Ranking The Top 5 New adidas NHL Jerseys

Tuesday night was a much anticipated night for many NHL fans as the league and adidas unveiled the new adidas sweaters to be worn by all NHL teams beginning next season. The NHL’s contract with Reebok, the previous provider for all official NHL apparel, ended at the conclusion of this past season, giving way to a new era for NHL apparel.

One interesting thing to note about the transition to adidas is that all NHL teams will be limited to only a home and away sweater for the coming 2017-18 season, meaning no third/alternate jerseys this year. Those are likely to return for the 2018-19 season. There was speculation heading into the joint adidas/NHL unveiling that some teams may decide to wear what was their third jersey as their primary home top this season. Some are, in fact, doing so.

With that, let’s rank the top 5 NHL jerseys after Tuesday night’s big unveiling.

*NOTE: Not all teams’ have made photos of their away sweaters available as of this writing.

5. Florida Panthers

The Panthers absolutely nailed it when they decided to switch up their look a year ago, and thankfully adidas didn’t try to mess with it. I love that there are aspects of this sweater meant to represent the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne, with the necktie pattern symbolizing the Florida State flag.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

I’m a big fan of the Leafs’ new/old logo that they made their primary logo prior to last season. This is such a simple, classic look that doesn’t need any tinkering other than maybe a shoulder patch. I’d be fine with that addition.

3. Chicago Blackhawks

It saddens me to have to demote my favorite team in a list like this, but adidas forced my hand. I have NO clue what they were doing when designing the new collar on these. I hate that the white gets cut off right at the front of the collar where the NHL emblem rests. Had they not done that, these are likely still No. 1 as they still own the league’s best logo and secondary logo.

2. Edmonton Oilers

There was talk of Edmonton abandoning their blue tops and wearing orange as their primary color at home. They did that, but they also switched up the color shades. The orange doesn’t appear to be quite as bright, and the blue is now a navy blue rather than their typical royal blue. These things are incredible, and if I wasn’t a loyal Hawks fan, I’d buy one.

1. Boston Bruins

These had always been No. 2 behind the Blackhawks, but with Chicago’s demotion, that opened the door for the Bruins to grab ahold of the top spot. Luckily for them, they seem to have escaped adidas’ jersey makeover without any major changes. One big change in the Bruins’ new look is that they’ll now wear black socks at home, whereas before they were wearing yellow.

One thing I’d like to point out is that these new adidas sweaters now have a metallic NHL logo at the neckline. The Reebok sweaters had the logo there as well, but not in this metallic form:

 

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Post Trade Deadline Blackhawks Update

Yes, I’m still alive and well here. I know you’ve been worried. You know who else is alive and well? The Blackhawks. They are winners of seven straight games, and have won their last eight road games, which is a new franchise record. They also sit second in the Central Division while owning the league’s third highest point total (89). In a season that I and many others viewed as a stepping stone toward competing for the Cup again in the next two years, the Hawks have, to this point, shocked me.

Coming into this 2016-17 season, it was well known that the Blackhawks were going to have to play multiple rookies each and every night thanks in large part to the salary cap. As has been the case for the last 7-8 years, the Hawks are tight up against the league’s cap due to the fact that they have to pay high annual salaries to some of the NHL’s best players. The only difference this year, however, is that rather than being able to sign some veteran players to cheap one-year deals, the Hawks were forced to build their depth from within their own organization. Enter the likes of Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Nick Schmaltz, Dennis Rasmussen, and Michal Kempny (signed as a free agent last summer).

You never want to have to place a lot of faith and confidence in a bunch of rookies to help guide your team to the postseason. There is simply too much of the “unknown factor” that comes into play in that scenario. There’s no telling how a rookie or other relatively inexperienced players will handle the pressure of being asked to produce right off the bat. That becomes even more true in the playoffs when the intensity on the ice and in the stands rises to levels that cannot be duplicated in the AHL or junior leagues.

However, the Blackhawks’ rookies have exceeded expectations thus far, and that’s an understatement. Ryan Hartman (15G, 11A) is making this city forget about Andrew Shaw. He’s producing offensively, he has been responsible defensively, and he brings some size and grit that can prove to be quite valuable in May and June.

Tanner Kero, while not a big generator of offense, is becoming Marcus Kruger 2.0. His value on the penalty kill has grown all season.

