Ah, here we are, folks, in 2016. It’s a time to reflect on the past and make resolutions for the future (if you’re into that sort of thing).
For the Blackhawks, they finished 2015 with two victories. They were two interesting, entertaining victories, but they were victories nonetheless. They’ll enjoy a quick respite but, beginning Sunday, the Blackhawks start another busy month, in which they’ll play 14 games in 24 days.
So with this very brief respite upon us, let’s look at Five Thoughts on how the Blackhawks finished 2015 and what awaits them in 2016:
1. Jonathan Toews’ overtime goals. It’s just becoming something you expect: if the Blackhawks head to overtime, you can expect Toews to score the game winner. Toews did it again on Thursday, scoring his league-leading fourth overtime goal. He also set a single-season franchise record for overtime goals. Some may lament Toews not having more goals overall this season but ultimately, you need your captain to come through at clutchtimes. Scoring a bunch of overtime winners fits that description.
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
2. Is that third line onto something? Andrew Desjardins, Phillip Danault and Teuvo Teravainen: it may not be an on-paper combination that screams “offense,” but that’s exactly what these three have created lately. Desjardins has three goals in his last two games. Teravainen has three assists in the same two games and Danault has two assists. The Blackhawks wanted to get their supplementary scoring going and these three have gotten that third line involved in the offense.
3. Giving up the goals. There’s always another side, isn’t there? The Blackhawks’ goaltending during most of December was stellar. Corey Crawford, who had three shutouts last month, was a big part of that. But he and Scott Darling gave up eight goals combined against the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche. Darling told the Sun Times he was feeling alittle rusty – it was just his second start in December and third in a month. Perhaps Crawford was feeling the effects of a busy month. The Blackhawks’ goaltending, overall, has been good this season. There’s no reason to think it won’t return to being stingy soon.
4. The Blackhawks’ power play is good. Repeat that, folks, because it’s not something you’ve been able to say the last few years. That power play that was long futile despite the amount of talent is futile no more. It’s third overall in the NHL, converting 23.8 percent of its chances. Now it’s not as good at home (12th, 20 percent), where you could argue the Blackhawks fall into that wait-and-pass-a-lot habit more often. But it’s the league’s best on the road, recording four power-play goals in the past two games.
5. Looking back, then moving forward. The Central Division continues to be an entertaining one that, outside of Dallas, is allowing little breathing room. But the Blackhawks are keeping pace; they finished 2015 in third place with 48 points, two behind St. Louis and two ahead of Minnesota. The Stars lead with 59 points. The Blackhawks won’t head into January thinking, “we have to catch the Stars.” They’ve been here, done this before. It’s not about finishing first; it’s about getting into the playoffs and seeing what happens from there. Certainly, it’s not going to get easier. But the Blackhawks, who went through a lot of changes, two injuries – one current – and a myriad of line changes, are doing fine.