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Blackhawks Wed Apr 02 2014
After Brooks Orpik's questionable, but legal hit on Jonathan Toews in Pittsburgh, Blackhawks fans were faced with a reality they posed at the beginning of the season: If the team remains healthy, they should be able to repeat as champs.
As Toews skated off on his own nearly halfway through the second period, he was added along with Patrick Kane on the team's list of injuries. And while his upper-body injury doesn't appear to be serious, at least according to head coach Joel Quenneville, the crushing blow by Orpik sent a fan base into a state of panic, counting how many games remained on the regular-season schedule.
Since the NHL returned to playing games in North America after the Sochi Olympics, the Hawks are 7-8-1, including losing their last three to the Bruins, Senators and the aforementioned Penguins. And the thing is, none of those games were close on the score sheet, with the Hawks being outscored by a combined 12-4, while at the same time, out-shooting the three opponents by a combined 103 to 79 (the Penguins outshot the Hawks in Pittsburgh, 27-26).
So, losing games while ou-tshooting opponents, and now the loss of Toews along with Kane? It does seem dark and lonely, especially with baseball season upon us, but anything can happen in the post-season.
In 2010, the Hawks closed out March 3-6-1 before closing out their last six games in April by going 4-1-1. Granted, two of their top players weren't injured, but the constant was they still put more shots on goal than their opponent. Put the puck on net and good things are likely to happen, even if the puck doesn't find the back of the net each and every time.
According to SportingCharts.com, the Hawks have a team shooting percentage of .096 percent and are putting the puck on net 467 more times than their opponents are at Corey Crawford (2,529 shot to 2,062 shots). The team sports a 2.53 goals-against average, while scoring an average of 3.20 per.
So the numbers are there, which indicate this team should have a better record in the standings at this point -- but they don't. It's due to when the goals are being scored against that attribute to most of the losses.
The Hawks either beat a team 5-1 or lose a lead late and suffer a 4-3 loss. There's no question this team has the firepower it needs to get through at least the divisional rounds of the playoffs, even with an ailing Toews and Kane, but maintaining a lead while continuing to attach insurance goals seems to fade in the third period of most games.
Yes, both fire a pile of shots for this team, and have the shooting percentages to back it up (12.8 percent for Kane and 14.5 for Toews). But the likes of Patrick Sharp (294 shots on goal -- 10.5 percent) and Marian Hossa (221 shots on goal -- 12.2 percent) will need to continue to add to the shot chart. This also provides a chance for Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Kris Versteeg to step it up and provide even more scoring chances.
Odds are Toews and Kane are back for the playoffs. With six games remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Hawks are jockeying for position with the Avalanche. At this point, a first-round match against Patrick Roy's crew is inevitable, and you can bet he'll have his team raring to go against the defending champs.
Now is the time for others to step up and continue to put the puck on net. Eventually, it will go through to light up the horn. Closing out these last six games with at least a .500 record will help, especially with two all-world skaters waiting to come back.