Rich Man's Blues: Blackhawks Midseason Review
The Blackhawks enter the second half of the season Friday and despite a few stumbles they sit in prime position to make another run at the Stanley Cup. The Nashville Predators have been streaking throughout the first months of the season, but the Hawks are still only two points behind for the lead in the Central Conference. They've weathered the storm of injuries and look to rebound after a patch of inconsistent play, as the days keep ticking and they get closer to the playoffs.
Despite the hand injury to Kris Versteeg in the Winter Classic, the Hawks are now relatively healthy. Corey Crawford returned from a questionable injury at a questionable concert choice and Patrick Sharp is back from his lower-body injury. Both players struggled upon their return, but have rebounded as of late. Crawford responded to criticism and put in a great performance in Minnesota Thursday, while Sharp has 3 goals and 5 points in his last 5 games, even after being sent to the third line several times recently.
A lot has been made of the Hawks getting off to slow starts in games, and rightfully so. They've fallen behind in 9 of the last 11 games, but their upcoming schedule gives them a bit a of a break with games against the lowly Oilers, Wild, Stars and Coyotes. The only problem is the Nashville Predators have pretty much stopped losing, especially at home, turning in a 16-2-1 record in the Music City. The Hawks will need to take advantage of their opportunity and grab every point they can, sooner or later the Predators will come back to earth.
During the offseason general manager Stan Bowman signed center Brad Richards to a one-year deal, hoping he could replace Michal Handzus and return to form after a disappointing 2013-14. So far the returns have been solid and the PB&K line of Richards, Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg has clicked throughout the first half. But at 34 can Richards maintain a high-level of play while trying to keep up with speedy wingers? We'll know after the season is over, but it's a legitimate concern after he faded late last season.
Versteeg's injury opened a spot for heralded prospect Teuvo Teravainen, who Hawks fans have long pegged as the second-line center of the future. The only problem has been opportunity. After turning in two solid but unspectacular games since being called up, Teravainen was a healthy scratch Thursday as coach Joel Quenneville went with Dan Carcillo instead. Hopefully, Teravainen will get a longer rope when he returns to the lineup, because the play at center was a glaring weakness throughout the playoffs last year.
Despite a few hiccups, a few short-term injuries and a more than a few F-bombs dropped leading up to the Winter Classic, the Hawks sit in a great position at the half way point of the season. They've avoided prolonged slumps and their main offseason acquisition hit. Now they face the dog days of winter, with the playoffs still in the distance but with each point becoming harder to come by. Meanwhile Hawks fans can moan about the handling of prospects and the makeup of the second power play unit, because when your team is the modern hockey equivalent of the '27 Yankees, that's what you do.