The Chicago Blackhawks are leading the Western Conference entering play today, but not all is perfect around the Madhouse on Madison Street. Here are a few New Year’s Resolutions for the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks enter play today with a superb, Western Conference leading record of 22-9-5, but the Hawks’ could always use to make some improvements as they look to make a run at their fourth Stanley Cup Championship since the Summer of 2010 this season.
Establish an improved penalty kill
Somehow the Blackhawks’ penalty kill percentage hasn’t affected their excellent record thus far, baffling considered that the only team less successful at killing opponents penalties in the entire National Hockey League is the Buffalo Sabres. The Blackhawks 74.5 percent penalty kill percentage ranks 29th in the NHL, second to last in the league. Their penalty kill percentage is currently seven points lower than the league average of 81.62 percent.
The Blackhawks power play has been so poor that it wasn’t until just a couple of weeks ago that they crawled out of last place in the league. The penalty kill has been a problem since the first game of the season, when the Hawks began an exceptionally poor string of bad penalty kills, in which they allowed 14 goals on their first 26 times short-handed.
Since that time though the Hawks have shown solid improvement, killing off penalties at a rate of 80 percent or greater. Coach Quenneville said this a few weeks ago about the progress that the Hawks have made on the penalty kill, “It had to get better, first of all,” Joel Quenneville said. “There was no alternative. It was a ridiculous, negative stat that was impossible to sustain.”
The Blackhawks will have to continue to make significant progress moving forward if they hope to sustain their winning ways into late Spring.
Increased Offensive Production for Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews has not had a particularly great season thus far, ranking 8th on the Hawks’ in scoring through their first 36 games. Toews has recorded just 15 points this season on five goals and 10 assists, and has a Plus/Minus of just two.
“I feel like I’ve been through this before,” Toews said. “I don’t know what to tell you. I feel like I have experience at dealing with this sort of thing. I don’t know what that says about my game. I still believe I’m that offensive player. I just have to stay with it and keep working.”
Toews struggled in October, but seemed to get it going a bit more in November, finishing the month of November with three goals and four assists in 12 games, before missing nine games with a back injury. Since coming back from the back injury this month Toews has totaled three points in six games in the month of December.
Toews has been in similar offensive funks many times before, but has always come around to have a solid season, so the Captain is no stranger to what he is going through this season. “I don’t know what to tell you; I feel like I’ve got experience dealing with this sort of thing,” Toews said. “I don’t know what that says about my game. But I still believe I’m that offensive player. I’ve just got to stay with it and keep working.”
Find a Way to Re-Sign Artemi Panarin
The Blackhawks will have some difficult decisions to make this Summer when they begin to deal with their impending free-agents and salary cap dilemma. The number one concern for the Blackhawks should without a doubt, be an extension for Artemi Panarin.
The 25-year-old forward has been nothing short of dazzling since entering the NHL at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season with the Blackhawks. Panarin recorded 30 goals and 47 assists en route to winning the Calder Memorial Trophy, the honor bestowed upon the NHL’s top rookie each season.
Panarin hasn’t so much as thought about a “sophomore slump” here in his second season, amassing 36 points for the Blackhawks through their first 36 games of the season, on 15 goals and 21 assists. Panarin trails only Marian Hossa for the team lead in goals on the campaign.
The young winger will command a new deal, somewhere in the range of $6 million dollars per year, and the Blackhawks are roughly $2 million dollars below the NHL salary cap threshold, leaving Stan Bowman with more of the tough decisions that he has become so familiar with during the last seven years.
The Blackhawks don’t have many things that they need to change as we enter the 2017 calendar year considering their current first place standing in the Western Conference. Much like the Chicago Cubs 2017 offseason outlook, the Blackhawks are living by the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.