10 Blackhawks Negatives From The “First Half”
Oi, where to start here? The Blackhawks have gotten some fair offensive push from the blue line, with Brent Seabrook (31 points), Duncan Keith (30) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (14) helping out where they can, and Erik Gustafsson even getting in on the act. But going the other way, things have been between “barely acceptable” and “brutal” all season.
Keith and Hjammer have been asked to take the toughest assignments, and while they typically come out all right and even turn play the other way often enough, it’s all about the wear and tear game, especially when this team gets to the postseason. Seabrook has been spotty on the defensive end, and while Gustafsson has been solid, he’s still really young and in his first NHL season. Trevor van Riemsdyk has struggled at times, Michal Rozsival and Rob Scuderi have reallyyyyyy struggled, and David Rundblad was so bad the Blackhawks allowed him to leave the country. Viktor Svedberg was generally slow in his short stint with the club to start the season … and there you have it.
The Blackhawks — especially embattled netminder Corey Crawford — desperately need a somewhat-proven defenseman for the stretch run. We can expect Stan Bowman to get it done, but the price won’t be cheap. You can see an additional reason for the Blackhawks utilizing all these youngsters throughout the season when a deal is completed.
With Andrew Shaw being utilized as a first-line wing, here’s the list of Blackhawks’ bottom-six forwards with more than 10 points:
Teuvo Teravainen, 22 points
No, I didn’t forget to type more. That’s literally the entire list.
There’s more to this than “these guys suck,” because they don’t (besides a select few). But the Blackhawks just haven’t found a way to get consistent secondary scoring short of putting top-six guys into the bottom six. It’s an issue Stan has tried to address with his recent moves, bringing in Richard Panik and Jiri Sekac, and an issue the Blackhawks have tried to address when calling up a plethora of youngsters, but the Blackhawks are still a top-heavy scoring team.
Teuvo and Antoine Vermette made the Blackhawks’ bottom-six offense tick late in the 2015 postseason, and it turned out to be a critical push. Where will the Blackhawks be getting that from this season outside Teuvo? That remains to be seen.
Joel Quenneville’s stubbornness
This section will also encapsulate Brandon Mashinter‘s existence, lest I write about it for a month. Coach Q is clearly a smart guy who knows how to get the best out of most players, as he moved to second on the NHL’s all-time wins list during the first half. But, man, can he make some strange choices.
Mashinter is chief among those this season. The guy clearly brings nothing to the table, Q only trusts him with five minutes of ice time a night … and yet, there he’ll be, getting in ahead of Ryan Garbutt (before the trade), Jiri Sekac, Richard Panik and others. This is one of several reasons the Blackhawks’ secondary scoring can’t take off, and it really needs to end.
While Q’s blender has been pretty quiet of late, that same blender has also been an issue again this season. It took a lot of forwards a really long time to get accustomed to their linemates this season because they had different ones every three to five games. Trying to spur scoring is one thing, but at some point, you’re going to mute the scoring by continually doing this. Thankfully, Q appears to have realized this to some extent.
I’m glad Q recently signed an extension to stay in Chicago longer, but you can’t deny the man can be infuriating.
You could type the word “disappointment” next to each of these guys for the rest of the calendar year and it wouldn’t appropriately describe the letdowns associated with them.
Bickell’s is more painful to accept, considering he netted a four-year, $4 million per season contract after starring in the 2013 Cup run. Since then, he’s done next to nothing, and it’s resulted in a pair of trips to the Rockford IceHogs this season. Bickell’s agent has openly talked about hoping the Blackhawks would soon trade Bickell, but it’s clear no one wants him at this point. His value has never been lower, and with the Blackhawks dying for secondary scoring and salary cap space, his bust hurts badly.
Rundblad’s failure would be more palatable if the Blackhawks’ defense didn’t consistently look like it was on its last legs. Rundblad was signed to a new, short-term deal in the offseason in hopes his familiarity with the system would help support a noticeably-weak defensive unit. That didn’t come to fruition in the slightest, with Q trusting Rundblad less than Mashinter. Rundblad was loaned to a European team and hasn’t been heard from since. The Blackhawks are probably hoping it stays that way.
The Blackhawks boosted their road mark a bit during the 12-game win streak, but things are still pretty rough away from the United Center. Sure, 12-11-3 isn’t abhorrent, but it also highlights a desperate need for the Blackhawks to collect home ice through as much of the postseason as they can.
Several of these losses and overtime losses on the road have come at places you’d want to mumble your way through talking about, too — Philadelphia, Winnipeg, New Jersey, Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa and Carolina among them. Sure, there are situational factors involved in each game (last night’s game in Carolina, for example), but it’s not a good look when you can’t beat awful teams on the road.