Nick Schmaltz got off to a slow start back in the fall and was sent down to Rockford to gain confidence and work on shooting more often, and ever since being brought back up to the NHL he has been an entirely different player and now sees time on the team’s first line alongside Jonathan Toews when everyone is healthy.

Heading into the trade deadline, it was clear that the Hawks could have used a top six winger, preferably LW, to play on Toews’ left, but again the salary cap (amongst other reasons) prevented that from happening. While Schmaltz has played well lately, I’m not sure he’s the permanent answer for that top line spot. In the playoffs, you want a guy with some experience to be playing in a role like that.

The Blackhawks did, however, reacquire Johnny Oduya prior to the trade deadline passing. This could potentially be a huge move. With Oduya now back in play for the Hawks, they can roll out the exact same top four defensemen that we saw during the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup runs. All of a sudden, the Hawks’ defensive corps is one of the strongest in the league heading into March and April.

So overall, here are some of my key observations as we near the end of the season and the beginning of the playoffs:

  • Depth. The Hawks seem to have it. As I stated, the rookies are all playing quite well and are either meeting or exceeding expectations. Depth, and goaltending, are the single biggest factors come playoff time.
  • Speaking of goaltending…Goaltending. Once again Crawford and Darling are both playing like No. 1 netminders. It’s Crawford’s job without question, but in case of an injury or a sudden drop in his performance, it’s good knowing Darling is there waiting in the wings.
  • Defense. This might be the strongest group of defensmen that the Blackhawks have had in quite some time. Not only do they have an elite top four with the addition of Oduya, but their fifth and sixth d-men (Campbell, TVR, Kempny, Rozsival) are strong and reliable as well, especially when playing bottom-pairing minutes.
  • Richard Panik. Here’s a guy who was hardly seeing ice time with the Maple Leafs before getting dealt to the Hawks last season, and now he’s playing right wing on the first line with Jonathan Toews. He sits seventh on the team in points (17G, 19A). If he can keep up this level of play in the playoffs, that will be huge.
  • Special Teams. It’s obvious, but the Hawks need to be better here. The penalty kill is substantially better than it was at the beginning of the year (especially with Oduya now in the mix), but it can still be better. As for the powerplay, it should be a top ten powerplay with the amount of talent on the Hawks’ roster. To win in the playoffs, you need a strong PK and a powerplay that will make the opponent pay for its mistake(s).
  • And lastly, Health. The Hawks cannot afford to keep getting bit by the injury bug come playoff time. A sidelined Toews, Kane, Panarin, Keith, Hjalmarsson, or Hossa could be detrimental to this team’s Stanley Cup hopes.

I’ll say it again. I’ve been extremely surprised by the Blackhawks this season. I honestly believe that what we’re seeing is a result, to some degree, of getting an entire summer of rest last year. Just look at Marian Hossa for proof. This team is skating with energy and seemingly a full tank of gas right now, which is something we did not see at this same time of year last season. Exiting after the first round last April could very well have been a massive blessing in disguise.

Moving forward, I think this team has the potential to win the Western Conference and play for their fourth Stanley Cup since 2010. I also believe that the Blackhawks could be knocked out as early as the second round of the playoffs. It will all come down to their depth, which right now seems to be good. But, anything can happen, and that is especially true when talking about a team with multiple rookies in its lineup on a nightly basis.

Lack of depth has Hawks down 3-1; Shaw goes overboard

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-St. Louis Blues at Chicago BlackhawksTuesday night’s Game 4 between the Blackhawks and Blues at the United Center was about as close to a must-win game for the Blackhawks as a game can get without it technically being a must-win. And given the Hawks’ history in crucial games (43-14 record in games 4-7 under Joel Quenneville), there was some reason for optimism. Unfortunately for the Hawks, history meant nothing as they lost the game 4-3 and now trail St. Louis in the series 3-1.

The frustrating thing about this series is that the Blackhawks haven’t played bad. They certainly have not been playing at the elite level we’ve become used to seeing them reach in recent years, but each of the four games in this series really could have gone either way. A better bounce here or there, and the Hawks could be the ones up 3-1.

Despite all of that, it has become quite evident over the last four games that the Blackhawks’ depth is nowhere close to what we thought it might be following the trade deadline. The additions of Ladd, Fleischmann, and Weise looked like solid upgrades at the time. The Hawks badly needed to add forward depth, and they did just that. Unfortunately for them though, Fleischmann and Weise (and to an extent, Ladd) have not performed the way Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville had hoped. As a result, Dale Weise has only seen action in one playoff game thus far, while Tomas Fleischmann has played in each game but has nothing to show for it. In fact, he only got 5:13 of ice time in Game 4 and never touched the ice in the third period.

