The Chicago Blackhawks' Struggle Points for the 2011-2012 Season
The Chicago Blackhawks' "fairy-tale" ending was not meant to be last season.
The Blackhawks were down 3-0 in the first-round of the playoffs against the President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. Chicago was able to tie the series 3-3, but winning four straight proved to be too much for the 'Hawks. The Blackhawks lost Game 7 in Vancouver, ending their playoff run and a shot to defend the Stanley Cup.
This season, the Chicago Blackhawks hope to make another run in the playoffs, but this time to get back to where they were in 2010—the Stanley Cup Finals.
Let's take a look at the top 5 areas they will struggle in for the 2011-2012 season.
1. "Sophomore Slump"
The Blackhawks have made their decision on Corey Crawford being the starting goaltender this year, and why not after the year he had last year? Crawford went 33-18-6 with 4 shutouts last season. He also had a .917 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.30. Crawford took over the starting goaltender position when Marty Turco started off the year struggling and could not live up to the expectations the Blackhawks organization had when they first signed him.
With the departure of Marty Turco this offseason, there is an opening to see who can back up Corey Crawford. The Blackhawks picked up Alexander Salak from the Florida Panthers on February 9. Salak has only played two NHL games in his short career. With Salak being so young, the Hawks are giving Ray Emery a tryout during their training camp this offseason.
The Blackhawks are in need of a veteran goaltender since Turco was not resigned. If Crawford does have the dreaded "sophomore slump," Chicago would then have to put their trust in a goaltender that has only played 2 NHL games in his career.
The "sophomore slump" has been seen by many goaltenders, such as Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason. Mason had a phenomenal rookie season, but his following year, he went 20-26-9 with 3.06 goals against and a save percentage of .901.
The Blackhawks are hoping that this does not happen to their goaltender, but "sophomore slumps" can happen to anyone. If it does happen to Crawford, the Hawks' goalie core may not be strong enough to help them get back into the Stanley Cup finals.
2. Defensive Struggles
Much like last season, this season the Hawks could be seeing some more struggles on the defensive side of the puck. The defensive unit allowed their goalies to face a lot of shots last season. They allowed a little over 300 shots more than they did in the 2009-10 season.
Duncan Keith did not have one of his best seasons last year. He also does not seem to be getting back to his usual "top flight" motivation. Keith has a lot of potential which is why he has that 'A' on his jersey. Whether or not Keith can live up to his 2009-10 season is a question that still needs to be answered after a disappointing year last year.
The losses of Brian Campbell and Chris Campoli could also be a huge hole that the Hawks have not quite filled. Brian Campbell is very good with moving the puck and finding ways to create scoring chances for his offense; Campoli is a young defenseman who is just starting to find his potential. Chicago has a big void to fill in losing these two defenders and they have not made the right moves defensively to fill them.
Nick Leddy—due to his youth and inexperience—could be another reason why the Blackhawks struggle defensively. Leddy had great numbers in the AHL and did not do too badly when brought up to the NHL, but with Leddy being so young and the Hawks trying to use him too quickly, Nick Leddy could cause some problems defensively.
Although the Hawks signed defenseman Steve Montador, if Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson are not at their full potential, Chicago will struggle defensively and they will also have issues with turnovers and moving the puck out of the zone. Montador is not a bad defender, but he is not that "missing piece" that Chicago is looking for to solve their defensive woes.
3. Production from Other Lines
Patrick Kane, Johnathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp make up one of the most successful lines—the Blackhawks first line—in the NHL today. Not to take anything away from the rest of the Hawks, but if this line was not on the team, would the Hawks be as good as they are?
Chicago has been seeing production from really only their first line. Yes, the Blackhawks have obviously gotten help from the other lines, but those lines have not been consistent in keeping the Hawks where they want to be in the standings.
This season, Chicago is hoping to find that consistency in their other three lines, but they have not made the moves necessary to do that. Without other lines producing, all the other teams in the NHL will know what to watch out for when they play the Hawks.
If that happens, the Blackhawks could be in for a long season.
4. Adapting to New Players
This has been a very busy offseason for the Chicago Blackhawks with all of the signings, trades, and releases. With that being said, the Hawks are going to have a lot of new faces coming from other teams and up from the Rockford Ice Hogs.
Chicago will have to adapt to the newcomers. With a lot of these newcomers never playing with anyone else on the Hawks before, it could be a major problem for the Blackhawks. Steve Montador is the most notable newcomer to the Blackhawk organization. Montador played in Buffalo last season and was signed by the Hawks from free agency.
The biggest liability for the Blackhawks will be Daniel Carcillo. Carcillo was signed as a free agent on July 1. Carcillo will be a liability because he is a "troublemaker" and seems to have no problem going to the penalty box.
This could put the Hawks on the penalty kill more often than they would like.
5. Intimidation Factor
The Blackhawks have never really been a big team, but this year is going to be tough for the Hawks because of a lack of the "intimidation factor." John Scott was the enforcer last season for the Blackhawks. In the 2009-2010 season, Chicago had many different players that could intimidate other teams.
This season, the Chicago Blackhawks will be in need of enforcers that can get the job done. John Scott cannot get the job done on his own, as shown last season. Scott is also someone that Chicago would rather not have on the ice, as he's not the best skater nor is he that great of a defender.
The Blackhawks need to find themselves some enforcers to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals this season. If Chicago does not find some enforcers, this will be a very long season for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Follow Marc Denson on Twitter @MarcDenson