(Ed. Note: Chris Tremulis has been added to the site for the rest of the year. He describes himself as a hockey fan, common man, career healthy scratch, and the newest member of RLD Hockey.)
The defending Stanley Cup Champions should get cut a little slack (the boys took advantage of Chicago’s nightlife over the summer like only champions could!). But the season thus far, with less than 20 games left, has been inconsistent to say the least for the Blackhawks. It has left the team desperately needing to take home points on a nightly basis.
Clearly the ‘Hawks didn’t anticipate during their Stanley Cup hangover that the standings would look this tight come March. What could have been a demoralizing road trip at the beginning of February, the ‘Hawks have quickly turned it around. Jonathan Toews laid into his team in the locker room and backed up his words with his performance on the ice.
Toews led the league in February with 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists) and earned NHL’s first star of the month honors. As a captain who likes to lead by example, it has to be refreshing to the team to see Toews get as angry in the locker room as his coach does on the bench.
With their playoff chances on the ropes, along with the hospitalization of Coach Joel Quenneville, the team responded under assistant coaches Mike Haviland and Mike Kitchen. They have strung together four straight victories – all critically important wins – with netminder and Calder Trophy candidate Corey Crawford playing at the top of his game.
What worries me about Chicago is the tough stretch ahead. They have a difficult four-game roadie coming up, highlighted by tilts against Tampa Bay and Washington. Then after a quick trip back to the United Center to face San Jose, the Hawks must go back on the charter for crucial games against Dallas and Phoenix.
Chicago is no different than any other team fighting for position in the West, and these next two weeks will be a significant challenge with the most difficult schedule in the NHL. With every game being a must win situation until the end of the season, will they be able to keep pace with the rest of the conference?
Depth will be the answer to that question. While GM Stan Bowman tried to add depth for the right price like every other GM at the deadline, he was able to deal for Ottawa defenseman Chris Campoli. It is a solid addition and was desperately needed even before the season-ending injury to Jordan Hendry.
While Hendry only saw limited minutes this season with the special play of 19-year-old Nick Leddy, every healthy defenseman will need to contribute down the stretch. Campoli is expected to make an immediate impact and log big minutes. His style of play will fit well with the overall speed of the blueline and might give a little boost of energy to a thin defensive corps that has been heavily relied upon.
I think the Blackhawks will make the playoffs; they have the right leadership, experience and talent. This team will be tested more than any other in the Western Conference, which is dangerous for the team unlucky enough to draw the ‘Hawks between now and the end of the year.
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