Chicago Blackhawks: 8 Areas Hawks Need to Improve After October
It is hard to complain about how the Chicago Blackhawks have opened the season.
They finished the month with a big win over rival Nashville to give themselves 16 points, which is good enough for a three-way tie for first in the Western Conference. Their record is 7-2-2 with two loses coming on the road (Dallas and Carolina) and two shootouts losses coming happening on home ice.
Finishing the month with an undefeated record in regulation is a good month.
However not everything is perfect in Hawk land.
Captain Jonathan Toews and Co. can most definitely improve on a few things as well as have a few players step up.
With a very road schedule in November if the Hawks wanna stay on top then they better hurry up and get working on fixing these problems.Some might be already in the process of being fixed.
*Most of this article was written before Monday's game, so some slides will have a few updated thoughts.
The Mystery That Is Olesz
Three million dollars is a lot to spend on a guy who is sitting in the press box every night.
So far this season that is exactly that the Blackhawks have decided to do with Rostislav Olesz, who they acquired in the Brian Campbell trade on the first day of the draft.
Olesz, 26, has appeared in two games so far this season, totaling 17 minutes of ice time, taking one shot, and spending two minutes in the penalty box. He is under contract through the 2013-2014 season, so it isn't like he is going away.
Let's be honest: he has to be better than John Scott (who only played for one minute and 44 seconds Saturday night). To me he is a perfect fit on the fourth line alongside Jamal Mayer and Marcus Kruger.
Update: John Scott again dressed on Monday instead of Olesz and only played two minutes and 34 seconds (and that was with Duncan Keith out for about half the game). They don't even trust him to put him on the ice for a few defensive shifts. Either Olesz is really bad, or he must be hurt.
Duncan Keith is going to play a lot of minutes; Brent Seabrook is also going to be on the ice a lot. So far this season both statements are very true—and both concern me greatly.
Keith has played over 26 minutes in seven of the Blackhawks' first 10 games. Seabrook usually plays between 20-25 minutes, but nearly played half the game against Anaheim last week, clocking 29 minutes and 13 seconds.
Currently, both defensemen are on separate pairings, but later in the season and in the postseason many expect the pair to be reunited as the Hawks try to win the Stanley Cup again.
The Blackhawks are deeper along the blue line than they were even two seasons ago when they hoisted the cup. With Nick Leddy, Sean O'Donnell, Sami Lepisto, Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson, there is no reason for Keith or Seabrook to be playing such heavy minutes this early in the season.
Update: Hopefully the injury to Duncan Keith isn't too serious because it will cause Brent Seabrook to carry an extra load of shifts if it is. Keith left Monday's game during the second period with an upper body injury and didn't return.
Where Does Stalberg Fit?
Viktor Stalberg can't seem to find a home. Is he a first liner? Maybe a second liner? No, no, he is a fourth liner.
Those are all the different answers I get when asking Hawks fans what they think of the 25-year-old forward.
Stalberg most definitely has the potential to be a top six forward, but it seems like something is missing. Last season he was given a chance to skate alongside Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews but didn't produce enough to keep the spot.
So far this season he has seen time on the top line and second line, but mostly seems set on the fourth line with Kruger and Mayers. Stalberg scored his first two goals of the season on Saturday not even two minutes apart, and maybe that is exactly what he needed to get going.
In an ideal world we would see him skating on the top two lines in place of Dan Carcillo, but it seems like Stalberg may just be the next Troy Brouwer—all the potential in the world that never quite clicks and gets put together. However, we may never know till Coach Q finds him a home.
Update: Stalberg looked pretty good getting the game-winner against Nashville on Monday night.
Tighten Up the Defense
The Hawks penalty kill has been amazing this season, but the defense as a whole could be much better.
So far this season, they have allowed only two power play goals on 38 chances. That is awesome, but what it means is the Hawks have given up 23 out of the 25 goals to come at even strength.
Ninety-two percent of the goals scored come when the Hawks are even strength or better; they have allowed one short-handed goal this season.
For a team that has a lot of money invested along the blue line, the Hawks must improve. They rank 15th in the league in goals allowed, which isn't bad, but it isn't great either.
Some of this may come from the heavy minutes that Seabrook and Keith are playing. A night after Seabrook logged 29 minutes of ice time, he allowed a break away goal against Carolina.
Managing minutes may help the defense to tighten up and may help Corey Crawford from seeing so many shots.
Get Sharpie Sharp
So fa this season Patrick Sharp has not been as sharp as he usually is.
This might be a bit of nit-picking since he is tied for second with Marian Hossa for the lead in points with 10, but his play seems to be off.
Maybe he isn't fully back in shape after having emergency surgery right before the start of training camp. Maybe he is having trouble adjusting to being a winger full time and skating alongside Jonathan Toews.
Or it could be a combination of everything.
One thing that really concerns me is the amount of penalty minutes. Sharp leads the team with 18 penalty minutes, which is one more than Jamal Mayers at 17.
I am sure it is only a matter of time before Sharp gets going, but should he not by new year, the Hawks might be in some trouble.
Update: Sharp has looked better the past few games skating with Kane and Hossa.
The Blackhawks have been involved in three games already this season that went to the shootout. The results have not been good.
Coach Quenneville has been searching for a few years now for that third shooter. So far this season, he has used Kane and Toews in all three games, but the third shooter has constantly changed.
Sharp was used against Boston. Stalberg was used against Colorado, and Dave Bolland got the call against Anaheim. The interesting thing is that they each were used in a different spot. Sharp went third, Stalberg first, and Bolland went second.
No one on the Hawks has great results in shootout situations, but going forward, Coach Q needs to find that go-to third guy who can get out there and convert. Maybe give Michael Frolik a shot.
What's Troubling Toews
Toews and Kane. Kane and Toews
Since these two young stars entered the league, they have been together. Sure there were times they would split up for a few shifts, or maybe even a few games, but nothing like this.
With Kane moving to center and being on the second line with Marian Hossa, it looks like Toews misses his former linemate. While he has four goals, he only has two assists, which is unusual for the Hawks' young captain.
While on the defensive side of things it has been Dave Bolland getting the attention, and mentioned as the possible Selke Trophy candidate, instead of Toews, who was nominated last season.
The struggle of Toews may have a lot to do with Patrick Sharp's off-form so far. However, with how well Kane is adapting to his new role, it is surprising to see Toews struggle, as many predicted this as his breakout year.
You know your power play is struggling when you have nearly as many short-handed goals as power play goals.
Currently the Hawks have converted on four power play chances, while managing to score three times on the penalty kill.
Several times this season while on the power play, it has looked like the other team had the advantage, which has led to one short-handed goal allowed and numerous other chances.
So far it seems like the old standards aren't working. Maybe they miss Brian Cambell who was that puck-moving defenseman who would remain at the point. Nick Leddy could be that guy, but things aren't clicking.
They also are missing that big body in front of the net. I would like to see Bryan Bickell get more chances with the first unit and see if they can get some easy goals.
The Hawks have far too much talent to struggle like this all season, but it has to be the biggest concern to the coaching staff so far. Hopefully this issue will be resolved once Toews and Sharp are back to playing the way we expect.
Update: After failing to convert on any of the seven power plays, and several minutes of having a two-man advantage, the Hawks are currently mired in a 0-18 slump on the power play.