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Are The Blackhawks Back? 5 Quick Thoughts From The Rangers Game

We’ve seen far too few games like last night from the Blackhawks on the year, but boy did they ever put it together on National TV in Madison Square Garden last night. It was the kind of win that fills you with hope. And hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. The Hawks have been trending in the right direction here lately, but that was possibly their best game of the season and hopefully a turning point. This team is a LONGGGGGG way from being dead. If they play with that level of energy and focus then they can play with anyone in the league.

1) Not To Brag, But Hinostroza Was Great With Toews And Saad

I’ve been banging the drum for Hinostroza on the top line for the better part of a month. We finally got it last night and it was BEAUTIFUL. Speed, creativity, danger, and suffocating the Rangers when they had the puck. It was beautiful to watch. Vinnie got the Hawks on the board early with a sweet ass no look pass by Toews

And Hinostroza was there to bang it home. I don’t want to keep piling on Panik at this point because it feels mean, but the contrast of Vinnie being in the right spot and banging this one home vs the empty net gaffe in the Calgary game by Panik is a tough visual for ol’ Dick. Saad-Toews-Hinostroza did everything you want your top line to do last night. They were outstanding and this is the type of goal that can build chemistry and confidence.

Toews has been much better as of late, but last night he showed more assertiveness with the puck. He attacked and brought the puck to the middle of the ice and created chances for himself and his linemates. There was one instance in the first period where he got the puck on the half-wall, shielded the defenseman, and drove to the slot. Earlier in the year that play probably would’ve just been thrown down the wall to the corner and the Hawks wouldn’t have gotten any looks. I like this version of Toews. He’s still an elite player and he’s been showing it last night. For all the hate that he gets on the internet he is still 2nd on the team in points and on pace for 54 for the season. Obviously you want your top paid guy to be over 54 points, BUT if he plays like this with Saad and Hinostroza on his wings then he will be. And if Toews is going, then the team is going.

2) Nick Schmaltz Is A Center And He Is A Star 

This is just going to be a running segment in these blogs until further notice. I had the same section in the last blog. He’s got his FULL swagger back that he started the season with. Playing with speed, taking the puck to the net, blowing the doors off of defenders, and it led directly to a goal last night

Great passing play through the neutral zone and shoutout to Hartman for busting his ass and cross-checking Staal into the goal to finish the play. Loved it.

Everyone knew about Schmaltz’s offense when the Hawks drafted him in the first round a few years ago, and it was on full display during his time at North Dakota. What I love the most about Schmaltz this year is his defense. He creates so many turnovers with his stick and his speed. Nobody is safe out there. He takes great angles, makes great reads. He is a special player and the sky is the limit for him. A smart, fast, skilled, right-shot center…match made in heaven with Patrick Kane. He is going to be a real difference maker for the Hawks. His growth and consistency will be what makes the Blackhawks a Cup contender again or just another team. He is that important. I am betting that he takes his game to the next level.

3) Jordan Oesterle Is Good, Not To Brag

Oesterle 2

Oesterle 1

Good skater, nice brain, steady as a rock back there. His gap control is perfect and he skating allows him to run that wave style defense in the neutral zone to take away time and space pretty well. You need to be smart to play with Duncan Keith and Oesterle is proving to be that. And here is the deal with the Blackhawks…all they need is consistency and predictability from their defense. Be in the right spots and make a play to get it out of the zone because the guys waiting for the puck are Kane, Schmaltz, Toews, Saad, etc. Get those guys the puck. Kempny, while obviously more physically gifted than Oesterle(and arguably more physically gifted than any Dman on the team), doesn’t make the reads necessary on a consistent enough basis and that’s why he doesn’t play.

Oesterle gives the Hawks a reliable D-partner for Keith and he’s looked good being the QB for the 2nd PP unit as well. Stan may try to upgrade the D at the deadline, but Oesterle has earned all the ice he is getting.

4) That Patrick Sharp Goal And Celebration Made Me All Warm And Tingly

VINTAGE Patrick Sharp snipe off the rush

And then this celly…oh my

Stone face killer tugging on the logo. Felt like he was saying some form of “Commit To The Indian”. That man helped build everything this team stands for on the ice. Both he and the team haven’t lived up to their own standard so far in the 2017-18 season, but this…this is what we expect from Sharp. BIG goals in important games and the leadership.

