Halfway House Pt. 2
I try and keep my promises, so it's time to finish up my half season review. Last time, on Saturday, I went through things that I didn't feel good about with the Hawks. Today, it's time to counter than with what i do like and an overall conclusion.
But before I break out the sunshine and rum drinks, there's one thing I didn't mention about what I think are negatives. I know, leave it to Sam to cram in one more negative in what's supposed to be the positive part (is that a sexual metaphor? I don't even know any more). And that's the third line.
CNS, as is his way, came up with some stats to prove that the third line hasn't been as bad as a lot of us think. That a lot of their stats show they're doing everything but scoring. Well, that's kind of the problem. They're supposed to be scoring, and they're not. Both Bickell and Frolik have been better and more active of late, but still aren't contributing on the scorsheet, and the Hawks need them to. Right now, the Hawks secondary scoring is Viktor Stalberg and....Viktor Stalberg. The Four Horsemen of The Hawk-acolypse can't carry them forever. Secondly, some of the numbers on Bolland, Frolik and Bickell are still ugly. While their quality of competition is certainly the highest, their Behind The Net Ratings are among the worst on the team. Bolland was a plus in this category last year, he's an abysmal -1.48 in this category now. It's not acceptable. And though Homer told us that you can use fact to prove anything that's remotely true, hockey still requires an eye test. Who has watched the third line this year on the ice and been totally happy with what they've seen.
RIght, that's out of the way, on to good stuff, yes?
Obviously, despite the droolers and muttonheads of the masses, two of whom are in the Hawks TV booth telling us that Dan Carcillo is a big reason the Hawks are where they are, the biggest reason is the play of the aforementioned Four Horsemen. While Toews has gotten some Hart attention, there's really no reason Marian Hossa shouldn't be getting just as much. In the top 10 in both points and +/-, except for a little streak here (where he's still put up points), Hossa has been a dominant force on the ice. Toews has carried the teams at times, and they'll need him to do so with Sharp out for however long he's going to be out. Speaking of Sharp, that two-way game we loved for years is back, and it hasn't come at the cost of a ruthless scoring touch. Sadly, it might not be around for a while. And even though he has to dodge trade rumors of the dumb and an ugly scoring slump, Patrick Kane is far from a problem. In fact, you'd think most fanbases would be happy with a winger who's still top 15 in assists. Sure, Kane has set the bar so high in his career we expect more, but the contention that he's been bad or anything like it is such a farce it makes me want to vomit with rage.
While we're at it, I don't like dat Derrick Rose don't score more den 27 per game. You can't win wit' guy like dat! Dey should trade him fer Tony Allen. He's Chicago tough!
Anyway, now with that done, there have been a few surprises. While I have usually been driving the Viktor Stalberg bandwagon, I didn't think I'd see quite this level. Yes, it tends to come against bums or slightly better. Yes, he can still make defensive errors that Dom Deluise should be narrating. But as I said, he constitutes the entire secondary scoring the Hawks have. On pace for 18 goals and 46 points. Who called that before the year?
Another surprise has been the kids. While Leddy remains a concern for me, that doesn't mean his first 41 games, for the most part, weren't more than fine. In fact, it's a shame he was on for the two goals against last night (it was still a fucking crosscheck but whatever I'm trying to grow up), as I thought Leddy was rebounding really well. Aggressive and creative, which is what his game needs to be.
In addition, I think Marcus Kruger has been way better than we all thought. He genuinely earned his time on the 4th line over Hero Ben Smith, and then genuinely earned his promotion to the 2nd line. He may still be light physically, but the IQ, hands, and desire are all in the right place. And getting stronger is just about the easiest thing to fix in a player's career. He's skating again, and could be back soon, and i think we all agree the Hawks need him.
While it's still early, the Hawks have gotten contributions from a couple other kids in Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes (Jimmy Hayes!!). Maybe it's only for five games apiece, maybe it'll be for longer, but how many times last year did anyone come from Rockford and actually provide something for any length of time?
Right, moving on, while we've been sticking heads in ovens and penning suicide notes to Courtney Love about the second pair, it's gone a little unnoticed that the first pair is playing better than it did at any time last year. And that's probably more important than anything.
What else? Well, Jamal Mayers has been everything we could have hoped for, albeit tempered expectations.
Conclusion: Well, it's probably silly to draw conclusions after just 42 games because a lot can happen in the next 40. But as i sit here I can't judge the Hawks as anything other than Cup contenders. There are flaws, but they're fixable. They have a top end that would be the envy of every team in the league save...maybe Vancouver? They've gotten where they are even with awful goaltending, and that will improve. The special teams have been brutal, but I don't think that will continue forever either. Remember in 2010 the PP couldn't get unfucked either until it really mattered, then it was a Doomsday Device.
Basically, all of the things that plague the Hawks are either fixable via a small trade, players not quite living up to their career norms, or units that have too much talent to wallow where they are. Simple law of averages tell you those things correct themselves.
Also, as I look over the West I don't see anyone the Hawks can't take. You've seen the Wings twice now, and even with their win last night most Wings fans would admit that's the slowest Wings team since Nevermind was released. I just don't see them coping with the Hawks over seven games or less. The Sharks? Meh. As big as they are they don't impose themselves much and that defense still has major questions.
L.A. scares me a bit, but you have to score more than twice per game, if the Kings can manage that. St. Louis would be absolute torture in a series, but without any premier scoring talent I still wonder how far they can go. I'll wonder even more when that Brian Elliot Bubble bursts.
Vancouver's still scary, but if you're tossing out Keith Ballard and Kevin Bieksa for regular shifts, you're never a guarantee.
Anyway, that's how I see it.