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updated: 1/7/2012 11:17 PM

Blackhawks have their share of concerns

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  • Blackhawks Jonathan Toews, right, and Patrick Sharp have reason to be concerned, but it's through no fault of their own.

      Blackhawks Jonathan Toews, right, and Patrick Sharp have reason to be concerned, but it's through no fault of their own.
    Associated Press

 

The 24-13-4 record is solid at the season's halfway point, putting the Blackhawks on pace for 104 points.

Yet this is a team with more than its share of concerns heading into the second half, starting with a commitment to playing better team defense.

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Take away the big first halves of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, and the Hawks might be one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot instead of battling for the top spot in the Western Conference.

Hossa has 42 points and Toews 41, including 22 goals. Sharp has 19 goals and 39 points. They have largely carried the team, along with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on defense.

"I think we can improve special teams; I think we can improve our four-line rotation," coach Joel Quenneville said. "On a game-to-game basis, it doesn't seem like all four lines are flying or firing very night.

"We've been good in stretches, but that's what we want to nail the second part of our season, where all four lines are consistent and predictable."

"There's a lot of room for improvement," Keith said.

And it needs to start defensively, where the Hawks have allowed a whopping 120 goals, third most in the West.

"Too many goals," Quenneville said.

It's obvious the defense isn't as deep as Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman hoped it would be, leaving Bowman to admit he is looking for help on the back end.

The need is for a top-four defenseman to take pressure off Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy, but that's easier said than done. Every contender in the league wants defense depth.

The off-season signings of free agents Steve Montador, Sean O'Donnell and Sami Lepisto were supposed to bring depth and sandpaper to the defense, but those moves haven't panned out to this point.

As for Leddy, Quenneville has leaned heavily on the 20-year-old (23 minutes a game), and his play has tailed off after an excellent start.

Defense isn't the only critical issue facing the Hawks moving to the second half.

Special teams:

The penalty-killing hasn't improved at all from last season, ranking in the bottom five for most of the year. Maybe adding another defenseman can help the cause.

The power play has been mostly maddening. There have been good stretches, but now it's in the middle of another 1-for-23 funk.

What's the problem? Inconsistent point play, for starters, which translates into not enough pucks to the net.

Patrick Kane:

He has 3 goals in the last 22 games and last week admitted his season has been going downhill. The Hawks desperately need Kane to have the puck more and rediscover his offensive game, no matter if he is at center or right wing.

Second-line center:

Another pressing need along with a top-four defenseman.

Quenneville has tried Kane here, Marcus Kruger, Brandon Pirri and most recently Andrew Shaw. Kane was OK, but he prefers to play right wing.

There's always the option of playing Sharp at No. 2 center, which might be the best solution in the end.

How about if Bowman trades for a left wing to play with Toews and Kane (someone like Edmonton's Ryan Smyth), leaving Sharp to center the second line for Hossa and Viktor Stalberg.

Goaltending:

Quenneville maintains that Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have been fine, but have they?

Crawford has struggled to find a groove after a good start, which should be worrying the Hawks with the playoffs in mind. His save percentage is hovering around .900, which is so-so for a goalie on a supposed elite team.

Emery has been a solid backup, going 9-3-2 with a .906 save percentage. Does he have what it takes to be the No. 1 guy if necessary? He might get the chance to prove it before all is said and done.

Both goalies haven't been helped by inconsistent defensive play in front of them, but there can be no arguing they need to make more big saves, especially Crawford.

Bickell and Frolik:

They are supposed to be two-thirds of the checking line with Dave Bolland, but Bickell and Frolik are in the middle of disappointing seasons.

Frolik has no points in the last 10 games and just 2 goals in his last 25. While not a lot is expected of him offensively, he's got to chip in every once in awhile.

Bickell, after his five-game benching last month, has 1 goal in 11 games and hasn't been any more physical.

As the season winds down toward the playoffs there's a chance Bickell could find himself being pushed aside for playing time by the likes of rookies Shaw, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin or Ben Smith.

Daniel Carcillo:

The Hawks still haven't disclosed the severity of Carcillo's left-knee injury. Will he be back this season? That's anyone's guess, but the team does need his energy and physical presence, provided he can stay away from the dangerous plays.

The Hawks still get to play seven of their next nine games at home before the start of their nine-game road trip later this month.

"Our best hockey is still ahead of us," Jamal Mayers said following Friday's loss to Colorado.

That remains to be seen.

tsassone@dailyherald.com

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