He looked faster last night. That group had some really nice looks in transition. Fuck you if you’ve given up on Sharp this year. He’s got more in the tank and you know what…he did have surgery in the summer. It was probably going to take him some time to get it going and feel comfortable. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve to be scratched a few times, but all things considered he’s definitely a better option than Dick Panik. I hope this moment was a turning point for him too and he plays with speed and confidence in the 2nd half of the year. Balanced scoring and depth has always been a hallmark for the Blackhawks. They have their top 6 figured out(in my opinion), the 4th line has been consistent all year, and now they just need to get the 3rd line popping. If DeBrincat and Sharp are both going then they’ve got a good chance to roll four lines and be dangerous.

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I’ve liked David Kampf so far too. Smart player. Decent speed and vision. He will likely be sent down as soon as Anisimov is healthy. I know Anisimov is the better player overall, but I’m not sure he’s the better “fit” for this team if that makes sense. Like I’ve said before, it feels like Anisimov NEEDS to play with Kane to be effective, but if Schmaltz is in that center spot(and he should be) then Anisimov is kind of a man without a country. For a team without any real depth at center, it would not be prudent to trade Anisimov mid-season. I am not advocating that AT ALL. However, it’s something the Blackhawks might want to explore in the summer.

With the salary cap reportedly going to $80M next year(big jump from $75M this season), if Stan is able to remove Anisimov and Panik from the books somehow the Hawks can be players for a big ticket type player to add to defense or maybe another top 9 winger. 5M million cap increase + 2.8M(Panik) + 4.55M(Anisimov) + Hossa LTIR =

Image result for scrooge mcduck gif

The Blackhawks need to set some of that money aside for Hartman, Schmaltz, Rutta, Forsling, Hinostroza, and Hayden, but they’ll have plenty to play with next summer for the first time in a decade. The window isn’t closed, the Blackhawks just have to be creative.

5) Room For Improvement

–The PK was really good last night, but it’d be nice to stay out of the box. It seemed like the only time the Rangers controlled the play was when they were a man(or two) up. Obviously penalties are going to happen, but some of those last night were avoidable.

–Jeff Glass was good again last night. Got a tinnnnnnny bit loose in the net at times, but as the old cliche goes “he’s making all the saves he’s supposed to”. Having said that…it’d be great to get one of the best goalies in the game back in there. I’m starting to get a little bit paranoid about Crawford and his mystery injury that landed him on IR for the second time in a month or so.

–I’m a BIG believer in Gustav Forsling, but his game has taken a step back from where it was like a month ago or so. I’d like to see him back with his partner, Jan Rutta, who has been scratched for the last several games. Rutta started off great, but he hasn’t quite looked the same either since getting a concussion and landing on IR. If the Blackhawks want to make a run they need both of those guys playing their best. It wasn’t too long ago that the Forsling-Rutta pairing was getting top minutes and tough assignments. The Hawks lineup with the highest ceiling is Keith-Oesterle, Forsling-Rutta, and Murphy-Seabrook.

If you didn’t feel a little bit optimistic about the future of this team after last night then I’m going to insist that you remove yourself from the bandwagon so I don’t have to. For some reason people want to bury this team. It seems like Blackhawk fans on twitter almost enjoys them struggling because they like to complain. This team has talent and talent isn’t static. Hinostroza, DeBrincat, Hartman, Schmaltz, Forsling, Murphy, and Rutta…those are young guys who can improve. Sharp can get healthier and more confident. If you watch other teams around the league, they all have holes. That’s the nature of the salary cap era. The Blackhawks have the talent to succeed. Steve Spurrier used to say to his teams when they were in bad spots “just keep playing, just keep playing” meaning keep competing and playing with good habits and things will work out. Things are going to work out in Chicago. Yes, the Blackhawks have put themselves in a tough spot, but Winnipeg is banged up right now, St Louis is banged up, Dallas is flawed, Nashville has Forsberg on IR, and Minnesota sucks. The Hawks have a ton of home games in January. This is the movement month. LETS GO