Back in October, I wrote a Chicago Blackhawks piece about the team’s deceptive record. Despite having delivered a 10-1 blowout of the Pittsburgh Penguins on opening night and their 4-1-1 record, the team at that time was not playing nearly as well. Are we back there again?
The Chicago Blackhawks have won five straight games, though not in any kind of spectacular fashion. But the last two were impressive wins against Central Division rivals, the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild.
Let’s examine this modest winning streak a little more closely. Chicago began December on a lethargic note with three losses in succession. Corey Crawford was out of the lineup due to injury, and the team was not responding well in Crawford’s absence.
The 6-2 loss in Washington on Dec. 6 meant something had to give. The next day, general manager Stan Bowman waived Tanner Kero and finally recalled Vinnie Hinostroza from the AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs.
Around the same time, the team announced Crawford was coming off of injured reserve and would start the next game at home versus the Buffalo Sabres. In that game, Chicago won in overtime with Crawford and Hinostroza in the lineup.
Despite the close score, the ‘Hawks’ balanced attack fired 51 shots on the Sabres’ net. I looked at that win as a baby step back to respectability for the club. The team has won the four games played since; the last two versus Central Division rivals were solid wins. Team speed was back. They were swarming the opposition, and puck support was much improved.
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Here are some reasons I feel the team has been more successful of late.
Tommy Wingels and the fourth line
It’s been quite a while since the ‘Hawks had a traditional fourth line — one that bumps and bruises, adds real energy and spark and can contribute to the offense when the opposition avails it the chance. Pretty much since opening night, the fourth line has played excellent hockey.
The dynamic duo is showing some chemistry, the likes of which Blackhawk fans grew accustomed to when Artemi Panarin was paired with Kane. Schmaltz’s speed when carrying the puck is impressive and has Kane fully engaged.
The 32-year-old goaltender has been a tower of strength between the pipes. The confidence of the team in his abilities is very apparent in its play lately.
Team speed and Vinnie Hinostroza
The Hinostroza promotion and the speed game he brings, on both sides of the puck, has revitalized Ryan Hartman. Suddenly the Blackhawk attack is balanced with all lines contributing.
Both defensemen are steadily improving and contributing in their own ways. Coach Q ‘s confidence in the two is reflected by the increase in ice time for both blueliners.
Seabrook’s reduced ice time has suited him well. He looks much more like himself lately; his plus-10 rating has him tied for the team lead.
Suddenly the team has spark and Chicago fans are hoping it has turned a corner, but the schedule provides a big challenge as 2017 winds down.
Beginning tonight in Dallas, the team embarks on a six game road trip and won’t be back to the friendly confines of the United Center until Jan. 5, 2018. Needless to say, this road trip could very well go a long way in determining Blackhawks’ fate for the 2017-18 campaign.