You can also credit the lack of depth on the Blackhawks’ blue line for this 3-1 series deficit. Christian Ehrhoff was acquire at the trade deadline along with the aforementioned three players, but he quickly wound up in Q’s doghouse and has yet to play in this first round series. Instead, it’s been a couple of rookies getting minutes as the team’s sixth defenseman, and that hasn’t exactly worked out too well.

And as if that wasn’t enough, maybe the biggest reason the Hawks find themselves in this hole is due to the fact that their top forwards have yet to score a goal. Kane, Toews, Hossa, and Ladd are all scoreless through the first four games. Each of them has had some golden chances to strike, but no one has yet. In a series this tight, the fact that the Hawks’ best scorers have been held scoreless is as big a reason as any as to why they are now facing elimination. The Blues on the other hand are getting goals from at least their top player.

I’m not ready to write off the Blackhawks in this series. I think anyone to do so would be a fool no matter how low your hopes may be. In the Joel Qunneville/Toews and Kane era, the Hawks have found themselves in a 3-1 series hole four separate times. Three of those times they battled back to force a seventh game, and won one of those Game 7’s. Heck even last year, the Hawks trailed Anaheim 2-1 and 3-2 only to come back and win the series. In the Stanley Cup Final they fell behind Tampa Bay 2-1 and won three straight games to clinch the Cup.

This team won’t go quietly. They are led by winners and world class competitors. I’m not saying that they’ll for sure force a seventh game or that they will even win Game 5. But don’t write them off until they are officially eliminated.

I don’t want to talk too much about the specifics of Game 4 because I’ll get too upset again, but the actions of Andrew Shaw need to be mentioned here.

First of all, with your team trailing by one goal with just over two minutes left in regulation, the absolute last thing you can do is take a penalty and put your team shorthanded. Not only did Shaw take a penalty, but it was about as dumb of a penalty as you’ll see. You can’t just level a guy after the whistle in a game in which the referees already made it clear they weren’t going to put up with anymore extracurricular stupidity. As a result, the Hawks had to play out the final two minutes shorthanded and weren’t able to get the crucial 6-on-5 advantage with the goalie pulled. I’m not saying this is what lost them the game, but it sure as heck did not help.

Secondly, there is video showing Shaw allegedly using a gay slur towards a referee while sitting in the penalty box following the previously mentioned stupid penalty. After the game, Shaw was asked if he used the slur and his response neither admitted to it nor denied it. He answered by saying “I don’t know what I said.” If he did in fact use a gay slur, which it sure looks like he did based on the video, then the Blackhawks need to send a message before Game 5. This cannot be tolerated. You can argue that Shaw said it “in the heat of the moment,” but that’s no excuse. If it’s those words coming out of your mouth in a tense moment, then odds are those “words” are a regular part of your vocabulary.

I’ve played sports my whole life and have been so angry to the point where all I wanted to do was punch or throw something. Cuss words come out here and there, but to start throwing out slurs is not common or acceptable.

The Blackhawks have already messed up a couple of times this season with regards to how they handled the Patrick Kane and Garrett Ross situations. They have yet to own up to those. Now is their chance to finally do the right thing and suspend Shaw for at least the next game. Don’t wait for the NHL to conclude its investigation as they announced Wednesday morning. Do this on your own. Send a stern message that this organization won’t tolerate such behavior. For a team that has made it a point to reach out to the local gay community by bringing the Stanley Cup to the Pride Parade in recent years, they need to show that they will not accept something like this. My gut says that the Blackhawks front office won’t do a thing to Shaw, but who knows? Maybe the third time is the charm.

Aside from that, Shaw went on to further embarrass the Blackhawks by trying to start a fight after the final horn blew. Yes he took a shot to the mid-section from Alex Steen while lined up for the faceoff, but don’t lose your mind and go crazy trying to fight anything and everything that moves.

The Hawks’ image was severely hurt in the final minutes of Game 4, and mostly due to Shaw’s actions. He is set to be a restricted free agent this summer, and it was already being widely speculated that the Blackhawks would not re-sign him. After Tuesday night’s actions, Shaw may have made the Hawks’ decision for them.

Again, this series isn’t over. It does not look good for the Blackhawks, to say the least, but you can’t rule this team out until they are officially eliminated.

