Dec 27, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Kris Versteeg (23) and Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) battle for the puck in front of Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nate Guenin (5) during the first period at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The first half of the 2014-2015 NHL season is over and well, you have to be happy with the way our beloved Chicago Blackhawks have been playing. Despite a few hiccups, the Hawks are presently sitting quite comfortably at close second in the Central Division and have had some interesting developments along the way.
That being said, there is still a long way to go till the post season, and like our boys in red, white, and black, we Hawks fans can’t be satisfied with the status quo. True champions are always looking for ways to be improve, and with that in mind, here are three Blackhawks that need to bring their game to the next level in the second half of the season:
#3 – Kris Versteeg
It may be hard to fathom that Kris Vertseeg still has something to prove considering he’s already silenced many of his neigh-sayers this year, but now, in the face of yet another injury-related set-back, he’s got to demonstrate the staying power of his renaissance. As you know, Vertseeg has had a tremendous season, a tremendous season that has been interrupted by a hand injury sustained during the Winter Classic. As we’ve already seen with Patrick Sharp’s return from an injury hiatus, Steeger won’t necessarily automatically resume his gig on the second line with Patrick Kane and Brad Richards. Thus, it’s incredibly important Versteeg show his talent can contribute no matter which line he skates on, not only for the Hawks’ benefit this season, but for the coming years when Steeger will be a player expected to shoulder a bigger load for the franchise.
Jan 9, 2015; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta (31) stops a shot during warmup against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
#2 – Antti Raanta
I’d be lying if Raanta’s most recent outing against the lowly Edmonton Oilers wasn’t coloring my assessment here, but the fact remains Rant has got to be a rock the second half of the season. Now as far as back-up goalies go, his numbers are pretty decent, but there are two factors that necessitate Raanta being better than decent. The first factor is Corey Crawford. Crawford has been outstanding this season, but his recent return from injury has reminded us all how mentally fragile Crow can be, and this becomes more of an issue the more games he starts in the regular season. The other factor is Coach Joel Quenneville’s known penchant for leaning on his more established players rather than roll the dice on those a bit greener. Thus, it’s important for Raanta to stand on his head early and often when he’s between the pipes to not only help keep Crawford physically and mentally fresh for the playoffs, but also convince Coach Q he can rely on Rant on a regular basis.
Dec 27, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman David Rundblad (5) during the game against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
#1 – David Rundblad
Perhaps the only precarious place in the Blackhawks line-up is the third defensive line, which is why it needs a hero, and during the first half of the season, many defensemen have had their chances. Now we’re on the season’s back nine, and it’s becoming ever more important that a third string defenseman step up in a big way, We all know it’s not going to be 36-year-old Michal Rozsival, who is rapidly becoming the Michal Handzus of the blue line sans managed ice time. Thus, the third defensive line has become the very opportunity for relative rookies to make a significant impact, and with Trevor van Riemsdyk on the IR and Tim Erixon still getting his Chicago legs under him, David Rundblad has a paramount chance to rise to prominence. So far, after a shaky start, Rundblad seems to be on the right track. He’s playing smarter hockey and finding ways to become involved in offensive drives, notching seven points in 24 games. The Blackhawks are going to need more of the same from Rundblad, a lot more. The ideal situation for Rundblad would be cementing his spot opposite TVR once he returns, but that will be a hard fought battle considering once again Coach Q’s tendency to favor veterans, no matter how slow, old, or Rozsival they are. In the second half of the season, we’ll see if Rundblad is up to the challenge.
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The Blackhawks have had great a season thus far, but the playoffs are far from right around the corner, and it’s in these dog days that the Hawks need to keep their momentum rolling, which is why all players on the roster, not just the aforementioned, must keep driving on all cylinders.
FOR THE DAGGER!