Chicago Blackhawks: Mid-Season Grade Report

Tyler JuranovichCorrespondent IIIJanuary 26, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 25: Head coach Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks argues with referee Stephane Auger #15 after a goal against the Minnesota Wild was waved off as members of the Blackhawks including Jonathan Toews #19 (L), Tomas Kopecky #82 (C) and Patrick Kane #88 (R) watch the replay board at the United Center on January 25, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 4-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Chicago Blackhawks: 26-20-4 56 points. 8th in the Western Conference.

It's been a long and winding season so far for the Chicago Blackhawks. Adjusting to the new players and lineup has taken longer than hoped or expected, but that hasn't brought down the players.

Like I wrote earlier, I believe there is reason to be optimistic about the second half of the season. 

With that, let us get started with my mid-season report.

Forwards: B

The Blackhawks, for the past three years, have not had problems scoring goals. The same has applied to this season.

The Blackhawks are ranked 4th in the Western Conference in goals scored(157) behind Vancouver, Detroit, and Colorado and are tied for third for goal differential with a +18.

As for the players themselves, Patrick Sharp stands out to me the most. He's having his breakout season. There's no doubt about that. And, like many dedicated Blackhawk fans, we knew this was going to happen sooner or later and are glad it did.

Marian Hossa continues to struggle to stay healthy, while Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane continue to top the team stat chart, proving their reliability and their consistency in play.

The offensive potential has always been there. The chemistry has not.

New players mean new lines, and new lines can have a substantial impact on a team, as they have with the Blackhawks.

The fans and coaches could see that something just wasn't clicking. After some time, longer than what most were expecting, the team chemistry began to grow and has now shown itself in the month of January.

Defense: C

Going into the season, Blackhawk fans were expecting the same output by their defensmen as last season, or, at least, by their Norris Trophy winner, Duncan Keith. 

That didn't happen.

What happened was the complete opposite. Keith had as terrible first quarter of the season, but has improved his playing since then.

Brought down by other defensemen, such as John Scott, and Jassen Cullimore, the Blackhawks' defense was taken advantage of by top offensive teams.

Late, third period goals often lead to losing games, which takes away points, became a huge and dire problem. With Cullimore down in Rockford and Scott receiving less and less playing time, youngsters, like Nick Leddy have been able to make their impact.

Leddy has paired with Jordan Hendry the most, and the two have really improved the defense as a whole.

With all the problems the Blackhawks faced, defense was the number one weight, weighing them down. Things have improved, but teams with great offenses are still winning the battles.

Goaltending: B+

The pleasant surprise of the season was the emergence of Corey Crawford.

After the departure of Antti Niemi, many Blackhawk fans felt betrayed by Niemi's agent or the Blackhawks organization. How could they give away a Stanley Cup winning goaltender in his prime, and who had won the hearts of the fans?

It was another sad chapter in the necessary dismantling of the Championship-winning team.

The Blackhawks signed Marty Turco and brought up Corey Crawford. What Hawk fans didn't and couldn't know was the impact Corey Crawford has brought to the team.

He reminds many of Antti Niemi in regards to a back-up goaltender proving more effective than the starting one.

Turco isn't disliked as Huet was, and he shouldn't be, but there's no denying that Crawford is the better goalie right now and the players around him emulate his playing.

Goaltending is the reason why the Blackhawks haven't gone into total panic mode this season. They're flirting with disaster at the 8th seed, but two long breaks should have the Blackhawks rested and ready to play the remaining 38 games.

As January winds down and the All-Star break begins, the Blackhawks have much to consider in the month of February. It's a game-heavy month with many of the games on the road. 

The Blackhawks have only ten home games the next two months, meaning if the winning doesn't happen on the road, there may no playoffs for Chicago.

It's going to be a test for the Hawks, and we are about to see this team is really made of.