Jan 28, 2014; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames goalieReto Berra
(29) defends the goal as Chicago Blackhawks left wingBrandon Saad
(20) and centerAndrew Shaw
(65) and left wingBryan Bickell
(29) tries to score as Calgary Flames defensemanDennis Wideman
(6), defensemanLadislav Smid
(3) and centerSean Monahan
(23) defend during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Everyone’s been groaning about Bickell’s lack of performance this season now that he has more zeros on his paycheck. However it’s not entirely his fault. Yes he’s had to battle through an injury this season, but more importantly, the second and third lines have been a mess for most of the year, and Bickell (not to mention several other Hawks players) hasn’t been able to settle in with other forwards, form chemistry, and flourish. Here’s the thing though, fixing Bickell’s production problem is easy. The solution already has a template that the Hawks have used more than once to earn a Stanley Cup: have a big forward camp out in the crease to score tip-in goals off feeds/shots from the Hawks’ playmaker forwards. The first time the Hawks used this strategy successfully was in the 2010 post season with Dustin Byfuglien, and three years later, Bickell stood up to the same task and delivered beautifully. So all Bickell needs is to be on a line with two other playmaker forwards, and the rest should take care of itself. Speaking of playmaker forwards, you know who really has fit that bill lately? Brandon Saad! Saad’s aforementioned uncanny ability to generate offense would pair quite nicely with a finisher like Bickell staked out on the crease. Not to mention the big-bodied Bickell would be a hell of an enforcer to watch Saad’s back and allow him to further reach his full potential. Could you imagine the production potential of Bickell on the same line as Saad and Patrick Kane, or even Saad and Kris Versteeg? Let’s hope Coach Joel Quenneville can, because the solution is right in front him, and the playoffs are knocking on the door just as hard as this depth chart opportunity.
#1 – The St. Louis Blues? More Like the St. Louis Chokes!
We all know the St. Louis Blues are a scary team, especially because the Blackhawks haven’t figured out how to beat them yet this season, but let’s put things in context. The last time the Blackhawks played the Blues, they would have won, had their rookie goalie Antti Raanta who had been prematurely thrust into the NHL not laid an egg. The Hawks racked up three goals in the first period alone, and added two more by the end of the contest, but each lead the Hawks got the lead, Raanta unfortunately surrendered it, and ultimately got bested in a shootout. That heartbreak aside, Hawks fans tend to forget one thing: the Blues would be a scary matchup if the Blackhawks played them in the post season, the definitive word being if. Barring a nose dive by either the team in the standings in the next month or so, the Blues and Blackhawks likely won’t even have the chance to meet each other until the later rounds of the post season, and that’s good news for the Hawks. In the past two playoffs, despite having great regular seasons, the Blues have made early exits, both at the hands of a lower-seeded Los Angeles Kings team. ESPN NHL analyst Barry Melrose has stated the St. Louis Blues isn’t a team build for the playoffs, and the conclusion seems pretty accurate given the evidence as of late. It’s this evidence that puts the Blues at a disadvantage that can be summed up in one word: pressure. After two disappointing post season appearances, don’t think the burden hasn’t grown heavier for the Blues to deliver and not fall into the very same choke-funk that has long afflicted other powerful teams like the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs. When it comes to the post season, having already demonstrated their mettle on the Stanley Cup stage, the Hawks have the psychological knowledge of the terrain should they have to do battle with the Blues, and that’s a hell of an advantage any way you analyze it.
FOR THE DAGGER!