ORIGINALLY POSTED ATThings are looking up in the City of the Big Shoulders. While it’s not yet time to start printing “Stanley Cup Champions” t-shirts, it is time to start saving up for playoff tickets.
on 25 September 2008
While the Blackhawks haven’t qualified for the postseason since the 01-02 campaign, they have spent the last three seasons slowly, steadily assembling the pieces for a run at Lord Stanley’s Cup. Last season, Chicago finished at -3 below the PQC, narrowly missing the playoffs. This was, however, a dramatic 17-point improvement over the previous season. What was behind the sudden change?
- Calder Trophy winner Patrick Kane and Calder Trophy runner-up Jonathan Toews – the Western Conference’s answer to Crosby and Malkin. Assuming they both stay healthy and avoid the sophomore slump, they should improve upon last season’s 126 points (combined)
- A breakout season for Patrick Sharp – the “Other Guy” on the Kane/Toews line quietly piled up a team- and career-best 36 goals, 7 of which were Game Winners
- A good, young defensive corps began to come of age, finally giving goalie Nikolai Khabibulin some much-needed support. The ‘Hawks goal differential went from -56 in 06-07 to +3 last season
Other pluses can be found in last season, such as the fact that Chicago tied Vancouver for the best winning percentage in the NHL when leading after two periods (.931). Or the Blackhawks’ faceoff win percentage of 52.3%, tied for 2nd in the league. Or Dustin Byfuglien, a 6’3”, 247lb D-man who moved from the blueline to the wing and scored 19 goals (why am I thinking of William “The Refrigerator” Perry here?). A few minuses were apparent, though, and they kept the ‘Hawks out of the postseason.
Despite the surge in goal scoring (Chicago scored 39 more goals in 07-08 than in the previous season), the Blackhawks’ power play was a very disappointing 15.9%, 24th in the NHL. The penalty kill was only slightly better, ending the season 17th in the NHL, at 82.1%. Also, injuries played a part, as several players missed lengthy stretches of the schedule. Chicago stayed close to the PQC through December, but Jonathan Toews’ knee injury on 1 JAN sent the team into a 0-6-2 tailspin, from which they never recovered.
In the offseason, team management stunned the rest of the league and energized their fans by signing Brian Campbell (the fast, puck-moving defenseman they desperately needed on the PP) and Cristobal Huet (the top goalie on the market). Provided the ‘Hawks can avoid the injury bug this season, these two new additions should provide more than enough juice to put Chicago into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The Blackhawks’ first 10 games are played 10 – 31 OCTOBER. Our research indicates that in that time frame, Chicago earns an average PQC rating of 4.0 and about 8 points in the NHL standings. Last season, the ‘Hawks reached a peak of +1.5 above the PQC by Game 20, then slumped over the next 30 games, culminating in their OGA-called elimination on 24 JANUARY. The 08-09 season, however, should be different.
Some statistics of note for OCTOBER:
- In their first ten games, Chicago has improved by one win in each of the last three seasons, going 3-7, 4-6, and 5-5.
- In the last three seasons, Game 10 has fallen in the middle of losing streaks of 4, 8 and 3 games, respectively.
Excitement is the word of the day in Chicago. With emerging superstars up front, a talented-but-young defense (led by a power play quarterback entering the prime of his career), and TWO top-flight goalies, the Blackhawks appear to have most of the puzzle pieces in place for a serious shot at the Cup. After trading Robert Lang to Montreal, though, the ‘Hawks are thin through the middle of the ice. Will they now send Khabibulin to Los Angeles for Patrick O’Sullivan, or will they move Kane to center and keep two starting goalies? Most importantly, how will these actions (or inactions) affect the Blackhawks’ playoff chances? To find out, stay tuned to The OGA Blogs until the Chicago G10R comes out on 2 NOVEMBER.
If it’s Thursday, it must be the Colorado Avalanche SPR. Until then, Big Tex says, “Try the corny dogs.”
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