As The Committed Indian also helpfully pointed out, the Blackhawks have some guys who are being used as primary players who need to be shielded more often than not as well. So home ice is even more critical to the Blackhawks moving forward, and the team’s current road struggles just aren’t helping to get that done.
We’ve talked at length about how the Blackhawks can struggle to get up for games against bad teams. In spite of that, a 5-7-0 mark against the Metropolitan Division is just unacceptable at this point.
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No, it’s not the Pacific, but it’s certainly not a whole lot better. Washington is obviously an outlier, and the New York Rangers and Islanders are both fine teams with some flaws. But after that, it gets pretty dreggy with a disappointing Pittsburgh team, a New Jersey squad being carried by Cory Schneider, Carolina, Philadelphia and Columbus.
The Blackhawks have fallen to the Capitals and Rangers once each, which is acceptable. They’ve also beaten the Islanders twice, which is great. Taken down the Pens twice, too. So if you’re counting at home, that’s 4-2-0 of our 5-7-0 mark. The other win came against Columbus, which means the Blackhawks have lost five times combined across the Devils, Canes and Flyers. That is unacceptable, no matter the situation. The hope is those points don’t come back to cost the Blackhawks a shot at home ice.
I don’t expect the guy to be Ed Belfour, especially with the struggling defense in front of him. But after Darling shone with some series-saving work against Nashville in the 2015 playoffs, Blackhawks fans probably thought they’d see a serviceable backup who could give Corey Crawford a break now and then in the 2015-16 season.
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That has not transpired at all, with Crow likely to hit a new career high in appearances this season. While that has some to do with Crow being generally outstanding, is also has to do with Darling struggling heavily. His .911 save percentage and 2.61 goals-allowed average are not going to get the job done on days Crow needs a rest. Darling’s positioning is insanely bad at times (reference the two goals Carolina scored on him last night), and he looks jumpy and nervous while he’s on the ice.
Did he luck his way into some big performances against Nashville? I can’t fully believe that. He seemed a lot more confident and assured in that series than he does now, though. Maybe it’s just a product of the defense in front of him. Regardless, Darling needs to be better in the second half of the regular season.
Artem Anisimov‘s faceoff problems
Beside this one point, Anisimov has done a strong job as the Blackhawks’ No. 2 center this season. He’s taken his role with Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin and run with it, helping set up some of their goals and converting on many chances they’ve provided him.
It’s not totally incredible that Kane and Panarin have been so successful on offense without seeing many faceoff wins, but it adds an extra layer of impressiveness to their performances. Of course, this reflects poorly on the guy taking the faceoffs in Anisimov. He’s winning just 44.3 percent of his draws, and for a line that has to see a lot of ice time due to the Blackhawks’ lack of offensive depth, that’s a problem. It’ll be magnified in the postseason as well.
If there’s a positive to come from that figure, former Blackhawk Brandon Pirri — once believed to be the organization’s No. 2 center of the future — has won just 44 percent of his draws. Woo!
Marian Hossa‘s scoring droughts
Hossa is still a very capable forward on offensive and while forechecking and backchecking. But the number of offensive droughts he’s gone through this season is concerning, to say the least.
He currently has one point in his last five games, and he’s had a stretch of five games and another of seven in which he tallied no points this season. He boasts just eight goals, with three of those coming in the calendar year. He had a 14-game goal drought in the middle of the season, and his shooting percentage is currently listed at a meager 5.6.
Is Hossa on the decline? Probably. He’s 36 years old, and not everyone is Jaromir Jagr. But can he be better than this? Absolutely, and the Blackhawks need him to be.
The Patrick Sharp trade
I ended the positives section with Stan fixing his mistakes. Well, this was a tough one to fix.
Trading Sharp wasn’t a mistake — the Blackhawks needed a way to get under the cap, and moving Sharp was the answer (along with moving Brandon Saad). But the Blackhawks have already parted ways with both pieces they received in the Sharp-to-Dallas deal, and they siphoned off a promising young defenseman at a time where they really need to stockpile blueliners.
It sucked having to trade Sharp in general, but the end results have just been brutal. Sharp has gone on to form hockey’s most-potent offensive line with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, while Ryan Garbutt now plays for Anaheim and Trevor Daley is in Pittsburgh. And a steadily improving Dallas blue line is probably going to get better with the future addition of Stephen Johns.
Probably best we stop talking about this one now. I think I’m going to be sick.
What were your top Blackhawks positives and negatives from the first half of the 2015-16 season? Let us know in the comments.