Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks To Ground Control – Come In Ground Control!

By Zachary Raderstorf

NASHVILLE – Tonight’s match-up between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators won’t be like Wednesday’s against the Blues. Sure it will be fun to watch and mean just as much – but the atmosphere won’t be the same. Even though the city of Nashville seems to have serious disdain for Chicago, they have yet to be as dirty or annoying as the Blues could be. Besides, it’s hard to take a club seriously when they have a “keep the red out” campaign and offer tickets to a game for turning in a Hawks ball cap – that’s just too amusing to me.

You could label the match-up any which way you wanted, but at this point in the season there’s more emphasis put on the outcome as opposed to the other team on the ice. After last nights hard fought win over the Habs, the Hawks have now won five straight – a season high. The Blackhawks and Predators have already met twice this season and will have met for their fourth and final time by month’s end.  They’ve split the series so far this season, with both winning on home ice. The Hawks victory came on the shoulders of Jonathan Toews and his historic individual effort – an effort that resulted in a game winning shorthanded goal in overtime.

”… we could see the team trending in the right direction, and this is a sign that, hey, we’re coming. When we play the right way, we’re a dangerous team.” – Coach Joel Quenneville

Never the less, with the Hawks having dispensed of six serious playoff contenders in the recent weeks, and carrying a 7-1 record in their last eight games – building off the five game win streak they’re currently on will only send an even more deliberate and obnoxious message to the rest of the league.  A message, that any club with Championship aspirations will have to take note of – the road to Lord Stanley’s Cup still runs down Madison Avenue.

In the last twelve games the Hawks have gone 10-2 while outscoring opponents 37-18. Even more compelling, those thirty seven goals have come from sixteen different players (11 forwards and 5 d-men) – the list includes players from all four lines. Eleven of the twelve forwards and five of their seven defensemen hitting the score sheet exemplifies that nearly 80% of the Hawks roster is producing.

Here’s the list of goal scorers through the last twelve: KANE (9), TOEWS (6), VERSTEEG (5), RICHARDS (4), KRUGER (3), SEABROOK (3), SAAD (3), CARCILLO (2), SHAW (2), BICKELL (2), KEITH (2), HJALMARSSON (1), HOSSA (1), SMITH (1), ROSIVAL (1) and CLENDENING (1).

Most of the Blackhawks’ Western Conference foes have received their portion of the message face to face, and all have received their mail in the last few weeks. With teams like San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Montreal and Saint Louis, the Hawks would be more than satisfied with Nashville being added to that list – especially in similar fashion to their last five games – wins in regulation.

After the Hawks beat the Blues on Wednesday, and the Predators lost Tuesday to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Hawks with their win last night are now only one point behind Nashville in the Central Division. Setting tonight up to be a battle for first place in the division.

Five of the Hawks last seven Western Conference opponents are near shoe-ins for the post season. But the message doesn’t have to stop tonight with Nashville. By the time the calendar year is over, the hawks will have played ten more games before traveling to Washington D.C. to prepare for the 2015 Bridgestone Winter Classic.

Those ten games include road match-ups with New Jersey, Boston, the New York Islanders, Columbus and a return trip to Colorado on Nov. 26th – a month after the Hawks 3-2 victory. Their home match-ups will include Calgary, Minnesota, Toronto, Winnipeg and finally Nashville returns to the United Center for the final time this year on December 29.

If the Hawks are able to finish these last eleven games at 9-2 (give or take) – they would sit around 28-10-1 with 56 points in 39 games. At that point, it won’t be a matter of whether they’re atop the Central Division, but by how much.

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“We got off to an ordinary start and we could see the team trending in the right direction, and this is a sign that, hey, we’re coming. When we play the right way, we’re a dangerous team.” Coach Joel Quenneville said to Cris Kuc of the Chicago tribune last week. As it was said three weeks ago, it’s a long season and though the start was slow, the team is clicking on every cylinder at just the right time.

Even more exciting is the depth of the team glaring everyone straight in the face – everything about the Blackhawks right now is a statement. I’m not even going to get into their league leading penalty kill – which now has killed off nineteen of twenty penalties in the last seven games. Do I dare mention their league leading shots on goal per game? What about their Puck Possession… no I think we all know about that too, don’t we?

I will though, indulge in this statement, if the Hawks goaltending group continues to impress, the front office and Q just might have to start taking this question rather seriously… “Are we really going to keep paying Crawford $6 Million a year, when Rannta and Darling can do the same, maybe even a more consistent job for far less?”  With both of them costing less than $2 Million combined and Rannta now having stopped 40 out of 41 against St. Louis and 38 out of 42 against the Habs – the writing is currently being written on the wall.

Not to mention I’m sure Darling, the Lemont, IL native just might even consider the idea of playing for room and board and food, if it meant staying in Chicago and with the Blackhawks. Lest we forget that last season in Crawford’s stead, Rannta only surrender three losses in eleven starts. And this year, the injury was suffered at a concert – which makes the injury even more, dare I say, Cutler like.

But I digree, please don’t misunderstand me, Crawford is tried and true and the issues that the Hawks are having, including this goaltending issue, are good problems to be having. But at the end of the day, the Hawks will need Crawford to step up and continue to be consistent both with his play and emotions – as well as, get his goals against average and save percentage into the same category with elite goaltenders like Carey Price, Jonathan Quick, Tukka Rask and Pekka Rinne. If he doesn’t, whether the cap goes up next year or not, that six million is going to be thoroughly investigated.

The fact remains, he’s making elite goaltender cash and must go the whole season producing like one. This is the Chicago Bears Organization, the Hawks don’t pay people to sit around, look pretty and not perform.

But again, these are Championship caliber team problems and not at all bad to have. They fall into the same category with the likes of figuring out where to put Patrick Sharp when he returns – reports indicate possibly as soon as Tuesday. Regardless, the Hawks are as solid and deeper than most clubs, with an incredible amount experience and camaraderie – it’s currently shinning through. Do I really need to remind that EIGHTEEN of the players on this roster have hoisted the Cup!? SEVENTEEN of those have done it while donning the Indian Head – case closed.

All in all, it’s one game at a time and tonight the Hawks invade Nashville for the last time this year. If the Hawks Defensive Corps, including debut man Klas Dhalbeck, can contain Forsberg and Neal – if they can clog  lanes for Shea Weber – if the goaltending stays stellar and everyone continues to hit the score sheet – the Hawks will have an excellent chance to steal another important two points from a huge Divisional foe, and most importantly, take the Central Division Lead!

BLACKHAWKS V.S. PREDATORS       6:00 PM CST         CSN  and  FX-CA

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