If you have been keeping an eye on some of the other teams in the NHL, in particular those in the same division as the Blackhawks, you will have noticed that there isn’t a big dividing line between teams so far this season. The NHL Central division teams are all pretty close to each other in the standings and they all have a chance to make the playoffs at this point.
Now, however, these teams will start playing more division games, which means that the teams in the Central are going to start seeing a lot more of each other and we will finally start to see which teams are for real and which teams aren’t.
With these games, we will finally get to see if the Blackhawks are prepared to defend their Stanley Cup Championship, or if they are going to fold and miss even making the playoffs this season.
Let’s find out as we evaluate the other contenders in their division and see if the Blackhawks have what it takes to get back into the playoffs and defend their title this season.
(Rankings are based upon the standings of teams on the week of December 13th)
Detroit Red Wings
The Blackhawks' most hated rival, Detroit, is currently sitting on top of the NHL Central and have been playing some good hockey. The Red Wings are led by Pavel Datsyuk in the scoring department while their goalie, Jimmy Howard (he has the most starts of the three goalies that the Red Wings have on the roster), is playing pretty well, having won 16 games while losing five in 23 total games played.
The Red Wings are always a tough team to play and an even more difficult team to beat. So far this season, the Blackhawks have played the Red Wings once and lost 3-2 in Chicago.
There are a few more games ahead for these two teams and the Blackhawks will have to be playing some of their best hockey to win them. These games are always tough to predict, but look for a healthier Hawks team to beat the Red Wings in a majority of those games and continue their way to the playoffs.
Just like their games with the Red Wings, games between the Blackhawks and Predators have become hard fought, exciting affairs where the outcome is always up in the air. The Predators are led by center Cal O’Reilly, while goalies Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback man the net (Rinne has played 19 games as of this writing, while Lindback has played in 13 games with 10 starts).
The Predators are currently in second place in the Central and have been playing pretty solid hockey as of late. These two teams have met just twice so far this season and both were losses for the Blackhawks. As with the Red Wings, the Blackhawks will play the Predators several times in the future and Chicago needs to be ready to win those games in order to make the playoffs.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are sitting behind the Blackhawks in the standings, but have the talent to move up and supplant the Hawks. The Blue Jackets are led in scoring by right winger Rick Nash, but while goalies Steve Mason (with 19 starts) and Mathieu Garon (11 starts) have been playing well for the most part, they can be scored upon with ease at times.
The Blackhawks and the Blue Jackets have played each other two times this season and they split those two games. The Blackhawks can beat the Blue Jackets in future games, so look for them to try to take advantage of the weakening Blue Jackets and try to get some wins.
St. Louis Blues
The rivalry between the Blackhawks and the Blues is a storied one and just like games between the Hawks and the Red Wings, they are always tough and fun to watch. The Blues are led in scoring by right winger David Backes, and goalies Jaroslav Halak (24 starts) and Ty Conklin (five starts).
The Blackhawks and the Blues have played three times this season, with the Blackhawks winning two and the Blues winning one. The Blackhawks, with good health, can continue to win against the Blues and use those wins as leverage to help propel them into the playoffs.
If the season were to end today, the Blackhawks would fail to make the playoffs. Chicago hasn’t been playing that badly for the most part, but injuries have taken their toll, as have some struggles in the net.
With Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and even Jonathan Toews injured at various points in the season, it’s been tough for the Blackhawks to put their best team on the ice.
The road to the playoffs goes through the Central, so the Blackhawks need to win as many games as they can there so they can make the playoffs and get back to defend their title. While it may not look like it's possible now, things should pick up and they should play better soon.
Hopefully, the Hawks will get healthy and get back to playing the kind of hockey that we are used to them playing soon.