The Holiday Road Ahead: 1/13/13-1/20/13

Jonathan Daniel

This is a weekly feature that will run throughout the season on Mondays. It will briefly recap the last week, preview the upcoming week in Chicago Blackhawks hockey and look at where they sit in terms of playoff contention. Additional snippets, notes, content, blurbs and oddments are subject to change week-to-week. If there is something you want to see included in this, lemme know and I will see what I can do.

After 48 games, the Chicago Blackhawks have a record of 30-8-10, good for 70 points and first in Conference III. In 48 games last year's lockout-shortened season, the Blackhawks had a record of 36-7-5, 77 points. I do not believe that is an indictment on this year's team so much as it is a reminder of how insanely good last year's team was. 70 points in 48 games works out to approximately 120 points in a full season so I would say that is semi-decent. Acceptable, even.

Some day I will think of a clever theme for one of these posts in order to spice things up a bit but that day has not yet come. This week's Holiday Road Ahead is bland and boring like Boston clam chowder soup. Oh, yeah, it's on, Connors.

In a week that featured two Eastern Conference teams and a Western Conference team on the slate, the only team the Blackhawks could beat was the one from the Western Conference. Go figure. Granted, the Western Conference team they beat is the second-worst team in the NHL. Anyway, the Hawks lost a tough one to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, lost a terrible game in overtime to the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday and beat the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.

The Blackhawks found themselves in a 2-0 hole 10 minutes into the first period on Saturday. A nifty Ryan Callahan pass off the boards led Brad Richards around defenseman Duncan Keith and over the Hawks' blue line. Richards put it between Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford's legs for the first goal of the game. The Rangers scored later on the power play, again on a bit of a weak goal from Crawford. The Hawks tied it up before the 12 minute mark in the second but gave up the game-winning goal after failing to clear the puck from their own end. The Hawks outshot the Rangers 37-32.

Before landing in Montreal, the Blackhawks flew through a portal to an alternate universe where they were the team on the low end of a 38-20 shot count against the Canadiens. The Blackhawks tried to be too cutesy all game and they paid for it. They failed to control many of their breakouts and were met at the blue line by Montreal defenders pretty much all game. The fact that the Blackhawks even managed a point in this game came down to the performance of Crawford, who stopped 36 of 38 shots including an absolutely phenomenal scissor-save on Canadiens forward Lars Eller while short-handed. An embarrassing performance all around was capped off in overtime when forward Patrick Kane chose not to dump the puck and instead brought it back into the zone. Defenseman Brent Seabrook turned the puck over and the proceeded to screen his own goalie on Andrei Markov's game-winning goal.

They rebounded on Sunday against a bad Edmonton team. The Blackhawks scored 6 goals en route to a 5-3 victory against the Edmonton Oilers. They outshot the Oil 41-21 which is a good ratio in my opinion (imo). The Blackhawks power play has become an absolute monster. It has evolved beyond anything the game has ever seen. In this game, the Hawks found a way to score twice on a two-minute 5v4 power play. The star power was clearly evident, as both Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa put the puck in the net during that second period man-advantage. Playing the Oilers at home was just the kind of break the team needed after a bit of a recent slump, bump, stumble or whatever conceptual noun with the letter "u" you want to use to describe their recent rut.

There are three games on this week's schedule. On Tuesday, the Colorado Avalanche return to the United Center for the first time since a 7-1 drubbing in late December. The Orange County Ducks of Anaheim, California, visit the United Center on Friday. On Sunday, the Blackhawks finish off their four-game homestand with a visit from their old friends, the Boston Bruins, whom they last hosted in game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Full Blackhawks fancy stats can be found here.




The Avs are still a talented team that can score but cannot stop you from scoring. They still hold the third Conference III playoff spot somewhat comfortably but seem to have come back down to Earth after their hot start to the season. Goaltending and scoring have kept them in games this year. That would seem to be a successful formula for winning hockey games except for when you continually get outshot and benefit from some luck. The Avs are 22nd in the league in 5v5 close Fenwick For percentage at 47.9 and have a PDO of 102.8. Their offense can and most likely will carry the team into the playoffs but sooner or later, their defensive shortcomings are going to bite them in the butt and cost them some points and possibly a playoff series.

Colorado_avalanche_2013-2014_player_usage_medium

A first pairing of former St. Louis Blues first-overall pick Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda "headlines" a group of defensemen that makes Coloradans yearn for the days of Adam Foote. Not a single one of their defensemen owns a FF percentage or CF percentage over 50. Their blue line is big but slow. The Blackhawks' speed up front was a major killer for the Avs defensemen the other night and expect it to be again. When the Blackhawks rush to the Avs blueline with speed, Colorado really does not have much on the back end to counter with.

Full fancy stats can be found here.




The Ducks are doing it again. Last year, they were a middling possession team that won a lot of games. The song remains the same for the other team in Los Angeles. They lead the NHL in points despite hovering around the 50 percent mark for 5v5 FF close. They are the luckiest team in the league in terms of PDO, at 103.5. They combine decent goaltending with a crazy 10.9 shooting percentage, highest in the league by .7 percentage points. Their blue line gets the job done. Nobody's name will stick out to you but the group is effective enough. Cam Fowler, 22, leads the Ducks in ice time and is their best d-man. He leads them in possession stats and has become their PP quarterback. 12 of his 26 points this year have come on the man-advantage.

