Blackhawks

NHL Power Rankings: Second half X-factors

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NHL Power Rankings: Second half X-factors

The All-Star weekend is officially over, which means it's time to get back to business.

With less than three months remaining in the regular season, expect teams to ramp it up in an effort to make a playoff push. Get ready for more low-scoring games as teams will tighten up defensively. The rink will begin to shrink, the whistles will be swallowed, and the most grueling postseason in sports is almost around the corner.

So let's take a look at each team's X-factor heading into the back-nine of the NHL season.

Check in with CSNChicago.com for updated rankings every Monday throughout the 2015-16 campaign. Here's where we're at so far: Preseason rankings | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16

 

Rank Team
Last Week Record/Comment
1 1

35-8-4, 74 points: Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 23-year-old center has evolved into an All-Star (he replaced Alex Ovechkin in Nashville over the weekend), and has helped take away some pressure on the top line to produce on offense. He's been a big key to Washington's success.

2  

33-16-4, 70 points: Andrew Shaw. It took a while for the Blackhawks to find that left wing on the top line, and Shaw has seized that opportunity over the last two months. If he can permanently stay there, that allows the Blackhawks to play Teuvo Teravainen on the third line to distribute the scoring.

3

30-16-3, 63 points: Vincent Lecavalier. The Kings were already one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season, but Lecavalier has given them an above-average No. 3 center and some more quality depth up the middle, which is crucial in the postseason.

4
 
4

29-15-5, 63 points: Nick Bjugstad. The first line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr has done the heavy-duty lifting for the Panthers. If Bjugstad starts producing at a higher rate, that gives a young and relatively thin Panthers team another layer on offense.

5
 

27-18-4, 58 points: Vladislav Namestnikov. He didn't play a single minute in last year's Stanley Cup Final, and now finds himself centering the top line with Ondrej Palat and Steven Stamkos. He's a perfect cog for those two players, and allows the Lightning to roll four solid lines.

6  

28-16-8, 64 points: Troy Brouwer. While Jaden Schwartz, who's expected to return soon, could easily fit this category, Brouwer is the guy they acquired for T.J. Oshie and they'll be vital to the Blues' second half and postseason fate.

7  

25-16-6, 56 points: Nick Leddy. With Johnny Boychuk on injured reserve, the Islanders need somebody from the blue line to step up on both sides of the ice. Leddy stands out as the guy to help keep them in contention for the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division.

8  

24-17-7, 55 points: Carl Hagelin. Since being acquired by Pittsburgh, the line of Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have dominated puck possession numbers, controlling just over 60 percent of even-strength shot attempts when the three of them are on the ice together. Hagelin is a perfect fit for Mike Sullivan's system.

9  

25-16-8, 58 points: Mike Green. With Niklas Kronwall placed on long-term injured reserve, the Red Wings need everyone on defense to elevate their game. The door is open for Green to keep this group from dropping off defensively.

10   10 

31-14-5, 67 points: Patrick Sharp. The Stars have praised Sharp for his contributions on and off the ice ever since they acquired him. He's been through many ups and downs in Chicago, and his locker room presence will be important for a young Stars team looking to break through heading into the back half of the season.

11   11

26-18-5, 57 points: Loui Eriksson. When he's on the ice, the Bruins are controlling 54.8 percent of even-strength shot attempts, which ranks first on the team. He's not getting enough credit. If that production continues, the Bruins should claim a playoff spot.

12   12

26-18-4, 56 points: Logan Couture. The Sharks are simply a different team with Couture on the ice. The problem is, he hasn't been there much this season. If he can stay healthy, they have a legitimate chance at hanging on to the No. 2 seed in the Pacific Division and perhaps advance a round in the postseason.

13   13

22-18-7, 51 points: Ryan Kesler. The Ducks had a really solid January, and Kesler was a big part of that, scoring seven goals and four assists en route to a 7-3-1 record. When he's producing, so is everyone else.

14

 
 14

27-17-5, 59 points: Kevin Hayes. Instead of taking a step forward from his breakout rookie season, Hayes has taken a surprising step back in his sophomore year, at times being a healthy scratch. A second-half turnaround by Hayes would certainly lift the Rangers, who rank in the bottom 10 in possession numbers.

