Chicago Blackhawks at Mid-Season: Draft Lottery or Playoffs?

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 23: (L-R) Jonathan Toews #19, Alex DeBrincat #12 Dylan Stome #17 and Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate DeBrincat's second period goal against the Florida Panthers at the United Center on December 23, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Chicago Blackhawks at mid-season reminds one of the infamous expression from baseball legend Yogi Berra; “it’s like deja vu all over again”. A year ago the Chicago Blackhawks faced an uncertain second half to the season without their starting goaltender Corey Crawford. Crawford was suffering from a concussion and did not play again until this past October. The team was struggling to defend and they had Anton Forsberg and host of others playing goal trying to stay in contention.

This mid-season they are again without their starting goaltender who was lost to another concussion in December. The latest news on Crawford has been as silent as it was last season while their number one goalie recovered. Fortunately for the 15-21-6 Blackhawks their defence and goaltending situations may be looking better than last year.

Chicago Blackhawks At Mid-Season

The Blackhawks at mid-season currently finds them sixth in their division ahead of only the lowly St. Louis Blues who have only 34 points. The Blackhawks are currently nine points out of a divisional or wild card playoff spot. If they are going to crawl back into contention they will need to play better defence and get solid goaltending.

Blackhawks Defence In Flux

The Blackhawks defence corps has been a work in progress all season. They began the season with two starting defencemen injured as they lost Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling in the pre-season. This allowed rookie Henri Jokiharju to start the season with the big club. The promising rookie has had the usual mixed results as he tried to earn his way to a permanent spot on defence. Currently, he’s on loan to Finland for the World Junior Championships.

Defence starter Jan Rutta was waived and sent to the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs. It was only late last season when general manager Stan Bowman signed him to a ridiculous one-year, $2.25 million deal. Brandon Manning was recently traded with Robin Norell to the Edmonton Oilers for Drake Caggiula and journeyman Jason Garrison. Disappointing 2018 free agent Manning was never able to play consistently enough to stay in the lineup for his new team. Blackhawks 2013 draft pick Norell can now be added to the list of “Bowman Busts” on defence since Bowman took over as general manager in 2010. Garrison has already been placed on unconditional waivers.

Defence Corps

The defence lineup has certainly seen a lot of changes since the start of the season. They have also been trying to play new coach Jeremy Colliton‘s man-on-man coverage scheme with mixed results so far. The man-on-man coverage has had numerous breakdowns as the defence and forwards are learning the new system. Defencemen have been caught chasing the puck carrier out to the blue line while the forwards have not reacted correctly. This has left opponents alone in front of the net for prime scoring opportunities. These breakdowns in coverage will certainly go away the longer they play the new system.

Here are the expected defencemen going forward in the second half:

Blackhawks Goaltending At The Halfway Point

A year ago the Blackhawks had to rely on Anton Forsberg, Jean-Francois Berube, 32-year-old rookie Jeff Glass, rookie Collin Delia, and now infamous cult hero Scott Foster to fill in while Corey Crawford was on injured reserve. The revolving goaltender show produced the expected results as the Blackhawks fell out of playoff contention. None of the goaltenders could provide the Vezina worthy performances Crawford pulled off before getting injured.

Delia Time

There was however a bright spot during the “goalie tryouts” last season. Collin Delia played in only two games in the spring going 1-1-0. His stats were very ordinary with a goals-against-average of 3.96 and a save percentage of .889. A closer look at his work in goal revealed a much different story. Delia was making some incredible saves while playing in net. His acrobatics kept his team in the two games he played. Those watching closely saw the potential goalie of the future playing before their eyes. The kid from Rancho Cucamonga, California. would then go on to lead the Ice Hogs to the AHL conference finals. He was the real deal waiting for his chance.

Fast forward to present day and we find Corey Crawford out with another concussion. This time around the Blackhawks mid-season picture looks better. Cam Ward was signed in the off-season as a free agent last summer. While he has had mixed results early on he has played better during Crawford’s absence. Ward recently stepped up and spoke out in the Blackhawks locker room the night Crawford was hurt. This veteran-like performance seemed to spark a team looking for a rallying point this season. Since they lost their number one goalie the Blackhawks have gone 5-2-0. This amazing turnaround is a result of better starts, better team play, and above all goaltending.

Delia vs. Ward

Delia has provided top-level goaltending and has sparked his team whenever he plays. The rookie is currently 3-0-0 with a goals-against-average of 1.96 and an incredible save-percentage of .957. He has stood on his head as he faced an average of over 38 shots a game. His 3-0-0 hot streak also sparked a brief goalie controversy as Cam Ward was announced as the starter of the Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins. The veteran netminder was given the start for the premier NHL event as many teams would do in the same situation. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks lost the Winter Classic 4-2 which provides the pro-Delia faction more ammo going forward. It also proves yet again that the team should decline any future invitations to outdoor games.

Blackhawks Mid-Season And Beyond

The Blackhawks mid-season schedule resumes Thursday night against the New York Islanders. It will be interesting to see who the Blackhawks start in goal against the Islanders and then going forward. Collin Delia is certainly going to get his chance while Crawford is out. He also has the opportunity to grab the starting job if he continues his stellar play. In addition, the “California Kid” is auditioning for either the future backup or starter’s job depending on Crawford’s recovery. Either way, the Blackhawks faithful will be seeing a lot more of Delia.

 

 

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