Anaheim_ducks_2013-2014_player_usage_medium

They derive most of their scoring from the Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry line, but they have some solid depth to them as well. Shutting down Getzlaf/Perry is a big first step, but Nick Bonino (try saying Bonino to yourself a couple of times), Andrew Cogliano, Mathieu Perreault or Dustin Penner can still burn you too. Bonino has 33 points, Cogliano has 28 points, Perreault can win faceoffs and has 25 points and Dustin Penner has managed 26 points while also maintaining a pancake-heavy diet.

Watch out for flying elbows and terrible jerseys in this game.

Full fancy stats can be found here.




I do not know if you guys know this or not but the Blackhawks played these guys last year in some big contest or something. This is their first meeting since they played in that contest. The Blackhawks' roster looks very similar to the way it did last year while the Bruins' roster has a different look to it. Gone are Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton, Ryan Button, Andrew Ference, Jaromir Jagr and Rich Peverley and in come Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Jarome Iginla, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow. Some of the faces may be different, but the team remains one of the best in the Eastern Conference. They lead the Flortheast and are second only to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Eastern Conference points.

They jettisoned Seguin for many of the same reasons people in Chicago wanted Kane gone. "He's a perimeter player, he hasn't lived up to his potential, he parties too much, etc." Well Seguin has absolutely flourished in Dallas and will most likely continue to bloom over the next few years. Peverley has provided the solid depth play he had in Boston to Dallas. But Boston GM Peter Chiarelli did not get totally hosed, however. Eriksson has always been one of the more underrated players in the league, partially because he played in Dallas. He has missed several games due to injury this year, but he should be back by the time the Bruins take the United Center ice. He has played with Bergeron and Marchand in the time he has been healthy. One of the players who came over in the Seguin swap, Reilly Smith, is second on the Bruins in points with 32. Smith also has been a good possession player at a 56.2 5v5 CF percentage while playing respectable minutes. Playing with possession god Patrice Bergeron certainly helps those numbers.

Boston_bruins_2013-2014_player_usage_medium

Bergeron is a menace when it comes to shutting down opposing team's lines. Last time these teams met, Bergeron was held together by Scotch tape. That is no longer the case. He is healthy and playing the exceptional game all-around game he is known for. He leads the East in 5v5 CF percentage and is fifth in the league overall. He does this despite starting only 43.8 percent of his zone starts in the offensive end. No doubt the Red Wedding Line will see a lot of Bergeron on Sunday morning.

Their blue line got younger with the subtraction of Ference and the additional playing time Krug and the other Boston young defensemen have received. Krug has played pretty sheltered minutes to this point so do not let anyone convince you that his 23 points are enough to earn him Calder honors as the NHL's rookie of the year.

Full fancy stats can be found here.

Matchup of the week

Bruins defensemen v. Blackhawks breakoutsControlled breakouts will be key against the Bruins, as they were during the Cup Final. The Blackhawks will probably be tempted to try a few stretch passes and test the Bruins defensive speed. The Hawks have had enough trouble completing those on their own lately. They have gotten too eager to start the rush by attempting a long pass to one of the forwards at the opposing blue line to little avail. Try adding Boston's solid defensive abilities to the equation and you can imagine how difficult it could be to get anything going against them. Keeping an extra forward back near the Blackhawks' own end could could help keep passes a bit shorter and higher percentage.

Standings


Central Standings

GP W L OTL PT
Chicago 48 30 8 10 70
St. Louis 44 31 8 5 67
Colorado 45 28 12 5 61
Minnesota 48 25 18 5 55
Dallas 45 20 18 7 47
Nashville 47 19 21 7 45
Winnipeg 47 19 23 5 43

(updated 1.13.2014 at 8:40 AM CST)



Western Standings

GP W-L-OT Pts
Anaheim Ducks 48 35-8-5 75
Chicago Blackhawks 48 30-8-10 70
St. Louis Blues 44 31-8-5 67
San Jose Sharks 46 28-12-6 62
Colorado Avalanche 45 28-12-5 61
Los Angeles Kings 46 27-14-5 59
Vancouver Canucks 46 24-13-9 57
Minnesota Wild 48 25-18-5 55
Phoenix Coyotes 44 21-14-9 51
Dallas Stars 45 20-18-7 47
Nashville Predators 47 19-21-7 45
Winnipeg Jets 47 19-23-5 43
Calgary Flames 45 15-24-6 36
Edmonton Oilers 48 15-28-5 35


Did you know that the St. Louis Blues are going to have games in hand on the Blackhawks until 2015? They are going to play a 78 game season, simply so that they could hang that over Chicago's head for the entire season. And when they get to the playoffs, the Blues are going to have four games in hand over whoever they happen to be playing in the 11-game series.

The Ducks have been riding an extra hot streak of late, thanks to their dominant 21-game point streak at home. They have widened the gap between them and the Blackhawks while the Hawks have mired in a bit of a slump. Not a big deal to this point.

#Cool thing of the week

Do you want to see Shaq drive the Zamboni at a Devils game, and then drop the ceremonial puck while wearing an Alexei Ponikarovsky jersey? Of course you do.

Nebraska "fun" fact of the week

The name "Nebraska" is derived from an Oto Native American word meaning "flat water."

A milestone along the road

As of publication, this video is only 276 views away from 10,000.


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