When I woke up on Wednesday morning, the Chicago Blackhawks were in last place in the Central Division. While they had multiple games in hand compared to the teams ahead of them, I didn’t think they would be in that position for a long time.
The Chicago Blackhawks came out FLYING against the New York Rangers last night. This was probably due to the game being against their “arch rival” on Wednesday Night Rivalry. Joking aside, this was the first time in a long time I believe the Chicago Blackhawks have played with true purpose and desperation.
Quickly, I’d like to discuss a few observations. For one, I swear every time Brandon Saad was on the ice Wednesday he was shooting. Other than his two penalties in the first period, Jonathan Toews had a really solid game too. If those two start to heat up, look out NHL. The fact that Vinnie Hinostroza was put up on their line may not be a coincidence, as he had a strong game as well.
It would be wrong to discuss the game without talking about Patrick Sharp‘s goal, I don’t think he could have placed the shot better had he placed it there with his hands. Followed by the tugging of the Indian Head on his jersey as a celebration, the dude is a true Blackhawk. Forget how he has looked this season, you’d be lying if you said you weren’t happy he was back in the organization.
So often we’ve seen encouraging games followed by flat and uninspiring performances. Maybe the team can see the new year as a fresh start and start to play more consistently. Regardless, the Western Conference-leading Vegas Golden Knights come into town Friday. Let’s hope the Blackhawks use that game as a measuring stick, and come out to play.
Now, who’s hot, and who’s not?
Looking back at the past five games
It was tough for me to give any one player the “hot” honors. Kane has been leading the way lately as far as offense goes, and Jeff Glass has played some pretty solid hockey (other than rebound control and the overtime goal he gave up) since his surprising string of starts.
Da Windy City
Overall, the Blackhawks have been getting contributions from all across the board, as you can see above, which is very encouraging.
Hot: Jordan Oesterle
While he may not be necessarily “hot,” he deserves some recognition of late. When Tanner Kero was still in the NHL and Hinostroza was in the AHL, fans were calling for Oesterle to be waived and Hinostroza to be called up. Oesterle was scratched for many consecutive games, given basically no chance to show what he had. But, when injuries arose and his name was called, he delivered.
Overall, he has looked great. He has four points in his last five games, and is emerging as a real minute eater for Coach Q. Finding someone to eat as many minutes as he does takes minutes off of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, which could bode well for this postseason (we hope), and for years to come.
I also feel the need to mention how nice it is to have someone quick in the back end. Seeing guys like Seabrook and Cody Franson get completely outskated during odd-man rushes gets really old really fast. It seems like every successful team in today’s NHL has a defense corps made up of mostly very quick skaters.
Furthermore, Oesterle has emerged as a very offensive defenseman. It seems to me every time he is in the offensive zone, he is putting pucks to net. While he takes some chances, he never seems to go too far out of line. His offensive potential has led him to getting some powerplay time, and coincidentally, the powerplay has been scoring a little bit more lately.
Not: Richard Panik
This one was easy. I didn’t even have to think twice. While playing in 34 of 39 games this season, he has put up 14 points. That puts him on pace for 33 points over 82 games. Lately, he has been under the spotlight for this lack of point production, and specifically his lack of goal production. That late-game chance he had against Calgary where he missed as wide open of a net as you can get was the epitome of this slump.
Unpopular opinion: I really like Panik. I don’t think last years success was a fluke. At his best, he’s everything you want in a power forward. He has size, and he knows how to use it. He’s strong on the puck, and has a decent shot.
Going into this season, I had a lot of hope for a Saad-Toews-Panik line, I thought they would complement each other very well. I don’t remember exactly which game it was, but I remember Panik completely running an opposing defenseman over in the corner of the offensive zone, directly leading to a goal.
His confidence is higher than ever when he’s playing that physically and making offense out of it, and that’s the Panik the Chicago Blackhawks desperately need back.
I believe that whenever he does break out of this scoring slump, we will see him get back to where he was last year. Panik has always struck me as a very streaky player, whether it be upward or downward trending.
The Blackhawks won’t be around last place in the Central for long. While this may be a learning and development year, this team has the talent in house to contend. Once they find the right combinations, and their young players gain experience and confidence, watch out.
While Wednesday’s win was encouraging, it’s done and over with. Frankly, it doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is whether or not they can gain consistency and string multiple wins together. Having so many games in hand is only helpful if you win those games.
Bring on the Knights!
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