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NHL: How the Chicago Blackhawks Can Follow Up on Crucial Weekend Victories

Jon FromiSenior Analyst IDecember 20, 2010

Dave Bolland chipped in Sunday with an assist in Chicago's 3-2 win over the Kings.
Dave Bolland chipped in Sunday with an assist in Chicago's 3-2 win over the Kings.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

After a disappointing home-and-home sweep at the hands of Colorado this week, the Chicago Blackhawks answered the bell this weekend with a pair of much-needed wins.

Sunday's 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, coupled with an impressive 4-1 victory over Detroit on Friday, moved the Blackhawks up the Western Conference leader board.

Both games were huge.  It sounds silly to talk about must-win games in December, but after dropping three in a row coming into the weekend, I'd say they were just that.

Where are we going from here?  The home games continue with visits from Nashville and Columbus, followed by a short trip to St Louis before returning to the United Center for a big rematch with the Sharks.  The wins need to keep coming.

I think the team has responded well to adversity over the last two weeks while some key players were out with injury.  This weekend was great, but I still have a baker's dozen of questions that need answered.

And away we go...

1.  How serious is Viktor Stalberg's injury?

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Stalberg got off the ice under his own power after Ryan O'Byrne boarded him Wednesday, but he's missed two games.  Concussion?  If so, how long will he be out?  He skated Sunday, but should we expect him sooner or later?

Here's a question for the league: Why no discipline for O'Byrne's blatant hit in the back?  A hit that saw him build momentum, leave his skates, included a partial head shot and has seen the recipient miss multiple games?

2.  Can Marian Hossa stay off the injured list?

Up until his tenure with the Hawks, Hossa has been a pretty durable player.  Let's keep our fingers crossed that he stays in the lineup.

3.  Is Patrick Kane being rushed back into action too early?

Kane tried to get back into the lineup for this weekend's action, but experienced pain in Thursday's skate and backed off an early return from his ankle injury.  I think this is the right move.  He rushed back from a similar injury two seasons ago and was not the same player upon his return.

Right now, it looks like caution will prevail as Kane's return has moved back to the three weeks we originally expected.  No use having a half-lame Kaner struggling with a nagging injury.  Let it heal more completely.  The schedule is light right now, and the team has played well in his absence.

4.  Can Bryan Bickell keep coming up with big goals and fill the power forward role?

The man has been hot with the wrister in front of the net lately.  He was on pace for 40 points this season even before getting credit for an assist in Sunday's game.

5.  Can Troy Brouwer remember where the front of the net is located?

Brouwer is skating hard, hitting guys, getting to the front of the net and generally looking like the opposite of the player that began the season.  In other words, he's playing well. 

If Bickell and Brouwer can stay physical when guys start returning, look out.

6.  Will Brent Seabrook's new contract be announced by the end of the week/month/season?

I think no news is good news in this case.  No one feels the need to take their case to the media, so I believe talks are making some progress.  I wouldn't mind some good news for Christmas, but if it takes longer and still gets done, so be it.

7.  Does Corey Crawford have the starting job in goal for good?

Crawford has been the beneficiary of the team's increased defensive awareness, but he has also put together a quality run of starts, including two wins this weekend.  Marty Turco still needs some starts, even if he's being regarded as the backup right now.

8.  Will Jeremy Morin and/or Nick Leddy join the Hawks for an extended run before the end of the season?

Morin's next game kicks his rookie contract into effect this season.  If the Blackhawks are healthy, I think he stays down in Rockford.  Same with Leddy.  As cost-concious as the front office has been, I  don't think we see them in the NHL until next season.  That could change if the injuries pile up.

9.  Will John Scott stick around on the fourth line?

I hope not.

Scott is a condiment to the banquet that is the Blackhawks.  He needs to be used sparingly to accent the rest of the roster.  When the forwards start coming back, we should see Turco more than we see John Scott on the ice.

10.  Will Ryan Johnson stick around on the fourth line?

Johnson is here to play defense, improve the PK and allow Patrick Sharp to move out to wing.  But he also has a two-way contract, so I guess it will depend on how much difference he makes in these areas.

11.  After Jonathan Toews, on what lines do the other centers play?

We have three defensive, checking-type centers after the captain.  Since one of those centers is paid $3.5 million and is expected to play on the second line, I assume the lines go Toews, Bolland, Dowell, Johnson.

I'm wondering where Patrick Sharp will play when Stalberg, Kane and Hossa are all back.  If he centers a line, I guess Johnson goes back to Rockford.  If he stays on the wing, someone else probably goes...but who will that be? 

12.  Will Keith and Seabrook see 22,  27 or 30 minutes a game?

Brian Campbell topped Chicago blueliners in minutes for the second game in a row.  I think for the time being, keeping the first line minutes down is a good thing.  Niklas Hjalmarsson has settled into some better performances as of late.  With Jassen Cullimore going through waivers, does this mean Jordan Hendry will be seeing minutes at defense soon?

13.  Can this team claim the top spot in the Western Conference?

Detroit has lost two in a row, but there is a lot of ground to close before we start thinking about that, so...

13.  Can this team get home ice in the first playoff round?

Again, I think I'm getting ahead of myself, so...

13.  Can this team make the playoffs?

Yes.  The first step is to keep beating teams ahead of us like we did this weekend with the Red Wings and Kings.  We can do that to Nashville with a win Wednesday night. 

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