The Blackhawks’ offense must show up in Game 4

2015-11-07 13.59.52After three games of their best of seven first round series with the Blues, the Blackhawks find themselves in a 2-1 hole heading into Game 4 Tuesday night at the United Center. Through the first three games of this series, the Hawks have registered just 5 goals; one of which was an empty netter.

An area in which it looked like the Blackhawks would have the upper hand in this series, offense, has in fact favored the Blues thus far. St. Louis has been the better team in 5-on-5 play, and they lead the Hawks 51.1 to 48.9 in even strength Corsi. The Blackhawks did generate 46 shots in Game 3, 24 of which came in the second period, but they could only get just 2 goals out of it.

If the Blackhawks want to get themselves back even in this series and eventually go on to win it, they are going to need pucks to start entering the net behind Brian Elliott.

The Ladd, Toews, and Hossa line has been pretty good up to this point for the Hawks, but they have yet to tally a goal. Andrew Ladd had a great chance in the second period of Game 3, but his shot hit both posts before exiting the crease. Then you have the second line of Panarin, Anisimov and Kane, without question this team’s top line all season long. Only Anisimov has scored while Elliott was in the net, and that goal came in a 4-on-4 situation. Kane is still looking for his first goal. Between the six forwards on the Hawks’ bottom two lines, Andrew Shaw is the only one with a goal, and that came via a powerplay.

In total, the Blackhawks have ONE even strength, 5-on-5 goal through the first three games (Keith’s goal in the final seconds of the second period of Game 2). That just won’t be enough moving forward.

It is imperative that the Blackhawks’ top players show up in this series and begin making a difference. If they don’t, then it will be St. Louis moving on to the second round.

Here’s what needs to happen for the Hawks to start scoring and for their best players to actually be their best players:

  • Sustained offensive zone time. Aside from period two of Game 3, the Blackhawks have had a real tough time getting much set-up in their offensive zone. They’ve had some good shifts here and there, but nothing consistent. This needs to change. I know the Blues are one of the better defensive teams in hockey, but the Hawks simply have to find a way to put sustained offensive pressure on them. Rather than have one guy carry the puck into the o-zone time and time again, only to run into a wall of St. Louis defenders, the Hawks need multiple players entering the zone together to space out the Blues’ defense. With just the puck-carrier entering the zone, that allows the Blues to zero in on him and force him off the puck without being able to make a play. If you’ve got one or two other players entering the zone with the puck-carrier, you then don’t allow the Blues to hone in on the puck. They then have to stay spaced and account for the other players entering the zone. This may open up the opportunity to get a good cycle going and generate consistent and sustainable offensive zone time.
  • Depth. Unlike last year during the postseason, the Blackhawks are not getting much from their third and fourth lines. Granted we’re only three games into the playoffs, but this is still an issue. You may be able to win a series over a weaker team with only two lines contributing, but that won’t work against someone like St. Louis. The third line with Teravainen at center has got to get going. Brandon Mashinter, who started Game 1 on this line, is nothing but an anchor weighing down any line he’s on. He is one of the worst options you can have when trying to generate more puck possession. He was replaced by Richard Panik the last two games, while Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise have occupied the other wing. If the Hawks are to win this series, not only will they need some of their top forwards to start scoring, but this line will need to contribute offensively. They are not your typical checking third line, and instead are more of a skilled third line that if effective on offense can be a difference maker in a series.
  • Solve Elliott. This one kind of goes hand-in-hand with generating more offense and goals, but the Hawks have to figure out a way to beat Brian Elliott. You could say that he single-handedly won the Blues Game 3 by only allowing 2 goals on 46 shots against. And truthfully, this isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. It has not been uncommon for the Hawks to be searching for answers against the opposing goalie through the first three games of a series. If history tells us anything, it’s that this is a team that seems to figure it out in Games 4-7, making their opponent’s goalie(s) look bad in the process. One way to potentially beat Elliott is by moving the puck laterally in the offensive zone. Create one-timers. Get Elliott moving side-to-side. He’s not the quickest in that regard and can be beaten in this fashion. In order to do this, look no further than my first point: create sustained offensive zone time.
  • Crawford. Corey Crawford has been phenomenal in this series. He has yet to allow a soft goal, and has come up with some massive saves at crucial times. This needs to continue. The Blues will be going for the kill in Game 4, so Crawford and the Hawks should expect an attempted offensive onslaught right from the start. Crow will have to stand tall and make all of the necessary saves, as well as some highlight reel saves.

