5 Questions Facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2nd Half of the NHL Season
The Chicago Blackhawks started the 2013 season with a mission to claim home-ice advantage once the playoffs roll around.
So far so good for the Blackhawks, who currently sit atop the Western Conference by a slim five points over the Anaheim Ducks.
Regardless of what they have done—24 games with at least one point to start the season—the Blackhawks will need a strong second half of the season in order to accomplish that goal. Goaltending, scoring, defense and special teams will all play a major role.
Will Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane continue to lead the way for the 'Hawks down the stretch? Can both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery remain among the NHL elite in net?
Here are the five questions facing the Blackhawks in the second half of the NHL season:
Will Patrick Kane Keep His Play Up?
Patrick Kane has been an absolute force for the Blackhawks this season.
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This season has been anything but stale for right winger Patrick Kane.
Picking up right where he left off last season, Kane has 34 points in 28 games, which is sixth best in the NHL.
The only real question is whether or not he can keep up his production for the second half of the season and the playoffs.
Barring an injury, Kane should be able to keep his hot streak going—at this point, it may not just be a hot streak, but the next stage in his production-filled career.
Nevertheless, this Blackhawks team relies on Kane to lead the way in offense and provide that much needed spark on nights when the team is fatigued due to a very compact schedule.
He may not win a scoring title—thanks in part to Sidney Crosby's hot run this season—but a Hart Trophy is not out of the question considering how much he means to this team.
Look for Patrick Kane to build on his first-half success and eventually provide big numbers for the 'Hawks in the playoffs.
Will Both Goaltenders Stay Hot?
Corey Crawford and Ray Emery are a big reason why the Blackhawks are the No. 1 team in the Western Conference.
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Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have been rock solid all season for the Blackhawks.
They will be relied upon down the stretch when the season starts to take its toll on some of the star players.
But will both goaltenders stay hot when the Blackhawks need them most?
It's the biggest question the Blackhawks face this season—considering that goaltending has been a shaky position for the team in past seasons. Any team that hopes to make a deep playoff run will have to see solid goaltending.
Both goalies have some great numbers: Crawford with a 1.79 GAA while Emery has a 2.28 GAA—each near the top of the leaderboard for goaltenders in the NHL.
It's hard to see both of these goalies hitting a slump at the same time.
If defense holds up and the offense can continue to produce as it has for the first half of the season, the goaltending should remain steady as well.
Will the 3rd Line Keep Its Scoring Touch?
Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw combine to make up one of the best third lines in the NHL.
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Whenever anyone talks about the success of the 2010 Blackhawks team, they always mention how depth was such an important factor.
Same can be said about the 2013 Blackhawks, who are finding ways to score with their third and fourth lines.
Credit the tenacity of Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg—all of whom would fit in nicely with the top line of almost any other NHL club.
Constant offensive contributions from the third line have been key in the Blackhawks' success this season. Most NHL teams don't know how to handle three or even four lines that can score on a consistent basis.
Combine the skill that is on the third line with the fact that they play against most team's third-line defensive pairings. It's a recipe for success, one that the Blackhawks will gladly hold whenever they take the ice against a hated foe.
All offensive success for the Blackhawks will hinge on the production of the third line. Don't get me wrong, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews lead this team both on and off the ice, but the ability to roll four lines every night is the main reason for all the wins the Blackhawks have thus far.
Will the Penalty Kill Stay Hot?
Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger are the heart and soul of the Blackhawks' penalty-killing squad.
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For a good portion of the season, the Blackhawks' penalty-killing team had been ranked No. 1 overall in the NHL.
As the second half of the season has progressed, the Blackhawks currently rank 10th overall. A drastic dive in the success of the penalty kill, one that has cooled off considerably after a red-hot start.
The 'Hawks have given up at least one power-play goal the last four games—the first four games to start the second half of the season.
Is this to be expected as the season continues and the Blackhawks head into the playoffs?
Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik both led the way when the penalty kill was on fire; it is safe to assume that they can get it started again for the second half.
The only real question is, why has the penalty kill taken such a dive?
Botched defensive assignments and an inability to disrupt a few passes has led to some of the goals against the 'Hawks, but the blame may lie in the faceoff circle.
Winning the faceoff on the penalty kill is crucial to killing it off, but the 'Hawks have failed to do that as of late.
Will Dave Bolland Continue to Be the 2nd-Line Center?
It has been a rough first half of the season for Dave Bolland at center, but look for him to improve.
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There has always been the question of who will play center on the second line.
For a while, that question seemed to be answered with the addition of Dave Bolland in the faceoff dot.
But as of late, Bolland has failed not only to provide offensively—even though Patrick Kane is a one-man production machine on the second line—but defensively as well.
Bolland has consistently been winning 45 percent of his faceoffs when he takes the dot. Considering that he should be winning at least 50 percent, he is failing to provide as a second-line center.
That's not to say that the Dave Bolland experiment at second-line center is over, just that he is treading on thin ice.
Coach Joel Quenneville may like the line combinations as they are for the moment, but once production starts to dip, Bolland may be the odd man out.
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