Chicago Blackhawks at Mid-Season: Contender or Pretender?

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This is the halfway point of the current NHL season. The Chicago Blackhawks are in unfamiliar territory, sitting last in their division and out of the playoff picture. After a busy offseason and an inconsistent first half, many wonder if they are a contender or pretender.

Chicago Blackhawks at Mid-Season – Contender or Pretender?

At the halfway point of the current NHL season, the Chicago Blackhawks are a team in trouble. Their record is 20-15-6 with 46 points. They are dead last in the Central Division of the Western Conference, eight points out of the playoff qualifying third place in the division. Their number one goalie Corey Crawford is out again with an injury. They are also still struggling to find the consistent play that is expected of the underachieving team. They do however trail the last wild-card spot in the Conference by just one point, which is the only good news. After 41 games of inconsistent play, many are asking whether this team is a contender or pretender.

Contender More Than Pretender

The one constant throughout this season has been the play of Corey Crawford. His Vezina level play has carried the Blackhawks most of the season until his recent injuries. His two stints on injured reserve have proven tough for the Blackhawks to play through. Crawford’s record is 16-9-2, with a goals-against average of 2.27 and save percentage of .929. Losing Crawford twice this season has placed the goaltending duties on Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. Both have filled in with mixed results and will need to improve their play for the Blackhawks to survive until Crawford returns.

Contender Becomes Pretender

One season ago, the Blackhawks had the best record in the Western Conference entering the playoffs. Unfortunately, they ran into a red-hot Nashville Predators and were swept in the opening round. This stunning first-round loss was hard to take based on the success this team has had over the last 8 seasons. With another offseason salary cap crisis facing the Blackhawks, General Manager Stan Bowman would try to pull off another successful cap adjustment with their roster as in past years. The jury is still out on this one, but it hasn’t looked good.

Offseason Moves At Mid-Season

A lot has been written about the moves the Chicago Blackhawks made over the off-season. Moving several players out, bringing players back, signing free agents, and playing several young players have had mixed results. It’s expected for a team who made a lot of changes to take a while to gel, but half a season should be enough. The fans of the team are getting impatient and restless.

The Blackhawks have had losing streaks and winning streaks off and on, but will have to make improvements in several areas to find success. Some of which are playing consistently for 60 minutes, limiting the turnovers, better defensive zone coverage, and not having slow starts. And for goodness sake, can someone start scoring some power play goals? The Blackhawks have dropped to third-worst in the NHL with a 14.4% power play. Their penalty killing has suffered too. After being in the top 5 most of the season, the last month they have dropped to 14th with an 81.4% effective rate.

Searching For Answers

What is it going to take for the Blackhawks to find their A game on a night in night out basis? Has coach Joel Quenneville maxed out the potential of this roster? Have the players become indifferent to his coaching ways? The recent home loss to the Las Vegas Knights added more questions to these issues.

The Blackhawks returned home from a six-game road trip on a high after losing the first three games of the trip. 32-year-old “rookie” Jeff Glass had gone 2-0-1 the last 3 games giving his team the boost they needed. All of the players talked about how the solid play of Glass had inspired the team. The Blackhawks then returned home to face the Knights and came out absolutely flat to start the game. They were outplayed and outhustled most of the night by the Western Conference leading Knights. This lack of effort has happened far too many times this season and is unacceptable for a team with this much talent and leadership.

Moves We Have Moves

Monday the Blackhawks made some roster moves to shake things up. They waived defenseman Cody Franson who had made the team on a PTO contract. The move was prompted by the productive play of Jordan Oesterle who has been on a roll lately. He has scored two goals and three assists in the last 5 games. John Hayden was also sent down to the Rockford Ice Hogs to make room for call-up Tomas Jurco. Jurco has the second-most points on the Ice Hogs, with 13 goals and 12 assists. Jurco will hopefully give the Blackhawks a much needed offensive boost.

Second Half Mystery

How the Chicago Blackhawks will play the second half of the season is a mystery. Their inconsistent first half makes it impossible to predict. If they can improve on the areas mentioned above, they may move up again into a playoff spot. They will definitely need a healthy Corey Crawford back in net to make that happen. Let’s hope that’s sooner than later.
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