Streaky Hawks see plenty of positive signs pointing toward playoffs
When Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville looks back at the first half of the season he sees all the points his team left on the ice -- enough where the Hawks could be battling Detroit and Vancouver for the Western Conference lead.
"We lost some tough games that we'd like to have back, but they're not coming back so now it's what we do to rectify the rest of the season," Quenneville said.
With a record of 21-17-3, the Hawks are on pace for 90 points. Earlier this year Quenneville thought it might take 95 points to make the playoffs, but he has since revised that number because of the tightness of the Western Conference race.
"If you have everybody pushing 'til the end you might not need as many," Quenneville said.
The Hawks have been a streaky team, which is a more polite way to say inconsistent, with two four-game winning streaks, a three-game winning streak, and six streaks of two losses in a row or more.
"There are always signs of us being a really good team there, but it seems it's been so easy for us to fall back into our bad habits and doing things we know aren't going to win us games," captain Jonathan Toews said.
"Certainly we'd like to be doing better, but at the same time we've had some hiccups that were probably self inflicted," Quenneville said. "Our home record (12-10) is probably the biggest culprit there."
The Hawks have had to battle through injuries to key players such as Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Brian Campbell, experienced the variety of factors that accompany the Stanley Cup hangover, yet still aren't in a terrible spot in the West standings.
Missing the playoffs isn't even a possibility in the minds of most Hawks.
"I think it's crazy to think that we're the type of team that's not going to be there are the end of the year," Toews said. "That's ridiculous.
"We're going to stay optimistic. I think we'll all be pretty disappointed at the end of the year, knowing what we have in this locker room, if we can't accomplish our goal of doing that. Guys are very aware of the standings and we want to start getting out of that rat race."
Here's a rewind of the first half.
1. Patrick Sharp: A team-leading 23 goals and 13 multiple point games, he has been the most consistent offensive player over the first half.
2. Corey Crawford: He has gone 11-2-1 in his last 14 starts with the season turning for the better when he took over the No. 1 job from Marty Turco.
3. Jonathan Toews: After a slow start, the captain has raised his all-around game to an elite level.
Crawford's difference-making play, Bryan Bickell's 10 goals, Duncan Keith's early season struggles and Jassen Cullimore appearing in 35 games after starting the season in the minors.
Off the ice it was the raising of the Stanley Cup banner at the Oct. 9 home opener. On the ice it was the 7-1 rout of the Canucks in Vancouver during the successful 4-2 circus road trip.
Take your pick of home-ice losses to Edmonton (twice) and New Jersey, or the 7-2 drubbing at Calgary on Nov. 19, when the Hawks were credited with just 3 hits.
Toews' game-winner with 5:37 to play on Monday at Los Angeles, snapping a 3-3 tie and giving the Hawks a win they felt was critical.
John Scott's first bout with the Kings' Kevin Westgarth on Nov. 27 at Staples Center was brutally one-sided for Scott, who broke Westgarth's nose.
Asking for more:
Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa are on pace to score 22 and 18 goals, respectively. While injuries have slowed both, at times they haven't been the same difference makers as a year ago. After getting 7 goals in the first seven games, Hossa has just 2 in his last 19.
There's still plenty of time for them to turn it around.
The Hawks expected a bit more consistency from Viktor Stalberg, who has 6 goals in 37 games -- none in the last 18.
Of their final 41 games, the Hawks play 19 at home and 22 on the road. Getting through February and March will be critical, with 17 of 26 games away from the United Center.
The second half schedule is also tough in that there are four games against Detroit, plus dates with Vancouver, San Jose, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington.
• Follow Tim Sassone's reports on the Blackhawks via Twitter@TimSassone, and check out his blog, "Between the Circles", at dailyherald.com.
Blackhawks game dayDallas Stars at the United Center, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
TV: Comcast SportsNet Plus
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Game notes: The Hawks begin the second half of the season with a four-game homestand. Their 4-3 win at Los Angeles on Monday snapped a three-game losing streak. Dallas still leads the Pacific Division at 23-13-4 and is coming off a win at St. Louis on Saturday.
Season series: Hawks lead 1-0.
Next: Ottawa Senators at the United Center, 7:30 p.m. Friday.