The Chicago Blackhawks received at least a point in 11 of the 13 games played in December and finished off the 2011 year ranked #1 in the Western Conference. Well, it took them a while to earn their first win in the year 2012.
They started out the month of January at home falling to the Edmonton Oilers….but that was far from their biggest loss of the day. During the second period of that game, Blackhawks forward Dan Carcillo and Oilers defenseman Tom Gilbert were racing for a puck deep in the Oilers zone. Carcillo beat Gilbert to the play by a step and then launched him into the boards resulting in a major boarding penalty and a game misconduct. Gilbert left the game with a lower-body injury, and Carcillo was helped off the ice heavily favoring his left leg. The MRI later revealed that Carcillo had torn his ACL ending his season.
And then, the Blackhawks recalled Andrew Shaw. Bad luck turns into good fortune?
Shaw surprised lots of people bringing some much needed energy to the lineup and instantly became a fan favorite in Chicago. He scored 5 goals and added 2 assists in 12 games during the month of January, including a game-winner against San Jose.
But the Blackhawks were still struggling to pull out a win dropping a season-high 4 straight games to Edmonton, Philadelphia, Colorado, Detroit, and saw themselves slip to 5th in the Western Conference after riding the #1 seed throughout most of December.
In that fourth loss against Detroit in overtime, Patrick Sharp injured his left wrist/hand after scoring the first goal of the game in the opening period and didn’t return after that. His injury kept him out of the lineup for the next 3 weeks, but another young gun stepped up in his absence. Jimmy Hayes, who was recalled in the final game of December, registered 4 goals and 3 assists in the month of January and created mismatches for opponents with his size.
The Blackhawks finally returned to their winning ways earning a victory in 5 of their next 6 games and stealing a point in the other, but finished off the month on a 3-game losing streak.
Inconsistency has been their biggest issue throughout this entire year, especially defensively, and January was a perfect example on what exactly the Blackhawks need to patch up. Corey Crawford has noticeably looked frustrated as of late, something he usually doesn’t show when he’s on the ice. The defense needs to tighten up around him as he has been left out to dry far too many times.
Here’s a statistic that is worrisome: the Blackhawks are 28-2-3 when they score 3 or more goals in a game, but just 1-13-4 when they score 2 goals or less. What does that tell you? They rely so much on goal scoring and when the offensive production isn’t there on some nights, the defense isn’t good enough to shut the door in a close, low-scoring game. That won’t cut it come playoff time.
Stan Bowman traded for Brendan Morrison during the NHL All-Star weekend which helped address their need for at the center position, but Stan will almost surely go out and grab a defenseman before the trade deadline on February 27 because of that statistic above.
The Blackhawks face a huge challenge in the month of February as they play 10 of 14 games on the road, including an 8-game road trip to start. With the Central Division being as tight as it is, there is extremely minimal room for error.