Blackhawks Weekly: Halfway There With a Ways to Go

Not only is it the end of another exciting week of hockey for the Chicago Blackhawks, but a 4-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday marked their 41st game — they are now officially halfway through their 2017-18 campaign. It was a nice way to finish off the week, as they also beat the New York Rangers 5-2 last Wednesday, but lost a heartbreaker to the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday, 5-4.

The good news is the Hawks are playing well and scoring goals. They managed four out of a possible six points even without the services of star goaltender Corey Crawford and center Artem Anisimov (both out with injury). Let’s get to the weekly updates.

Winner of the Week: Vinnie Hinostroza

Hinostroza has played on the first line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews for three games in a row now, and boy has he made his time count! Against the Rangers, he scored the first goal of the game. He had a three-point night on Friday against the Golden Knights, contributing a goal and two assists. He added another assist on Sunday, giving him five points in the last three games. He now boasts a five-game point streak (two goals and five assists).

Hinostroza’s speed and energy is just what the doctor ordered to give the top line the boost it desperately needed. Since he joined them, Toews has recorded two goals and three assists, and Saad has added a goal and three helpers. The combination of these three makes for a dangerous line, as a first line should be. It will be fun to see what they can do moving forward.

Loser of the Week: John Hayden

Poor Hayden had a particularly bad outing against the Golden Knights on Friday. He finished a -1 plus/minus, and was on the ice for a team low 6:07 minutes. Even getting in a fight failed to produce any kind of a spark for the winger. As a result, Hayden was a healthy scratch on Sunday against the Oilers.

John Hayden Blackhawks
John Hayden is striving to be effective with the Hawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He’s been struggling to make an impact on the fourth line. Linemates Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma have been more successful at finding ways to shut down the opponent and be hard to play against. Unfortunately for the team, Richard Panik didn’t offer much in relief of Hayden either. Hayden arguably has the most skill on a line that has been very consistent most of the season, and it would behoove him to figure out a way to create some offense. Perhaps sitting out will be the motivation he needs.

What Went Right for the Blackhawks: Rolling Offensively

Yep, the Blackhawks are scoring goals again. In the last three games, they scored 13 times. In the three games before that, they only managed eight tallies. Much of this has to do with the first line rounding into shape, as discussed in the above section.

The Saad-Toews-Hinostroza line is accountable for six of those 13 goals. The second line of Ryan Hartman-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane contributed three goals, although surprisingly Kane came away with zero points in the last two games. Patrick Sharp (two goals) and Alex DeBrincat (one goal) added scoring for the third line, and defenseman Jordan Oesterle scored an unassisted rocket Sunday night against Edmonton.

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Jordan Oesterle
Jordan Oesterle is a bright spot on the Blackhawks’ blue line. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The Hawks are also doing quite well at the dot, winning 53, 55 and 61 percent of their faceoffs in the last three games, respectively. As usual, Toews is taking and winning the majority of the draws. But he’s not alone. Here is a breakdown of the faceoff percentages for the four main centers.

Toews won 38 of 55 faceoffs, for 69%

Schmaltz won 19 of 47 faceoffs, for 40%

David Kampf won 19 of 34 faceoffs for 56%

Wingels won 15 of 24 faceoffs for 62%

As you can see, everyone is well over 50 percent, except for Schmaltz. Considering the injured Anisimov has a 47.1 faceoff percentage for the season, it would make sense to put him back at center when he returns. Schmaltz might be more effective on the wing.

What Went Wrong for the Blackhawks: Defensive Breakdowns

The Hawks continue to be very inconsistent on defense. Last week, Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta were the losers of the week. This week, they both drew back into the lineup at different points — Forsling for the last three games, and Rutta for the last game. Michal Kempny also played in the last game, after sitting out the two games before that. Cody Franson and Connor Murphy were the scratches for Sunday’s tilt against the Oilers.

Connor Murphy Blackhawks
Connor Murphy’s mistake recently earned him a healthy scratch. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It appears Murphy was scratched for his horrible decision to pinch late in the Vegas game on Friday night, which led to the Golden Knights’ game-winning goal. Why Franson was scratched? Who knows. Presumably to give ice time to the others. And then there’s Brent Seabrook, who many think should be scratched. But he never is.

The problem is that everyone is playing just well enough to continue getting chances, but no one is stepping up and proving they should stay. The worst defensive effort recently was against the speedy Golden Knights. Coach Quenneville discusses his frustrations in the tweet below.

Food for Thought

Here are some other interesting stats coming out of this 15th week of the season for the Hawks.

  • Goaltender Anton Forsberg drew back into the lineup Sunday after Jeff Glass started four games in a row. He earned his second win of the season with 32 saves and a .970 save percentage. The Glass experiment appears to be over, as he’s had trouble with rebound control.
  • Sharp, who has struggled to score this season, tallied two goals in the last three games. He now has five goals on the season.
  • The Hawks have gone zero-for-six on the power play in the last three games. They’ve killed off eight of nine penalties.
  • DeBrincat recorded his 14th goal Sunday night, which is second on the team behind Kane.
  • Schmaltz has scored goals in the last three games.
  • Duncan Keith hasn’t produced a single goal in this first half of the season.

Related – Hawks Win: A Day in the Life of a Hockey Fan

Wrapping It Up

A record of 20-15-6, for 46 points still has the Blackhawks outside of a wildcard spot and in last place in their division. Let’s face it; the Central Division is good this year. Across the entire NHL, the Hawks are currently in 19th place.

Next week will be a good indicator of whether the Hawks are truly trending upwards, with four games on the docket. They face the Ottawa Senators Tuesday, the Minnesota Wild Wednesday, the Winnipeg Jets Friday, and the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. Ah, two division rivals! Buckle up everyone. One thing is for certain; the second half of the season needs to be better than the first.