Now that Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane are done with the All Star festivities in Ottawa it is time to get back into the thick of the Central Division race. We are going to find out what this Chicago Blackhawks team is really made over the next month. The NHL took the month of February and beat the Blackhawks over the head with it! The Hawks only have 4 home games in February and start the off with a ridiculous 9 game road trip.
The Blackhawks start the 2nd “half” off with consecutive road games in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado, San Jose, Phoenix, Nashville, New York and Columbus before returning home on 2/19 for a huge game against the St. Louis Blues. Given the current standings in the Central, this tough stretch of games can make or break the Blackhawks chances of getting a top 3 seed for the playoffs. This will be a very trying road trip, but a team that is supposed to contend for the Stanley Cup, should and will find a way to make this a successful trip.
There was a lot of gloom and doom after the Blackhawks lost back to back games to the Nashville Predators and fell to 4th place in the Central Division and 6th in the Western Conference. Yes, that doesn’t sound good but the Blackhawks are just 3 points behind for both the division and conference lead. The Hawks currently trail the Red Wings, Blues and Preds in the division. The Blackhawks have 3 games left with each of these teams so they will have plenty of chances to pass them all up.
Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews will be returning soon, most likely both on Tuesday in Vancouver. Getting your top two goal scorers back in the lineup will obviously be a big boost. The addition of Brendan Morrison will help as well. Having another true center on the team will put people back in their natural positions. Guys like Sharp, Kane and Jamal Mayers can all move back to their normal spots on the wing and no longer have to worry about playing center.
The feel good story of the season has been the play of some of the baby Blackhawks like Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes. Can these two keep up their high level of play the rest of the way? That will remain to be seen. The bottom line is these two kids have added some grit and willingness to get to the dirty areas that this team desperately needed. If they can keep that up down the stretch good things will happen for them and the team.
As good of a story as Shaw and Hayes has been, Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell have been equally disappointing. These two have totaled a pathetic 9 goals, 13 assists and are a combined -13. At the beginning of the season I was looking at Frolik and Bickell to lead the way in secondary scoring and be key parts to the team. Bickell has been the most disappointing of the all the Hawks, by far. Do you remember that he scored 17 goals last season? Yeah I didn’t think so. He has been completely invisible and refuses to use his big frame to his advantage. He is like Eric Daze version 2.0, but at least Daze produced at times. Bickell will be a victim of the numbers game here real soon unless there is a dramatic turn around in his play. Michael Frolik has lost all ability to score a goal. He has turned into the Chuck Knoblauch of hockey. The only thing keeping Frolik on the ice is the fact theat he plays defense and does a good job on the penalty kill. Those are the only two things keeping me from throwing him completely under the bus.
Stan Bowman will make at least two more moves to improve this team. I am pretty sure he will be adding a top 4 defenseman and at least one more forward. I really hope he has been blowing up the cell phone of Carolina’s General Manager Jim Rutherford about what it will take to acquire Tim Gleason. Gleason is exactly what the Blackhawks need to add to the blue line.
We will learn a lot about our beloved Blackhawks over the next month. If the Blackhawks are the best team in the West, then they will prove it. If the are not they will fall where they belong. Let the chips fall where the may and have some fun watching this team down the stretch. The sky is not falling and the world is not ending.