15
 
 17

23-20-8, 54 points: Jeff Skinner. The once Calder Trophy winner really struggled out of the gates, but found his groove in December and has given the Hurricanes some extra pop to their lineup. If he can continue that production, Carolina could make a real postseason push.

16   18 

24-18-8, 56 points: Pekka Rinne. The offense is starting to generate with the addition of Ryan Johansen. Now if Pekka Rinne can turn back into the Pekka Rinne we're used to seeing, the Predators should have no problem earning a playoff berth.

17   15 

23-17-9, 55 points: Thomas Vanek. Consistency is a big issue for Vanek, with his goals normally coming in spurts. But if they can get more from him, the team would benefit greatly. When he scores a goal, the Wild have a 10-2-1 record.

18   20

27-22-3, 57 points: Carl Soderberg. He's been a surprisingly nice acquisition, and has given the Avalanche a solid 1-2 punch up the middle. A repeat of his first half would be vital to Colorado's race to the playoffs.

19
 
19 

25-20-5, 55 points: Kyle Palmieri. While Cory Schneider is unquestionably New Jersey's MVP, Palmieri makes this team go on offense. Without him, the Devils wouldn't be flirting with a postseason berth.

20
 
16 

24-22-4, 52 points: Brendan Gallagher. There was a significant drop-off in offensive production when he was out of the lineup due to an injury, and they can't afford that again. To back that up, the Canadiens are controlling 57.9 percent of even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

21
 
21 

24-20-5, 53 points: Antoine Vermette. The 2-6 seeds in the Pacific Division are very much still up for grabs. Playing in late April would be pivotal for the Coyotes' rebuilding process, getting young guns like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair a taste of the playoff action, and Vermette's presence on and off the ice could help lead them there.

22   22  20-19-11, 51 points: Radim Vrbata. With just 22 points in 48 games, Vrbata is on pace to finish with his lowest point total in a full season since 2005-06. A second-half resurgence by Vrbata could make things interesting for the Canucks, who are already without captain Henrik Sedin.
23   23  23-21-6, 52 points: Mark Stone. Does last year's Calder Trophy finalist have another second-half surge in him? If he does, the Senators may too. 
24   24 

21-18-8, 50 points: Shayne Gostisbehere. What a story the 22-year-old rookie defenseman has been. He ranks first among defensemen on the Flyers with 22 points, and has only played in 29 games this season. A playoff berth may be a stretch, but Gostisbehere is the anchor of the team's defense that is still in it.

25    26

20-26-4, 44 points: Evander Kane. The Sabres are getting what they expected out of Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. They're not with Kane, yet. He needs to prove that he can become the offensive powerhouse that made him the No. 4 overall pick in 2009.

26   25 

21-24-3, 45 points: Jiri Hudler. After potting a career-high 31 goals last year, Hudler has just six in 41 games this season while mostly playing on a line with Johnny Gaudreau. A big second half by Hudler could change their position in the standings.

27   30

19-27-5, 43 points: Ryan Murray. With the Blue Jackets virtually out of the playoff picture, it's time to look at the big picture. We keep waiting on Murray's breakout season, but it hasn't happened yet. The final three months should provide a glimpse of what the future of Columbus' blue line will be in Murray and Seth Jones.

28   29 

22-24-3, 47 points: Jacob Trouba. The Jets see him as a star in the making, and with Dustin Byfuglien's status still up in the air, Trouba may get a shot to showcase that he can be the leader of the defense.

29   27 

19-26-5, 43 points: Leon Draisaitl. With Connor McDavid set to return to the lineup on Tuesday, that gives the Oilers one of the most dangerous first- and second-line centers in the league. If they can get some offensive production from both lines, a late Oilers run is certainly possible.

30   28

17-22-9, 43 points: Jonathan Bernier or James Reimer. When they're not breathing down each other's necks, that's when both goaltenders are at their best. It's about looking forward, not backward and the Maple Leafs have to decide which one is their starter for years to come.

*Advanced stats courtesy of war-on-ice.com

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.