With the Blackhawks taking time away from the ice for Christmas, it’s a good time to look back at the first 35 games of the NHL season.
The Hawks are 22-9-4, good for first place in the Central Division and Western Conference, and went to their break 8-1-1 in their last ten games. They’re 12-2-3 at the United Center and 10-7-1 on the road.
In this first half of a two-part piece, we’ll grade the performances from the Blackhawks’ forwards through the season’s first 35 games.
Toews is an early front-runner for the Hart Trophy this year after coming out of the gates red-hot. He’s tied for second in the NHL with 20 goals and is among the league’s best faceoff men again this year. Toews also has four game-winning goals already this year. If he continues at his current pace, a 50-goal season is within reach and he might bring the Hart and Selke Trophies back to Chicago this summer.
Hossa is the team leader in points, is tied for third in the NHL in plus-minus, and his 27 even strength points ranks third in the league. We’re finally seeing a healthy Hossa this year, and he’s been dominant on both ends of the ice.
Kane’s 25 assists are tied for sixth in the NHL, and he’s one of four Hawks that rank among the league’s top 20 in points. He started the year at center, where he was very good early on but was moved back to wing when his faceoff percentage dipped. There have been times that fans would have preferred that he shoot, but it’s hard to argue with his nearly point-per-game pace being assist-heavy while three other Hawks are among the league’s goal scoring leaders.
Sharp has been overshadowed at times by the play of the others star forwards in the Hawks, but he’s off to the best start of his career. His five game-winning goals leads Chicago and is tied with Claude Giroux for second in the NHL; Johan Franzen has six. Sharp has 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 10 games in December; the loss in Pittsburgh is the only game in the month that he hasn’t registered a point.
He successfully made Vancouver mad at a completely random time, but he hasn’t done much to make Hawks fans happy since October. After getting off to a good start (seven points in October), Bolland has only six points in 21 games since. In fact, he had almost as many short-handed goals in the season’s first month (two) as he has scored since the start of November (three).
Stalberg has already established a career-high of 13 assists and his 20 points is only five points away from his career-year. He was red-hot headed to the Christmas break, scoring six point (two goals, four assists) in the last five games before the long weekend. He is fifth on the Hawks with 39 hits. Relative to what was expected, Stalberg being on a 40-point pace is a pleasant surprise.
Frolik’s been a solid defensive forward this year; he’s tied with Hossa for the lead among Hawks’ forwards with 18 blocked shots and his 21 takeaways is a respectable number. He’s also averaging 1:09 per game on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, he’s become one-dimensional this year and his offense has been non-existent for too long. He has only one point in his last eight games, and had only one point in the entire month of November.
Bickell’s been a healthy scratch at times during the first half of the season because his play has been terribly inconsistent. He has the worst plus-minus rating on the roster and his seven points are an overwhelming disappointment after he posted 37 last year. Bickell had zero points and was minus-five in November. He started the year locked into a spot on the third line with Frolik and Bolland, but he is now battling to dress each night when the team is fully healthy.
Brunette was brought in to provide size, but has simply been too slow to be one of the Hawks’ top six forwards. He has been valuable on the power play, where he’s tied with Sharp for second in the team with four goals. He’s only averaged under 15 minutes per game once in his career (2002-03), and has clearly struggled to find a niche on the roster because of the speed the rest of the Hawks’ forwards bring to the ice.
Krüger isn’t putting up enormous numbers, but he’s been incredibly valuable for the Hawks this season as a rookie. He’s averaging the third-highest short-handed ice time average among Hawks forwards (1:20/game) this year, and is also contributing on the power play (1:15/game). His faceoff numbers have improved, and he’s been solid between Hossa and Sharp since replacing Kane as the second line center. Krüger might not be a 40-point guy this year, but he shows a good knowledge for the game and works hard.
26 games played
11:37 ATOI, 60 PIM, 69 hits, 1 suspension, 1 concussion
Back in August, we predicted Carcillo would put up 13 points, 90 hits and 110 PIM in 50 games with the Blackhawks this year. He is certainly producing ahead of pace to hit all of those numbers, but his suspension (the second he served this year after receiving one at the end of his postseason last year) and recent concussion have led to him missing games. He’s floated all over the roster and has been the edgy player the Hawks wanted.
Mayers has been the home run free agent addition from the summer. He’s been a fantastic penalty killer, outstanding in the faceoff circle, and has been the most consistently physical forward on the roster. He has already scored as many goals as he did in each of the last two seasons and has been a solid veteran on the fourth line all season.
Brandon Pirri: A (2 games, 2 assists, +2)
Jeremy Morin: B (3 games, 0 points, -1)
Brandon Saad: B (2 games, 0 points, Even)
Ben Smith: C- (7 games, 1 goal, -6)
The Blackhawks are scoring 3.26 goals per game, which ranks fourth in the NHL at Christmas. The power play, which was awful early in the season, has improved to be ranked ninth in the NHL (19.5 percent). And, what is surprisingly one of the more telling stats early in the year, the Blackhawks win 92.9 percent of the time when they score first, the highest percentage in the entire NHL. In the NHL, only 20 players have 34 points and four of them – 20 percent – are playing for Chicago.
Simple reality is that the Blackhawks have one of the deepest groups of forwards in the NHL, and they’re producing as such. The firepower the Hawks have enjoyed up front is the major reason for the Hawks having the league’s best record at Christmas.