Blackhawks Flight Check II

Jonathan Daniel

This feature reviews which Chicago Blackhawks players have soared above the competition and which ones could use a jump-start. Call it hot or not, call it a heat check, let’s look at how the men of the four feathers are doing.

Flying High

Second straight installment where Patrick Sharp is your high flyer. The Sharpshooter has certainly had a run of it as of late; 9 goals, 5 assists, and 2 hatties in his last 10 games. Basically played lights out and earned himself a trip to Sochi with his performance. It says a ton about his game that a powerhouse like Team Canada gave him the nod. Aside from a blip against the possession hounds of Los Angeles, his Corsi For % has consistently been among the highest on the team. He's carrying the scoring for the Red Wedding Line as Toews and Hossa have been struggling to dent the twine. Sharpie just hogging all the goals.

P.S. I reached out to Captain Jean-Luc Picard for some insight into how awesome it is being named Patrick, but got no response.

Cruising Speed

Has there been a steadier player in the last month or so than Nick Leddy? The guy has a new partner every night like he's Wilt Chamberlain, and it doesn't phase him one bit. I feel like he doesn't get enough credit for this. I know it's tough on the guys only playing once or twice a week, but it's tough on Leddy too. He has to adapt and mesh with three different dudes on the third pair. That's a difficult task when you need to trust your partner because one wrong move, one bad pass, can end up in the back of the net. He isn't out there against the opponents best, his Quality of Competition is middle of the pack, but his Quality of Teammate is lowest on the team. In the last 10 games, his zone starts have been a bit more even as well. Q still shelters him a bit, but that is expected. The kid is rolling along doing his thang with whichever sidekick he gets that night.

Grounded

Brent Seabrook is not playing good hockey. Greg nailed it in his post about the Olympics.

"Seabrook wasn't a snub. He wasn't good enough to go. Period. End of story. I really hope getting left out over Dan Hamhius is a big wake up call and serves as a motivation factor for Biscuit." - Fearless Leader, Greg Boysen

This is one of those times you have to look passed the stat sheet. The numbers are there, as 8 points in his last 10 is nothing to sneer at. His pinch happy nature and sloggy feet have caught up to him lately, leading to odd man rushes and hanging his partner in crime out to dry. His gap has been suspect as he is leaving a lot of space in front of his man that he can't close. While his stretch passes have been mostly good, it's the little plays that make a difference. I remember before the game winning goal against the Blues, Seabs failed to clear his zone twice. It's happening on the already struggling penalty kill too. Those are the types of plays he needs to make. I know he can rebound, and I hope watching Canada from his couch is a swift kick in the ass.

Gaining Altitude

One of the most noticeable players in the last two weeks has been Ben Smith. He has settled in nicely alongside Kruger on the fourth line and on the kill. Randy already pointed out a lot of the critical information about Smith's growth. Only chipped in a goal and an assist in his last 10 games, but the eye test says he's doing his grunt work to a tee. I thought he played one of his best games of the season against the Islanders right after turning in a sterling defensive effort against the Kings. His play along the boards have really allowed for extended possessions for the fourth line. The last two games haven't been shining stars, but that can apply to almost anyone wearing an Indianhead. His GRITITUDE and penalty killing have been a boon to the depth. Not as feisty as Shaw was when he broke into the lineup, but Smith's contributions are noteworthy and I expect him to be a key piece to the Blackhawks second half success.

Experiencing Turbulence

Despite a surprise selection to Team Slovakia, Michal Handzus's play hasn't exactly been noteworthy. A lot is being made of him dragging Kane down due to his lack of speed. Really, there is no argument against. The stats are right there, 0 even strength goals for Kane when the two are on the ice together. Not exactly a feather in Zus' cap that Kane is playing this good in spite of him. We've been seeing a lot more of Kane with Shaw, and occasionally Kruger, as the second line point man. Q likes to mix it up during the games, and swapping out the 2C has been a hot button all year.

To be clear, I don't blame this on Handzus at all. The guy is a consummate pro and gives it his all, but the staff is not putting him in a position to succeed. He was not brought here to be a second line center. He was not a second line center with the Sharks, and he should not be centering Kane. Anyone with eyes can see that. The problem is everything is still going, eh I'll say "okay," and the staff doesn't want to rock the boat. Will this situation come to a head? Yes, it will. Maybe last night against the Rangers was the the wake up for the staff that everything is not hunky dory. For right now though, we just have to deal.

UPDATE: I wrote this last night and this is the story from the morning skate. Am I a wizard? I might be a wizard.

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