Corey Crawford‘s return to the lineup Friday was huge for the Chicago Blackhawks. Mired in a winless streak while dropping in the standings had many fans worried. After going 0-3-2 until last Friday’s win, the Blackhawks are just only one point out of the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference. There are several key areas that will decide whether the Hawks make it to the postseason.
Corey Crawford’s Return Brings Chicago Blackhawks Fans Relief
Corey Crawfords return to the lineup against the Buffalo Sabres Friday night was a welcome sight for the Blackhawks. Crawford had been out for three games due to a lower body injury. During his absence, Crawford was replaced by Anton Forsberg and Jean-Francois Berube. Both played well but were unable to lead the Hawks to victory while Crawford was sidelined.
The Blackhawks had gone five games without a win before their overtime victory over Buffalo Friday night. The team has struggled to stay in a playoff spot this season. Losing Crawford to injury and watching a five-game winless streak play out has many wondering if the Hawks are a playoff team. It also has many questioning the off-season moves by general manager Stan Bowman.
There are several areas that will determine the Blackhawks playoff fate.
The play of Corey Crawford this season has been huge. He has raised his game and is carrying his team on his back most nights. He is now fifth in the NHL with a 2.27 goals against average and third in the league with a .930 save percentage. Crawford staying healthy is extremely important for the Hawks to contend and make a playoff run.
The Blackhawks offence needs to start scoring more goals. During their five-game winless streak, the Blackhawks were outscored 19-10. Not many teams can win games averaging two goals scored a game. This put too much pressure on the goaltenders who have to be near perfect in order to win.
Looking for some offensive help, the Blackhawks made a roster move calling up Vinnie Hinostroza from the Rockford Ice Hogs. Tanner Kero was assigned to Rockford to make room for Hinostroza. The recent callup was leading the Ice Hogs with 22 points in 23 games, scoring 9 goals and 13 assists. Hinostroza was used on the third line Friday, which allowed red-hot Alex DeBrincat to move up to the first line. It is a much-deserved promotion for the Hawks rookie.
The Chicago Blackhawks power play has been abysmal this season. They have scored 19 power play goals this year and are now near the bottom of the NHL with a 15.8% success rate. They currently lead the NHL in drawing penalties with 120 so far this year, which is great. However, drawing all those penalties and not capitalizing on them is painful to watch.
Jared Clinton of the The Hockey News breaks down some of the Hawks power play problems :
“One of the most prominent issues facing the Blackhawks right now is their dreadful power play. Matter of fact, to call it dreadful might be an understatement. Since Nov. 28, the beginning of Chicago’s ongoing five-game slide, no team has had more opportunities with the man advantage than the Blackhawks, who’ve earned themselves 21 power plays. And while other clubs, including three within the tough Central Division, have managed four or more power play goals over the past week-plus, Chicago has managed just a single goal, giving the Blackhawks a power play success rate of 4.8 percent.”
To improve, the Blackhawks need to stop playing on the outside looking for the perfect pass. Instead, they should be trying to get more pucks to the net and get some rebound goals. The lack of a successful power play will make or break their efforts to get to the postseason.
The Hawks face the Arizona Coyotes, Florida Panthers, Winnipeg Jets, and the Minnesota Wild. With Winnipeg and Minnesota ahead of the Hawks in the standings, victories against them would be huge for the team. The two games against the Panthers and Coyotes are must-wins considering their lesser records compared to the Hawks. It is a big week. The Hawks look to deliver some wins.
CHICAGO, IL – JANUARY 05: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks makes a save against the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center on January 5, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)