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Blackhawks Wed Oct 27 2010

10-game report card sees mixed results for Blackhawks

No one said it would be easy. 10 games into the season of a very busy October finds the Blackhawks with a 5-4-1 record and looking to break a recent 2-game skid against the Los Angeles Kings tonight at the United Center. The Hawks have played the most games in the league so far, with those 10 games coming in the first 17 days from the Oct. 7 opener.
With the amount of turnover from last season's Stanley Cup champs, there figured to be some growing pains and adjustments, and that's just what's been happening. What follows is a rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly, 10 games in.

The good:

Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have been nearly unstoppable so far, with Sharp tied for the league lead in goals with 8 and Hossa right behind him with 7. Both players have 11 total points, but more importantly, the pair have scored in some clutch situations. Sharp had 3 straight game winning goals during Chicago's recent 4-game win streak, and Hossa's 7-game point streak in the first 7 games included 4 multi-point efforts. Sharp and Hossa combined have 15 of the team's 28 goals and a few W's can be directly attributed to the pair.

In terms of new faces, Bryan Bickell's put up decent numbers, with 2 goals and 3 assists, but starting out on Hossa's line will have that effect on players. Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille have been limited to 4th line action in many of the games so far, but both have shown great quickness and energy and the skill set to warrant more minutes than they've currently been getting. Stalberg's two goals have shown a deft scoring touch when he gets an open shot, and Skille's been all-around one of the better Hawks on the ice not named Hossa and Sharp, even if it's not reflected in the scoresheet. The more that coach Joel Quenneville can work these two into more situations, the rewards may pay off later this year.

Marty Turco has been more than capable in net, and while his GAA of 2.64 may not seem that solid, a .921 save percentage shows that Turco's been standing tall despite facing more than 34 shots a game. Meanwhile, though Corey Crawford's gone 1-2 this season, he hasn't looked out of his element in the games he's started, making any worries about goaltending irrelevant at this point of the season.

The bad:

Losing Brian Campbell for the first month was going to be a tough blow, and the defense has shown it all around. While Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been logging some major minutes - Keith is currently leading the league with an average time of 29:44 minutes per game - both have shown some questionable decision-making and poor passing in breaking out of their own zone. Whether it's a case of trying to do too much or a lack of focus, neither have been off to great starts. Also struggling more directly with the absence of Campbell is his usual linemate Niklas Hjalmarsson. Though Hjalmarsson's had some bad bounces go his way so far this season, he's also looked uncomfortable and tentative handling the puck with his random pairings leaving him to fend for himself. And while Jassen Cullimore hasn't been much of a liability yet, Hawks fans from a few years ago remember you can't expect much out of the 37-year-old. As a whole, Chicago's defense was a major strength last season, but has turned into a liability so far this year. The Hawks have been outshot in 8 of their 10 games, some of them by by wide margins, and while the offense may be flat at times, giving up 34+ shots a game is not a recipe for success the way this team is built.

Up front, Dave Bolland is struggling both on the scoresheet and in the faceoff dot. As a defensive center, winning only 41% of your draws is not going to cut it, and though he's had to adjust to a jumble of new and old linemates, his play has regressed from the tenacity and timely scoring from last postseason. And while it's hard to say Patrick Kane's struggling when he's picked up 7 points in the first 10 games, he's also a team-worst -7. Kane still carves up opposing D-men and has made some great plays, but his backcheck and effort in his own end needs to have more consistency.

The ugly
John Scott was signed to provide an element of toughness, but what he's doing playing every game, including stints at forward while Skille or Stalberg sit is beyond me. Though he's a little better suited to D, for a team that's struggling on the defensive front, starting Scott over the quicker, more adept Jordan Hendry makes little sense as well, as was seen in the home opener, where Scott's trip and fall provided the Red Wings with the game-winning goal. As someone who's supposed to be a force, he's only managed 10 hits on the season, negating one supposed strength. When Campbell returns, which may be as soon as Saturday, Scott needs to see the press box more often for the Hawks.

Overall, the onslaught of games has forced the Hawks to adjust quickly, and while the results haven't always been up to par, the team has shown the resiliency and skill to do what's been needed to win, even when things aren't clicking for most of the night. With 6 of their next 10 games at the United Center, and 7 of the 10 against teams .500 or worse, the Blackhawks have a chance to build up some momentum and focus on fixing their problem areas, and pick up some points before the annual circus trip in late November.

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