy has found his game on the third pairing. Where the questions start coming up is when you look at Oduya. Oduya struggled badly against the coyotes last year, and teams have picked up on that. At least once a game he seems to be pressured into a no look wild pass that leads to a golden opportunity for the opposing team. The other two potential problems are Roszival and Brookbank. Roszival has shown his ability to play both ends of the ice, but he is slow and a bit, shall we say, seasoned. We have seen him get left in the dust, and that can be a huge hindrance in the later rounds. Brookbank was statistically our worst defenseman if you look at plus/minus… but no one really does. He seems to be exactly what he is, a third pairing defenseman. Overall our blue line is probably one of the best in the league. We shouldn’t fret too much, but the potential for failure is ever-present.
1) Can the Hawks turn around their Power Play?
Oh the dreaded power play, the killer of momentum, the pez dispenser of short handed goals. Okay, so I’m over exaggerating a bit, but it does feel like a power play is more of a negative than it should be. We saw some minor success in the last five games of the year, but let’s be honest, throughout the whole season, the power play has been our Achilles heal. The reason this is my biggest concern is that any team can throw a few dirty hits our way with no real punishment. If we were at 23% success on the power play it’s a deterrent, but we are 16%, and of the teams in the playoffs, we are tied for the most short handed goals against. This becomes the team’s greatest concern due to how much it leaves us susceptible to cheap shots that can lead to injury. Furthermore, what is meant to be a punishment for the opposing team can potentially lead to a morale killing shorty against the Hawks. This is the biggest question the Hawks will have to answer for the postseason.