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McKnight: Assessing The Blackhawks As Christmas Break Hits

Joel Quenneville

Joel Quenneville (Photo Credit: Getty Images, By: Jim McIsaac)

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By Connor McKnight-

UNITED CENTER (CBS) We’ve hit the Christmas Break and it’s time to assess just where the Blackhawks are after 35 games.

As for the team, with the 5-1 win over the Canadiens, the record sits at 22-9-4 and their 48 points lead the league.  Further, their 3.26 goals per game average is good for fifth in the league while a 2.83 goals against average is seventeenth.

Lighting the lamp hasn’t been a problem for the Hawks this year. Keeping the puck out of the twine has been shaky at times but it hasn’t exactly been on the goaltending.

While Ray Emery certainly stepped in and solidified the position for a stretch (Emery went 5-1-0 in a stretch of 6 straight starts from Dec.2-20, Corey Crawford hasn’t looked disastrous—just in need of a little help.

Looking at the numbers on special teams might be deceiving—might be.  While the Power Play clocks in at 8th in the league with a 19.5% success rate, the Penalty Kill is brutal.  A 77.9% kill rate is good for just 27th in the league.

Granted, the Hawks had a span of 21 straight kills during their 5-game win streak, so it may be getting better.  Still it has to be an area of concern for the Joel Quenneville and staff.

Some odds and ends team-wise:  The Hawks are first in the league in win-percentage when they score first (.929).  They’re 8th when they give up the first goal (.429).  They’re also 4th best in the league on the draw (52.3) and it’s fair to wonder if Brandon Pirri—who played his first game of the year with the team Wednesday night and was 10-18 in the circle—sticks around for a while.

Individually, the Hawks have some solid seasons in the making.  It’s no secret that Jonathan Toews (20g, 17a, +13) is having a stellar, MVP-type season.  He’s tied for the league lead in goals at 20 (Steven Stamkos also has 20), his 37 total points stacks up just fine against the league leaders, too.  At this pace, his season projects to about 46 goals and 39 assists. Factor in what he does on the PK as a two-way forward and you’ve got a serious contender.

Patrick Sharp is proving over and over why Stan Bowman refused to trade him in the offseason following the Stanley Cup win and then inked him to an extension.  Sharp (18g, 18a, +17) projects out to a 42 goal, 42 assist season.  Solid numbers, to be sure, but Sharp can get seriously hot at times.  This just might be a season he can hit 50 in one of those categories.

Marian Hossa (15g, 23a, +21) is the next forward to amass something close to jaw-dropping.  His numbers project to 35 goals and 53 assists—firmly within career norms for him.

Patrick Kane has made highlight reels this year, but more so for his play-making ability than putting the puck in the net.  With just 9 goals on the year compared to 25 assists, it’s not been the greatest of starts for Kane despite his plus-11 rating.  His pace projects out to 21 goals and 77 assists but, like Sharp, Kane can collect in bucket-loads at times.

The Hawks could have six players (Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Kane, Andrew Brunette and Dave Bolland) near the 20-goal plateau—seven if Viktor Stalberg (two goals in his last two games) picks up the pace a bit.

What’s left is finding a solution for the penalty kill and for Joel Quenneville to decide whether Crawford or Emery is the best fit for the team.

He’ll have four days and a Christmas Dinner to think it over.