The Blackhawks do not want to go down 3-1 against this Blues team. Getting a win in Game 4 to even things up would be huge. To do that, it would be wise of the Blackhawks to try and execute the above points.

As I briefly touched on, the Blackhawks are historically a much better team in Games 4-7. Since 2010, their record in those games is 43-14, and they have come back to win the series 9 times after trailing in it 2-1. Needless to say, this is not an unfamiliar position for them to be in.

If the Hawks are still having trouble generating offense at the halfway point of Tuesday night’s Game 4, look for Joel Quenneville to start tinkering with the lines. In all honesty, it was a bit surprising that he didn’t do so more aggressively in the third period of Game 3.

I’ll say it right now: If the Hawks win Game 4, they will win this series.

Previewing the Blackhawks’ Potential First Round Playoff Mathups

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis BluesHeading into Tuesday night’s matchup between the Blackhawks and Coyotes at the United Center, the Hawks sit third in the Central Division with 99 points, while the Stars and Blues are tied atop the division with 105. The Blackhawks do have a game in-hand on both Dallas and St. Louis, but that won’t matter unless the Hawks get two points against Arizona. Given how the standings currently look, let’s breakdown who the Hawks may meet in the first round of the playoffs, and who they should prefer to meet.

We’ll start with Dallas.

If the playoffs started today, we would see a St. Louis – Chicago showdown in the first round. With the Blues and Stars tied for the top spot in the Central and each with two games left on their schedules, a lot can still take place, however. Heck, even the Hawks aren’t mathematically eliminated from winning the division. If St. Louis were to end up taking the division title, we would get a Stars – Blackhawks first round series.

This regular season, the Hawks went 1-4 against Dallas, and all of their losses were of the ugly sort. Needless to say, the Stars gave the Blackhawks some problems this year. While some may be inclined to think much of the same would occur in a playoff series between the two teams, that won’t exactly be the case.

Dallas is the league’s best offensive team with two of the game’s best scorers in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. They’ve also got the likes of Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, and even John Klingberg, who developed into one of the NHL’s best offensive d-men this year. They are a deep team at forward and can roll four lines rather effectively.

Defensively, Dallas has some depth as well. The emergence of Klingberg as an elite offensive defenseman has been huge for the Stars, as has the addition of defensive specialist Johnny Oduya. Jason Demers is expected to be out of the lineup for a couple more weeks with a shoulder injury, and when he returns, Dallas has three decent defensive pairings.

The Stars’ biggest knock is their ability, or sometimes lack thereof, to keep pucks out of their own net. While their defense is built with recognizable names, they aren’t exactly the best group when it comes to actually playing defense. Like Klingberg, this is a defensive unit that is stronger in the offensive zone than they are in the defensive zone more often than not. Add in their goaltending, which ranks in the bottom five in total save percentage and allows an average of 2.80 goals per game, and you begin to understand that this is purely an offensive team.

Dallas ranks fourth in the NHL in CorsiFor (CF%) percentage (number of shot attempts a team generates, whether on goal or not, compared to their opponent), which means they’re a team that plays with possession of the puck more frequently than they do not. This is just how they want it given their issues defensively and in net.

In a potential Blackhawks – Stars series, the key for each team would become puck possession. The Stars need the puck so that their offensive weapons can do their thing. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, would need the puck to prevent the Stars’ forwards from doing what they do best: scoring goals. While the Hawks rank in the middle of the pack in CF%, they still own the ability to be one of the league’s best puck possession teams. Given how the Blackhawks seem to dial up their intensity come playoff time, it’s not out of the question that they could be the better possession team in this potential series.

As for St. Louis, they are somewhat the opposite of Dallas in terms of their team strengths.

Unlike the Stars, the Blues pride themselves on defense and goaltending. That is why they rank fifth league-wide in fewest goals against per game, and first in team save percentage. Their defense is led by a top four that is very solid in the defensive zone, unlike Dallas, who have two goalies behind them in Brian Elliott and Jake Allen that both own save percentages in the .920’s. Defense is without question the strength of the Blues.

Aside from the strong defensive capabilities, this team also ranks top ten in CF%. It’s a tough combination to try and go up against. However, despite the strong possession and Corsi numbers, St. Louis is 14th in goals per game. Therein lies their biggest problem.

