5 Bold Predictions for the Chicago Blackhawks in the New Year
The dancing has come to a conclusion. As the NHL reaches its midpoint and the second half of the season begins, it's time for all teams to show their true colors and establish their capabilities.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, that means making a run at their third Stanley Cup in the last six seasons.
Joel Quenneville's team did enough in the first half of the season to show that their aspirations have a legitimate chance to come to fruition this spring. They have demonstrated the ability to go on the road to the NHL's toughest arenas and come home with key victories.
Over the second half of the season, the Blackhawks must demonstrate their seriousness by improving their consistency.
Here's a look at five things we are likely to see from the Blackhawks by the time the season ends in late June.
Corey Crawford Will Go Through a Serious Dip, but Then Rebound Quite Well
Corey Crawford got off to a sharp start this season, and that pleased many of the team's fans who had called Chicago sports talk shows and made negative posts about him on websites last season.
Crawford was rolling through the final weeks of November, and head coach Joel Quenneville had to be pleased with his performance. He was not giving up the leaky goals that had stained his play in 2013-14.
However, his season took a nasty turn, literally, in late November when he twisted an ankle while attending a concert at the Chicago House of Blues. The injury forced him out of the lineup for about three weeks.
Since his return, Crawford has given up three goals or more in four of his seven starts. His goals-against average has risen to 2.20, and his save percentage is .919.
The belief is that it is likely to get worse before it gets better. While Crawford looked like an elite goalie early in the season, he has never been that kind of regular-season goalie.
He was on top of his game early, and his play is leveling out currently. However, he is a goalie who knows how to rise to the occasion and play his best when it matters most.
His biggest asset is his ability to move on to the next game. When he has a poor performance, he is able to put that game behind him and move on to the next assignment. That was vital for him during the Blackhawks' 2013 Stanley Cup run, and it remains a key attribute.
He'll continue his dip in the regular season, but he will pick up his play when it matters most.
Patrick Kane Will Set a Career High in Goals Scored
Patrick Kane is one of the most exciting players in the NHL and one of its best clutch scorers.
He has proved this time and time again in the postseason and will no doubt play a key role again if the Blackhawks are to make another Stanley Cup run this spring.
However, Kane's accomplishments in the regular season have been quite modest. No. 88 has never scored more than 30 goals, and he has only accomplished that feat once, during the 2009-10 season. Since then, he has never had more than 29 goals.
Kane has already scored 19 goals in his first 40 games. If he can maintain his pace, he will blow by his career high during the second half of the year.
Look for Kane to stay hot in the second half of the season and score at least 35 goals this season.
Teuvo Teravainen Will Slowly but Surely Prove His Value
Teuvo Teravainen was probably losing patience as he skated for the Rockford IceHogs. The Blackhawks likely wanted him to get used to the more physical North American style of hockey. However, one can assume he was tired of biding his time in the American Hockey League and waiting for the big club to call.
When Kris Versteeg was knocked out of the lineup after taking a shot to the left hand in the Winter Classic, the Blackhawks made their move. They called up Teravainen to take Versteeg's spot, and he has looked like a regular in his first two games with the Blackhawks this season.
He has played more than 10 minutes in each game, and his ability to find the open man with his passes should not be overlooked. He also has excellent on-ice vision, and this will pay dividends for the Blackhawks this season.
Look for Teravainen to prove his worth over the next month, and that should allow him to stay with the team for the rest of the regular season.
The Blackhawks Will Make a Move Toward the NHL's Top Spot Among 5-on-5 Teams
The Chicago Blackhawks rank fifth this season in five-on-five scoring.
They are scoring 1.25 goals for every goal they give up when both teams are playing at full strength. While that's not bad, they are capable of climbing up the ladder. The Montreal Canadiens are slightly ahead of them with a 1.27-1.00 ratio, while the Nashville Predators are the best team in the league in that category.
The Blackhawks were fourth in that category last year and first in 2013 when they ended up winning the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks simply have too much talent and firepower to finish the season behind teams like the Predators, Rangers and Habs, all clubs that don't have the same kind of scoring ability.
Look for the Blackhawks to finish no worse than second in that category as they battle Steven Stamkos and the Lightning for the title of most prolific five-on-five team in the league this season.
The Blackhawks Will Hoist the Stanley Cup in June
Last year's loss to the Los Angeles Kings still hurts.
The Blackhawks were one goal away from going back to the Stanley Cup Final and defending the title they earned in 2013 in a brutal and memorable confrontation with the Boston Bruins.
But when Alec Martinez's long wrist shot deflected past Corey Crawford and into the net, the Blackhawks were denied that opportunity. They had to watch the Kings instead, who dominated the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final and won hockey's ultimate prize in a five-game series.
That almost certainly would have been the same result if the Blackhawks had squared off against New York.
This time, there will be no denying the Blackhawks. The pain of losing in the seventh game of the Western Conference Final will serve as the impetus to their success, and they will get back to the Cup Final.
Toews and Co. will win their third Stanley Cup in six seasons, and the city of Chicago will roar its approval with another huge parade.