Chicago Blackhawks: Ranking the Biggest Problems Thus Far in the 2011-12 Season

Matt BauerCorrespondent IIDecember 3, 2011

Chicago Blackhawks: Ranking the Biggest Problems Thus Far in the 2011-12 Season

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    The Chicago Blackhawks' recent struggles are more than obvious to nearly everyone that watches them on a regular basis.

    One can't point their finger at one person or one area that's the cause for the Hawks' recent struggles.  These struggles are, most definitely, a team effort.

    Chicago's struggles haven't been solely on the road, but they've been at home as well. And, these struggles occur at both ends of the ice.

7. Bryan Bickell

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    I've been a Bryan Bickell supporter for nearly a year, but it's time for me to face reality.

    Despite Bickell's solid start scoring his five points of the 2011-12 NHL season in the month of October, Bickell's ice time has decreased drastically over the last month and his production has disappeared.

    The Blackhawks' first game in the month of November came on November 3rd against the Florida Panthers.  Bickell was on the ice for a total of 15:29.  November 29th was the Hawks' final game in the month of November, and Bickell was on the ice for a total of 6:41.

    Bickell failed to score a goal or even record an assist in the entire month of November, and, no, injuries are not any reason for Bickell's lack of production.

    Bickell constantly skates with his head down which ends up forcing him into a premature decision when he has the puck, because he isn't aware of his surroundings.

    It's a good thing he's going to tally up a number of healthy scratches for the Hawks over the next couple of weeks, especially if Ben Smith continues to take advantage of the opportunities he has and produce for the Hawks.

6. Coach Q's Decision-Making

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    I've never been one to question Joel Quenneville's decision-making process, but there have been a number of times throughout the season when I've witnessed a head-scratcher-move from Coach Q.

    Even at the beginning of the season when the Blackhawks were playing fairly well, one thing I didn't understand was why Daniel Carcillo was on the Hawks' power play.

    Line changes have been something Coach Q has been dealing with all year, and that's a reason for the Hawks' inconsistent play.  Players have struggled to develop chemistry with their linemates and new teammates, and when they do, often times, the lines are changed again.

    I understand trying to spread the wealth with the team's forwards, but for the last two-plus years a handful of guys have developed an invaluable chemistry by playing with each other and there's no need to change that.  Q should build around the chemistry that his best players have with each other.

    If Q doesn't have the proper pieces to build the offense around the Hawks' core group of forwards, then it's only a matter of time until GM Stan Bowman begins to assess potential trades to pursue prior to the NHL's trade deadline in order to fill those voids in the Hawks' lines.

5. Power Play Percentage

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    With the high-powered offensive firepower and talent the Blackhawks' power play line consists of, it's hard to imagine that group struggling to score goals with a man advantage.

    Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp (at the point) and Duncan Keith could quite possibly be the best power play combination on paper in the National Hockey League.

    There are a number of times when these guys create many scoring opportunities on the power play but the opposing goal comes up with a series of saves, so I don't fault them for that.  But there's no reason for this power play line to be on a man advantage and not be able to create scoring opportunities whether the puck gets buried in the back of the net or not.

    In a perfect world these guys would score nine out of 10 times they're on a power play, but in a real world they'd score more than the 17% of the time that they do.

4. Stupid Penalties

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    Too many times throughout the Blackhawks' 2011-12 season have I seen a few individuals commit useless penalties that obviously don't help the team.

    The two main guys I'm looking at are Viktor Stalberg and Daniel Carcillo, but they're certainly not the only guys committing these awfully-timed penalties.

    Stalberg served 12 of his 16 penalties minutes of the season during the month of November, and those 12 minutes in the box were served over a ten game span.  The Hawks lost four out of the six games that Stalberg was penalized in during November.

    Out of Carcillo's 45 minutes in the box, 43 of those came during the month of November.

    In addition to these two players, there have been a number of delay-of-game penalties committed by the Hawks at very inopportune times, such as Sean O'Donnell's in the Hawks' November 29th game against the Phoenix Coyotes.  O'Donnell's delay of game penalty came in the second period when the Hawks were trailing just 2-0.  Chicago lost that game 4-1.

    Many of these penalties may not result in a goal for the opposition, but these situations don't give the Hawks a better opportunity to put the puck in the net.  It's common sense—if the Hawks are shorthanded, they're more likely to give up a goal rather then score one.

    The Blackhawks are one of the NHL's least penalized teams, averaging just over nine minutes per game, but it appears that the team's penalties come at the least opportune times, and that's a huge blow to a team's momentum. Momentum goes a long way during a game and especially throughout the entire season.

3. Goaltending

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    Corey Crawford definitely hasn't been the same goalie the Hawks had against the Vancouver Canucks in last year's Western Conference Quarterfinals, allowing an average of 2.9 goals per game.

    Despite Crawford's recent struggles, he's done almost all he can for the Hawks to provide them with the best opportunity to walk away from each game with two points.

    Crawford has shown his ability to come up big for his teammates and stone the opposition on a breakaway, and there have been times he's let up a weak goal, but that was after he made a series of three or more saves because the defense failed to clear the puck and help their goalie.

    Craw needs to limit the weak goals he allows, but there are plenty of times he saves his teammates' behinds by standing tall against his opponent because his teammates left him out to dry.

    Corey Crawford's 2011-12 season exemplifies the ups and downs of being an NHL goalie.

2. Penalty Kill

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    The Chicago Blackhawks are the NHL's worst ranked team on the penalty kill, killing just 73% of the shorthanded situations they're faced with.

    These stats may be skewed because of games like the Hawks' November 6th meeting with the Vancouver Canucks, in which the Hawks allowed five power play goals to cap off a 6-2 whooping the Hawks were victim of.

    Skewed or not, stats are stats and the Hawks obviously have some improvements to make, considering they're the worst team in the NHL in shorthanded situations.

1. Defense

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    Too many times have the Blackhawks' defenders left their goalie, Corey Crawford, out to dry.

    Duncan Keith looks more like the player he did in 2010-11 then he did in 2009-10 when he was awarded the NHL's Norris Trophy for the league's best defender.

    Niklas Hjalmarsson looks like he's in his rookie season, because he's confused when the puck's on his stick and he makes frantic, premature decisions that often turn into turnovers. And these turnovers don't always happen at neutral ice—they're often committed in the Hawks' defensive zone.

    Steve Montador had his few games of fame in November when Coach Q placed him as a forward on the power play and he capitalized, tallying seven points, five while playing on special teams.  But it's looking like Montador may only be useful on the power play because he's not that great of a defender.

    Improvements must be made, otherwise Stan Bowman will likely consider shipping someone out, possibly one of the Hawks' blueliners, in order to bring in a defenseman who can provide some much needed defensive help.