Derek Wolff The Hockey Writers
Chicago Blackhawks Midseason Grades and Awards
The Chicago Blackhawks have officially passed the midway point in the 2014-15 regular season, earning a four day break after last night’s 4-1 home win over the Minnesota Wild.
The biggest move the Blackhawks made in the offseason was bringing Brad Richards into the fold via free agency. The veteran center has helped solidify the second line, tallying nine goals and 26 points so far while largely skating with Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg.
Season W-L-OT PTS GF GA
2013-14 28-7-8 64 160 115
2014-15 28-13-2 58 129 94
Through 43 games, the Blackhawks are slightly behind their torrid pace from last season, although the back half of the 2013-14 campaign wasn’t a great one, with the team falling to third place in the Central when the playoffs began.
Still, two points behind Nashville for first place in the Central heading into the break, Chicago has been an elite team this season, led primarily by the best goals against average in the league.
Blackhawks Offense: A-
The Blackhawks continue to be the best puck possession team in the league, leading all teams in both Fenwick and Corsi For. The usual suspects have carried the team, with Patrick Kane leading the way with 20 goals and 47 points.
Three Blackhawks (Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad) have recorded over ten goals each, with five additional Hawks (Marian Hossa, Kris Versteeg, Brad Richards, Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell) all sitting on nine.
Best Offensive Player: Patrick Kane
Kane is on pace for new career highs in goals and points if he can stay healthy in the back-half of the season. He scored 30 goals and recorded 88 points in the 2009-10 season.
The winger’s play has been the biggest reason Chicago has been successful this season and he leads the Blackhawks in goals, assists and power play points. The defensive errors and giveaways are down this year and he should be in the conversation for both the Hart and Lady Byng awards if his hot play continues during the second half.
Kane is a plus-9 for the Blackhawks thus far and has only recorded two penalty minutes on the season. He has factored into 18 of the Blackhawks 29 power play goals.
Most Improved Scorer: Brandon Saad
With all the big-name scorers the Blackhawks employ, Saad isn’t one that immediately comes to the tongue when thinking about threats to opposing netminders.
Yet the winger, skating in his third full-season, continues to impress, tallying 12 goals and 28 points so far. Skating on the top-line with Toews and Marian Hossa certainly has its advantages.
Saad’s numbers could see him eclipse his totals from a season ago if he remains healthy, where he scored 19 goals and had 47 points in 78 games.
Blackhawks Defense: A
Those same puck-possession statistics listed above come into play again here for the league-leader in goals against average at 2.19 allowed per game. The Blackhawks defensive core, led by all-stars Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, continues to be the nucleus of the team, allowing for quick and often lethal transitions from defense to offense.
The Blackhawks have been without rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk for the past 25 games due to injury, but have gotten reliable contributions from second-pairing Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya all season, while Michal Rozsival’s return from injury has shored up the back end.
Best Defensive Player: Brent Seabrook
As reliable as Keith has been once more, Seabrook has raised his game this season at both ends of the ice and his hard work has paid off with his first all-star selection.
The veteran blueliner has seven goals and 22 points thus far and has embraced his role as the Blackhawks most dynamic offensive-defenseman, particularly on the power play.
Seabrook has notched four goals and 10 points with the Blackhawks on the man-advantage this season, tied for 3rd highest on the team.
Blackhawks Special Teams: B
Power Play: C+
The Blackhawks rank in the middle of the pack at 16th best on the power play this season, scoring 18.5 percent of the time with the man advantage.
Kane has factored into over 60 percent of the team’s goals with the extra skater, but by and large the power play has been a disappointment again this season given the talent that Joel Quenneville gets to roll out.
Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Wild was a good indicator of why the Blackhawks have struggled on the man advantage; simply, they pass too much and shoot too little, or take too many shots from low-percentage scoring areas and pass up the better looks.
The Blackhawks scored only once on a five-minute power play in that game, despite playing essentially a 5-0n-3 for some time due to a broken stick.
Patrick Sharp has scored 10 of his 21 points this season on the power play, including six of his nine total goals.
Penalty Kill: A
The Blackhawks have continued to be successful by having an outstanding penalty kill, a recipe that has yielded great success over the past five seasons.
Chicago ranks first in the league on the PK, killing at a 89.2 percent clip, with Pittsburgh second highest at 88.2 percent.
Marcus Kruger has been invaluable for the Hawks in his role on the PK, and Ben Smith has been an admirable partner this season as well.
Blackhawks Goaltending: A
Corey Crawford started the season looking like a legitimate Vezina candidate, and after hitting a rough patch after returning from injury it appears that he’s found his game again.
The Blackhawks were bolstered by excellent performances from backups Antti Raanta and Scott Darling in Crawford’s absence, and together the three have given up 2.19 goals against per game, slightly edging Nashville for tops in the league.
Crawford’s return to form has him at 17-8-2 on the season with a 2.15 GAA and a .924 save percentage now.
If the Blackhawks can continue to get excellent goaltending, the team could be in line for another William M. Jennings Trophy, a feat last captured by the team in 2013, when the duo of Crawford and Ray Emery won the award before capturing the team’s second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
Team MVP: Patrick Kane
Much like in the 2013 playoffs, Kane narrowly edges out Crawford here for team-MVP. The winger’s offensive play has made a difference and he has nine more points than fellow superstar Jonathan Toews, the team’s second-highest scorer.
Kane has embraced his role on offense this season and with luck could reach the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his career.
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