With the holiday season upon us, everyone has some sort of wish list, including the Chicago Blackhawks.
A team's ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup at the end of the season, but accomplishing that task is easier said than done.
There are a number of factors that can determine each individual team's Stanley Cup campaign, and the Hawks are no different.
Maybe this year Santa Claus can bring the Hawks some gifts the team desires in order make it a bit easier to hoist the Cup in June.
Good health is a lot for a team to ask for throughout all 82 games of the regular season, especially for a team with a target on its back who gets each opponent's best effort every night like the Blackhawks.
A healthy hockey team is as important as any other intangible when striving for success throughout the regular season like the Hawks are in the midst of.
Fortunately, for the most part the Hawks' core group of players (Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook) haven't suffered injuries that have held them out of the lineup for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, not everyone on the Hawks' roster has been able to stay healthy the entire first half of the season.
Marcus Kruger, Chicago's 21-year-old center, is one member of the Blackhawks who recently went down after taking a hit to the head from the Pittsburgh Penguins' Deryk Engelland that resulted in a three-game suspension for the Penguins defenseman.
Considering the Hawks were already lacking players at the center position, the health of Kruger and every other Hawks player is extremely vital as the team approaches the halfway point of the regular season in a tightly contested Western Conference.
Patrick Kane started the 2011-12 season as the Hawks' second-line center, but after a rough couple of weeks for the team, head coach Joel Quenneville decided to change a few things up in the lineup. Kane moved to his natural position of right wing on the top line, and Marcus Kruger was promoted to center of the second line between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.
Kruger hasn't appeared in the lineup for the Hawks after taking a vicious hit to the head on December 20th against the Pittsburgh Penguins, meaning the Hawks' already center-depleted roster is short another center.
The Blackhawks recalled center Brandon Pirri from the Rockford Icehogs for the team's December 21st game against the Montreal Canadiens. Pirri was immediately placed in between Hossa and Sharp on the second line, and he also saw ice time on the power play and penalty kill.
Pirri is only a temporary solution at center for Q and the Hawks at this point in the season, being that the 20-year-old Toronto native was sent back to the AHL less than 24 hours after playing against Montreal.
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has yet to make any trades this season, and that won't change in the near future because of the NHL's trade freeze.
Depending on the health of individual players, Bowman and Quenneville will have to make due with the prospects the Hawks have in Rockford since the GM won't be able to attempt any trades anytime soon.
The only thing Bowman and the rest of the Blackhawks' organization can hope for is that these prospects are productive in the time they see in the NHL, otherwise another prospect will get an opportunity, or Bowman will search for a potential trade to fill any void in the Hawks' roster.
Corey Crawford started in between the pipes for the Hawks on December 21st against his hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens—his first start in over two weeks.
Despite a solid start to the 2011-12 season, the month of November and early goings in December weren't Crawford's most memorable moments in his young NHL career.
The Hawks' game against Montreal was the perfect matchup for Craw to slowly regain his confidence. He made 20 saves, allowed one power play goal and led his team to a 5-1 victory at home.
Crawford never lost his starting goalie title despite backup Ray Emery's 9-2-2 record as a starter this season, and Craw will get the opportunity to silence all of his critics after the holidays and into the new year.
Confidence is key to Crawford's success, as well as a little help from his defense and some rebound control from himself.
Viktor Stalberg has the potential to be two totally different hockey players at times, and even throughout an individual game. Stalberg can look like one of the Blackhawks' top skaters, or he has the ability to look like coach Q needs to consider making him a healthy scratch for the team's next contest.
It'd be great if Stalberg could bring his A-game more times than not after the holiday break. The game where he isn't afraid to shoot the puck on net, and he doesn't screw up the little things he's called upon to do on a given shift.
Check out more of Matt Bauer's articles.