Analysis: Blackhawks At The Quarter Pole



After 20 games, and coming off a huge road win against the Penguins, what have we learned about the re-engineered, younger, less proven 2017-18 Blackhawks? 


The mood in Blackhawk Nation this morning can likely best be described as “cautious, but jaded optimism.” This team—this year’s team—has teased us before with periods of brilliance, followed by stretches of inexplicably bad play, and the taste of two first round exits (after successful regular seasons) from the playoffs hasn’t faded.

You want to trust what’s you’ve seen the last two outings against good Eastern Conference teams. But you are wary of the next one—versus arguably the league’s best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

If you just look at the numbers and the trends, you can say that the Hawks were carried through the first 1/4 of the season by outstanding goaltending. Of late, Corey Crawford‘s stellar play has been complemented by Artem Anisimov arguably playing the best hockey of his career. Anisimov has not only reclaimed his second line center job, he’s become the Hawks most reliable scorer and net-front presence. As a result, thel ast couple of games, the hawks have also started to score on the power play—which had previously been about as common as Halley’s Comet.

Another important factor: the recent emergence of Gustav Forsling and Alex DeBrincat. Not only have both reduced their mistakes—which at one point were a real, possession-killing problem—but both have stepped up and contributed in their roles as scorers and playing over 200 feet. It’s way too early to say either has fully “arrived>” It’s likely there will be more mistakes. But both seem to now belong, and Forsling especially seems to be improving dramatically under the tutelage of assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson, himself a Swede (like Forsling) and longtime NHL defenseman.

For now, former camp PTO Cody Franson (who Hawk broadcasters still seem to have confused with former Detroit forward Johan Franzen) looks like a relatively stable fixture alongside Duncan Keith. And the much-maligned Connor Murphy has had a couple of decent outings on his off side, playing with Brent Seabrook.

The Jonathan Toews line seems a bit snakebit of late in terms of scoring, but still seems to be putting a lot of pressure on opponents, while the Anisimov, Patrick Kane (who has also been quiet lately), Nick Schmaltz line is getting some points. A two-line threat—something the last couple of Hawk teams weren’t.

As a result, the shot totals of games have tilted back toward Chicago’s favor of late.

All positive signs. Cause for jubilation? No.

There are still nightly clown car acts as the Hawks try to get out of their own end, missed coverages, still some ill-advised pinches without back-rotation to cover, creating odd-man rushes for opponents.

And although he’s had brilliant periods and games, we’re still not entirely sure how much new backup goalie Anton Forsberg can be relied upon, should Crawford go down with injury.

But the trends of late are positive and suggest improvement form the complementary pieces—like Anisimov, Forsling, DeBrincat and others—not just Crawford or Kane loading the team on his back for a night or two.

We’ll have a full recap of last night’s game later this morning—AND a new RinkCast posting later tonight, with special guests Pappy and Zo from Sports Mockery/the 312 podcast.

All for now.


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