Chicago Blackhawks January Review: Good, Not Great

As the Blackhawks conclude their marathon road trip, the month of January also concludes with the Blackhawks ending both with a successful run. But how successful was the month for the Hawks?

The month began on New Year’s Eve, with the Hawks blowing out the New Jersey Devils 5-1. From there, normalcy was gone and a wild month treated the team like a roller coaster. From a controversy in net to questionable photos in a Vancouver limo, the Hawks had as much action off the ice as they dealt with on it to begin perhaps the biggest calendar year the organization has had in a generation.

The dust has settled, and the Hawks ended the month 10-4-1, a fantastic mark considering only four of those 15 games were played in Chicago.

There were a couple signature wins in the month, punctuating the calendar with a firm exclamation point. First, the shoot out win in Detroit in the second game of the road trip was incredible. Antti Niemi was a rock star in net, facing the most shots the Hawks have allowed all year in a playoff atmosphere. That was the beginning of the questioning of Cristobal Huet in net, questions that got louder and started being asked openly by people on the bench, specifically Joel Quenneville, after Huet struggled in Ottawa in the following game.

The other signature win came with Huet redeeming himself in San Jose at the end of the trip. In what was, much like Detroit, cleary a game played with playoff intensity between two quality teams, Huet made big saves all night and the exhausted offense found just enough to get a huge win in the season series with the Sharks.

Overall in January, Huet certainly didn’t have his best month. He was 6-1-1, but had only an .880 save percentage. Niemi, meanwhile, received his chance to take control of the net in Chicago and didn’t take advantage, playing only one period in Vancouver. Niemi ended January 4-2-0 with a slightly better .895 save percentage. The success of the Blackhawks in January¬†was more about the offense than the guys in net, however.

The Blackhawks averaged a ridiculous 3.67 goals per game in January, while only allowing a less-than-stellar 2.93 per game. It was because of the scoring, not the defense, that the Hawks walked away from January with their heads anywhere but their hands.

Maybe the biggest breakout star of this season for the Blackhawks has been Troy Brouwer, and he continued to be great in January. In 15 games, Brouwer scored seven goals and was credited with four assists while playing next to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the Hawks’ top line. Toews had six goals and five assists in his 15 games to begin the year, while Kane had four goals and 11 assists to average one full point per game in the month. Kane scored three of his four goals on the power play, and had three assists with the advantage as well in the month.

For one line to have 37 points in 15 games is absolutely incredible for any team, but given the recent history of the Blackhawks, this might have been the finest offensive month for any line this decade.

The scoring wasn’t monopolized by the top line, though. Duncan Keith, who continues to make a strong case to run away with the Norris Trophy this year, had 14 points in the month on five goals and nine assists. Andrew Ladd pitched in 11 points on four goals and seven assists as well, finished the road trip strong with a couple solid games. Colin Fraser had his best month of the season, contributing six assists, while Brian Campbell added two goals and eight assists for 10 points in the month.

As you can see, the entire lineup was scoring for the Blackhawks. But for all of those fantastic numbers, the funny part is that none of them led the team in scoring for the month.

Marian Hossa, who continues to become more comfortable on the ice with the young Hawks and build strength in his shoulder, had nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in the month.

What isn’t reflected on the stat sheet, though, is the exceptional month that Niklas Hjalmarsson had playing next to Campbell. He is now third on the team with 95 blocked shots, some of which cost him ice time in January. He has emerged as a solid poke check artist in the defensive zone, and continues to be an essential part of one of the best defensive groups in the league.

February will be a short month for everyone in the NHL because of the Olympics, but the Hawks will be able to finally come home to their United Center fans. Four of the Hawks six games in February are at home, starting on Feb. 3 against St. Louis.

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2 Responses to Chicago Blackhawks January Review: Good, Not Great

  1. Dave Morris says:

    Tab, nice recap.

    Chicago’s improved road record is one of the reasons the Hawks have a .709 winning percentage and are on pace for 114 points–which would be their best season (even pro-rated) since 1971-72.

    Neither Huet nor Niemi posted great numbers in January, but it was the team’s defensive errors that were responsible rather than either of the goaltenders. That said, Q is perfectly justified in his comments, which are always appropriate to the performance of his players. He expects excellence, and should.

    Your extrapolation of those comments is conjecture at best.

    I was at the Ottawa game–with a center ice seat–and the Hawks let the Senators take that one over, as they did in Vancouver. The teams’ own quotes confirm those lapses, and the fact they were outworked and outhit by the Sens and Nucks.

    By the way, if I understood your comments on another board correctly, why would Stan Bowman trade the very productive Andrew Ladd to get depth d-man Garnet Exelby when he can probably get Exelby for a prospect or pick? BTW Exelby–who could add toughness to the D–fits comfortably in the Hawks’ cap structure, so Bowman doesn’t have to give up a roster player.

    Looking forward to reading your forthcoming blogs.

  2. Tab Bamford says:

    My presenting a Ladd-Exelby trade scenario was purely hypothetical because he would bring some toughness to the lineup and, with Toronto now needing forwards, there could be a scenario where the Hawks could make a deal with them. Exelby was simply the name I chose to fill in the blank; frankly, we’re not looking to add Phaneuf (for Seabrook’s sake) there really isn’t anyone on their NHL roster that interests me. I appreciate the comment, as always, Dave. It could be an interesting couple weeks for the Blackhawks before the Olympics…

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