It seems to be the case every year with the Blues: they have a strong defensive team, but not enough offensive firepower to advance deep into the postseason. You can rank as high as you want in CF%, but if you’re not putting the puck in the net, it will eventually come back to bite you. Granted, the Blues are in the top half of the league in goals per game, but their offensive depth is what could hurt them yet again.

When you look at their individual statistics, Vladimir Tarasenko leads the team with 71 points. Next is Alex Steen with 51, followed by three players in the 40s. Their bottom two lines are not very productive offensively, which usually spells trouble in the playoffs. It is due to this weakness that the Blues have not made it past the second round of the playoffs in any of the previous four seasons, while being eliminated in the first round each of the past three years. Obviously anything could theoretically happen this time around, but the 2015-16 Blues look, on paper, awfully similar to the previous four Blues teams to have made the postseason only to be quickly eliminated.

So looking at the two most likely candidates to face the Blackhawks in the first round, which one should the Hawks prefer?

While I hate “wishing” for a specific opponent (that usually ends poorly), I believe the Blackhawks would be better off getting the Blues in round one. Here’s why:

  1. The Hawks defense can be vulnerable, to say the least. Losing Johnny Oduya was a killer, and the Hawks are still trying to find his replacement on the team’s second d-pairing. Also, Corey Crawford has missed the last 9 games due to injury. Although he is expected back for Game 1 of the first round, who knows how much rust he’ll have to clean off himself. Given those two factors and the fact that Dallas is league’s best offensive team, I’d rather go up against a team like the Blues that isn’t as offensively strong. The Blackhawks’ offense and depth can be good enough to beat a solid defensive team.
  2. There is a certain “familiarity” that the Blackhawks have with the Blues. They’ve recently gone up against each other in the playoffs and know the tendencies that the Blues have on both sides of the puck. Joel Quenneville is no stranger to playing the matchup game against Ken Hitchcock, and he usually wins that battle. Bottom line here is that it would be easier for the Hawks to draw up a gameplan against the Blues than it would be to draw one up against a Stars team that despite playing in the same division, the Hawks are not as familiar with.
  3. Lastly, and feel free to take this one for whatever it may or may not be worth, the Stars have owned the Blackhawks this season. They have a 4-1 record against the Hawks and made Chicago look relatively bad in each of those four Dallas victories. Needless to say, the Stars would head into a series against the Blackhawks with loads of confidence. Again, that might not even be a factor, especially against a Hawks team that could care less about what happened in the regular season, but you never know. The Stars going 4-1 against the Hawks this year has to mean something, even if only a little.

There are pros and cons to playing the Blues and Stars in a seven game series. All I’m doing here is trying to highlight those factors and determine which ones are more important than the others when looking at potential playoff matchups.

With just three games left for the Blackhawks (2 for both the Blues and Stars), the Hawks’ best hope is to win out and have both St. Louis and Dallas lose their last two games. This would vault the Hawks into first in the division and guarantee them home ice advantage for at least the first two rounds. The next best option is to have the Blackhawks win their last three games, while just one of St. Louis or Dallas lose their final two. This would allow the Hawks to finish second in the Central and have home ice in round one. Keep in mind that the Blackhawks play the Blues on Thursday, and then St. Louis finishes their schedule at home against the Capitals. If both St. Louis and Dallas win just one more game, however, or if the Hawks lose one, the Hawks are guaranteed third place.

The push for a better playoff seed begins Tuesday night against Arizona for the Blackhawks. Marian Hossa, Andrew Shaw, and Corey Crawford are all out due to injury, while Duncan Keith serves the third game of his six-game suspension.

Blackhawks lose Keith and the game in Minnesota

130107_gq_trout_aTuesday night’s Blackhawks – Wild game in St. Paul saw things quickly turn from ugly to really ugly for the Hawks. Not long before the game was set to begin, we learned that Brent Seabrook would be a scratch due to an illness. This was a decent blow to a defensive unit that had already been struggling. Then about halfway through the opening period, Duncan Keith was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct for an “intent to injure” Charlie Coyle of the Wild.

Keith’s ejection left Niklas Hjalmarsson as the only reliable defenseman in the lineup. At the time, the overwhelming thought was that the Hawks were absolutely screwed moving forward in that game given Seabrook and Keith would be out. Turns out, it wasn’t as bad as anticipated. The Blackhawks did lose the game, but it’s not like Minnesota torched the Hawks’ defensive corps the whole night. It could have been a lot worse than it actually was.

