Now that the Bears season is over I will be occasionally focusing on the other big sports stories around the city of Chicago. Lets start with the Blackhawks, who after losing 5-4 to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, sit just outside the playoffs in the Western Conference.
For a team that many believe is the team of the decade and their tremendous fan base, the prospect of not making the playoffs seems too incredible to bear. The media of course is feeling this spreading fear, and starting to feed the panic, with articles tearing into team captain Jonathan Toews and head coach Joel Quinneville. Some articles pick on the lack of production from the captain and other articles point to whether or not the team is tuning out the head coach with the second most wins all-time in the NHL.
Those writers and their articles are wrong on both counts. Toews production is currently toward the lower end of his career averages, but only slightly. One could argue that Patrick Kane’s numbers are down to a greater degree, but consider that Kane’s line mate the last two years, Artemi Panarin, was traded to Columbus to get back Brandon Saad and current backup goalie Anton Forsberg, who is nursing an injury at the moment.
Also consider that the real loss of production was in losing Marion Hossa to his skin infection. That Hossa played mainly on Toews line, is the more likely factor that Toews overall numbers seem to be down, but again, only slightly. As Toews and Saad continue to get reacquainted with one another, their numbers should rise in the second half of the season, along with Richard Panik’s.
Panik is the most glaring, year over year production loss, he isn’t delivering the hits like he did a year ago. Could he be masking an injury as well? But trying to fight through it, in light of the Hawks other injuries? What else would explain the drop in physicality from the young forward who is playing for a contract? Let’s give him time to heal and see if his numbers continue to rise to his career averages. He had an assist against Las Vegas last night and his hits are up since mid-December.
The same rise in production should happen for Patrick Kane, when 2nd line center Artem Anisimov returns from his injury. When Anisimov returns, the resulting trickle down effect should boost production all the way down to the third line where Nick Schmaltz belongs, and then he will provide the Hawks a big advantage over other teams defenses and third lines.
Rookie Alex DeBrincat continues to be a revelation, and will prove to be a worthy replacement for Panarin in the playoffs. Panarin disappeared in the 4 game sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators last year. DeBrincat brings a level of toughness like Andrew Shaw used to, but with much more quickness and offensive skill. He will be in the rookie of the year conversation.
Lastly, lets talk about the schedule. To this point, the Hawks have played more road games than half of the teams currently qualified for the playoffs. That means the Hawks, with one of the greatest home ice advantages in hockey, will play more home games than the teams they are chasing. Not to mention they have played fewer games overall, by 2 and some 3 games less than the teams they will eventually run down. There is no need to panic.
In a very short while the Hawks will return their top 2 goalies, their 2nd best center and defenseman Jan Rutta. As long as goalie Corey Crawford, can come back and be 100%, I stand by my predication of a deep run in the playoffs for the Hawks.