With the games being as jam packed as the standings, this week's White Gold (Texas Tea...sweetener) is happening a little later, but at least we've got some fun stuff to talk about this time.
The Terrifying Lows
Troy Brouwer - While it might not be fair to single Lowen-Brouw out during the winning streak, the fact of the matter is that it's happened without any offensive contributions from 22, who has been sitting on 17 goals for a bit now, and has gone entirely scoreless since February 16th against Minnesota. It could be a function of playing with Jake Dowell and Michael Frolik on a line where no one's entirely sure what their purpose is, but the reality is that the Hawks are a more dangerous team when Brouwer's a physical presence on the forecheck and going to the net causing traffic. What Brouwer provides to the Hawk forward corps is in short supply, and should the playoffs happen on West Madison, he'll need to pick up his game to where it was in January for the Hawks to succeed and for him to cash in contract-wise.
Bryan Bickell's Assertiveness - In a similar vein, Bryan Bickell's presence on the second line with Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa has gone largely unnoticed due to his propensity to fire shots from 45 feet out, last night's assist notwithstanding. Bickell's success earlier in the year fooling goalies with his quick-release of a wrist shot because the book wasn't yet out on him. He now seems content with whipping the puck netward whenever he gets a chance on the perimiter, as if he's convinced himself he's Steven Stamkos. But on a line with Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland - two far swifter skaters and deft puck handlers, Bickell needs to play to his 6'4" 225 lb frame and open up space for his linemates. But, this wouldn't be the first time that someone of that stature hasn't played to his size (at least during the regular seson) over the last couple years here.
The Dizzying Highs
Jonathan Toews, Keeper of The Elves & The Angel Crusher - There aren't really enough plaudits to throw Toews' way for his play since the all star break, which if you were counting at home has yeilded 8 goals, 15 assists (23 points for the math challenged), and the Hawks have gone 9-3-2, vaulting themselves back into the Western Conference playoff chase. If anyone can remember a more prolonged dominant stretch in all aspects of the game by a Hawks player and affecting the outcomes of games the way Toews has, I'm all ears. And while the offensive numbers may come back to earth, we know we can count on his presence along the boards, at the dot, and on the backcheck, and those are all very comforting things to remember.
- Ryan Johnson - You heard me. While Johnson only has 2 points to his name as a Blackhawk, both assists in the comeback win in St. Louis, Johnson's skating ability and proficiency in the faceoff circle (a clownish 11 for 12 last night) has enabled the Hawks to roll four lines, keeping the top 3 scoring lines fresh, but also to get contributions from the 4th line as well. Viktor Stalberg finally seems to have adjusted his game accordingly, and Tomas Kopecky, while overmatched defensively in a top 6 spot, has managed to look like his last-year, mildly-less-spastic self alongside Johnson. And while the Feather may lament that he's not Marty Reasoner, there's not a lot that can be done about that now, and Johnson is doing his job at the moment.
The Creamy Middles
Corey Crawford - Though he hasn't looked his sharpest at points in the last week or two, mainly last night and against St. Louis last week, Crow has kept the Hawks in games when he's needed to, and has backstopped every win in this streak. His stat line of 2.17 GAA and .921 save percentage are still both top 10 marks, buoyed by his blanking of the Preds. As the season enters the home stretch, Crawford's workload will be more closely monitored both by observers and the coaching staff, so look for Marty Turco to get his share of spot starts against some of the upcoming Eastern Conference opponents in the next week.