All of that is just the short-term effect of Keith’s penalty though. The long-term effect could be a lengthy suspension for the two-time Norris Trophy winner.

I’ll be the first one to try and defend a Hawks player when a questionable situation arises. In this instance, however, I cannot defend Keith’s actions against Coyle. You can’t, under any circumstances, intentionally slash a guy in the face with your stick. It does not matter how heated you might be in “the moment.” Doing what Keith did is just stupid, plain and simple, and he deserves a suspension.

The big question now is how many games Keith will have to miss.

If I had to make my best guess as to what kind of punishment the Department of Player Safety will hand down to Keith, I’d say he will probably be looking at a suspension of anywhere from 3-5 games. The possibility exists that he could get even more.

On the one hand, yes it was a bad move by Keith to do what he did, but there have been a lot worse actions by other players that have only warranted suspensions of 5 games or less. On the other hand, however, Keith was suspended during the 2013 Western Conference Final for a very similar reason when he slashed Jeff Carter in the face at center ice. Seeing as how he has done this more than once now, the NHL may look to send a stern message to the Hawks’ d-man and suspend him for 5 games or more. Any suspension of more than 5 games would mean Keith will miss at least one playoff game, seeing as how there are just 5 games left on the Blackhawks’ schedule.

Obviously, this is not an ideal situation for the Blackhawks. They are already all but eliminated from possibly ending up second in the Central Division, and they also have Nashville sitting just 4 points behind them in the top wild card spot. Losing Keith now is not what this team needs if they’re looking to lock up third place in the Central.

Guys like TVR, Rozsival, and maybe Ehrhoff are going to have to pick up more minutes now, which isn’t exactly a great thing. Luckily for the Blackhawks, 3 of their remaining 5 games are against non-playoff teams.

And as if this Keith stuff is not bad enough news, here’s some more for you.

It was reported on Tuesday by Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times that Corey Crawford’s “upper body” injury is in fact a head injury, and it could be that he’s dealing with vertigo symptoms much like Bryan Bickell was last spring and summer. The problem with vertigo is that there really isn’t a timetable for recovery. One person may see their symptoms disappear a lot quicker than others.

In Crawford’s case, no news is bad news, meaning that no updates to his condition likely mean he’s not improving. He has yet to skate since leaving the lineup, and Quenneville is still calling him day-to-day while hoping that he will be ready for Game 1 of the first round.

I, personally, am growing more and more concerned about this. The Blackhawks have, for the most part, been relatively quiet about the Crawford situation. Quenneville has repeatedly given the same quick answer when asked about Crawford’s condition (“he’s day-to-day, hopefully ready for Game 1”), and having listened to Q over the years, his quick answers usually mean he’s a little worried.

I guess time will tell with Crawford.

As for the Blackhawks as a team, their recent play is a bit bothersome, but I still can’t get overly concerned about them. Anyone who has watched the Hawks play over the last 8 years or so knows just how quickly this team can turn things around and go on to win multiple playoff series’ and even the Cup.

With just 5 games left in the regular season and Keith likely to miss at least a couple of those, winning 3 of those 5 would be big for the Hawks. They cannot afford to end up in a wild card spot.

Time to flip the switch: How the Blackhawks can get going again

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Winnipeg JetsTuesday night the Blackhawks will welcome the Central Division-leading Stars back to Chicago. Dallas currently leads the division with 95 points, while the Hawks sit in third with 91. Both teams have just 9 games remaining on their regular season schedules this year, so tonight will go a long way in determining whether or not the Blackhawks will have a legitimate chance of still winning the division. If they wish to achieve that goal, then tonight’s game becomes a must-win.

Lately the Hawks have been in a funk, to say the least. And in all honesty, it’s nothing that should come as much of a surprise. They have become a perennial mediocre team in the month of March over the past few years. Only when the “real” games begin in April do they dial it up a few notches. That being said, however, now might be the right time to begin that dialing-up process.

Following Tuesday night’s game against Dallas, the Hawks will take off on a four-game road trip out west to Calgary, Vancouver, Minnesota, and Winnipeg. None of those games will be easy, and given how the Hawks have performed on the road this year (18-14-4), it would be nice if they began flipping that switch to playoff-mode beginning with Tuesday’s tilt against the Stars. If they play the way they have for the majority of the last month on the upcoming road trip, the Blackhawks could be staring at another four-game losing streak.

To get a win tonight and to begin working their way towards that “playoff mode,” here’s what the Hawks need to do:

  • First off, the offense needs to start clicking again. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line was arguably the league’s best for the first four months of the season, but has since quieted down a bit. For this reason, among a few others, Joel Quenneville has begun mixing up his lines on a pretty regular basis whether in the middle of a game or heading into a game. We’ve seen Kane with Toews and Ladd while Hossa takes the second line RW spot, we’ve seen Ladd flanking Teravainen on the team’s third line, and we’ve seen a number of different combinations on the bottom two lines in recent games. All of this has been an effort to generate some offense, but it hasn’t consistently worked. At this point, I see two possible solutions moving forward. The first one is if Ladd just can’t seem to connect with 19 and 81 on the first line, move him to the third line and bump Fleischmann up to the top line. He has shown some really good skill and energy since coming to Chicago, and it may be a nice fit for everyone involved. Ladd, meanwhile, would add some really solid depth on the third line. The second option, and the one I hope prevails, is for the Blackhawks to simply wake up and “flip their switch.” We say this same thing every year, but only because it’s true every year. They are playing on auto-pilot right now, and until they begin to actually try and go all out each and every night, we’ll continue to see more mediocre performances. This team now has the depth and talent required to win a Stanley Cup thanks to the trade deadline, but until they start playing like they really want it, the losses will keep coming.
  • Secondly, Quenneville needs to figure out his defensive pairings. Right now we’re seeing guys like Ehrhoff and Gustafsson rotate in and out of the lineup while only getting around ten minutes or less of ice-time per game. Meanwhile, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival are seeing their minutes increase to the high twenties despite them being arguably the two worst defensemen on the team. The bottom line is that while Q has been “resting” his top d-men as of late, he needs to start giving the appropriate minutes to the appropriate guys while at the same time figuring out who his 4-6 defensemen will be come mid-April. If it were up to me, the d-pairings would be Keith-Seabrook, Ehrhoff-Hjalmarsson, TVR-Rozsival with Gustafsson possibly taking TVR’s spot. Brent Seabrook cannot support a sub-par d-man on his pairing anymore like he maybe could have at one time. Instead, he needs a rock solid partner like Keith or Hjalmarsson. Speaking of Hjalmarsson, I like him with Ehrhoff for the fact that Ehrhoff can be a responsible defenseman, but he can also move the puck offensively better than any other d-man on the Hawks not named Keith. This pairing provides you with solid defense in Hammer, and good (not great) defense and above average offense in Ehrhoff. As for the third pairing, I say start with TVR and go to Gustafsson as soon as van Riemsdyk runs into trouble.
  • The penalty kill for the Blackhawks has been awful for most of the season in case you haven’t noticed. This is partially due to Marcus Kruger’s injury, and matters only got worse when Hossa went down. Hossa is now back, and Kruger could be coming back as soon as this weekend. Their PK was 3 for 3 against Minnesota Sunday night, but the Stars will be a much stiffer test despite Seguin not being in their lineup. Now is the time to figure this thing out and start building some positive momentum heading into April. I’m not saying the penalty kill has to be perfect every single game, but allowing a powerplay goal or more each night cannot continue. Kruger’s imminent return to the lineup should go a long way in helping solve this issue.
  • Surprisingly, the third period has become the Hawks’ enemy in recent weeks as opposed to years past. Take Sunday night for example when the Wild outshot the Hawks 16-7. Allowing 16 shots against in a period, let alone the third period, is not a good habit to fall into. Then when you consider that the Blackhawks are not generating many shots, it becomes a terrible scenario. There needs to be more urgency on offense and more reliability on defense shown by this team in the third period moving forward. If the Hawks are trailing entering the third period against Dallas or if they fall behind in the third, look for them to try and play with more urgency.

The Blackhawks are by no means a bad team or a team with huge concerns heading into the playoffs. There are, however, some concerns and weaknesses that need to be shored up starting now. The Hawks could really use home ice advantage in the playoffs this year as they have been very average on the road this season. The only way to earn home ice in the playoffs at this point is to start winning hockey games.

Expect the Stars to come out flying tonight as they look to unofficially eliminate the Hawks’ chances of winning the division. On the flip side, the Blackhawks know how big this game is with regards to their hopes of winning the Central, and it would be disappointing to see them come out as anything other than energized and ready to go.

*Update: Scott Darling will be in net again tonight as Crawford continues to recover from an upper-body injury.