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

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks on wrong side of history 

Earlier this year the Blackhawks made history by appearing in five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB history has ever done.

But Sunday they found themselves on the wrong side of it after allowing 33 shots on goal in the second period alone. It tied a franchise high for most given up in a single period — March 4, 1941 vs. Boston — and is the most an NHL team has allowed since 1997-98 when shots by period became an official stat.

"It's pretty rare to be seeing that much work in a period," said Cam Ward, who had a season-high 49 saves. "But oh man, I don't even know what to say to be honest. It's tough. We know that we need to be better especially in our home building, too. And play with some pride and passion. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was lacking at times tonight. The old cliche you lose as a team and overall as a team we weren't good enough tonight."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was a tough, tough period in all aspects. I don’t think we touched the puck at all and that was the part that was disturbing, against a good hockey team."

2. Alexandre Fortin is on the board

After thinking he scored his first career NHL goal in Columbus only to realize his shot went off Marcus Kruger's shin-pad, Fortin made up for it one night later and knows there wasn't any question about this one.

The 21-year-old undrafted forward, playing in his his fifth career game, sprung loose for a breakaway early in the first period and received a terrific stretch pass by Jan Rutta from his own goal line to Fortin, who slid it underneath Louis Domingue for his first in the big leagues. It's his second straight game appearing on the scoresheet after recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"It's fun," Fortin said. "I think it would be a little bit more fun to get your first goal [while getting] two points for your team, but I think we ... just have to [turn the page to the] next chapter and just play and be ready for next game."

3. Brandon Saad's most noticeable game?

There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Saad was certainly one of them. He had arguably his best game of the season, recording seven shot attempts (three on goal) with two of them hitting the post (one while the Blackhawks were shorthanded).

He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and five against at 5-on-5, which was by far the best on his team.

"He started OK and got way better," Quenneville said of Saad. "Had the puck way more, took it to the net a couple of times, shorthanded."

4. Special teams still a work in progress

The Blackhawks entered Sunday with the 29th-ranked power play and 25th-ranked penalty kill, and are still working to get out from the bottom of the league in both departments. In an effort to change up their fortunes with the man advantage, the Blackhawks split up their two units for more balance.

They had four power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and cashed in on one of them, but it didn't matter as it was too little, too late in the third period — although they did become the first team to score a power-play goal against the Lightning this season (29 chances).

"Whether we're looking for balance or we're just looking for one to get hot, I think our power play has been ordinary so far," Quenneville said before the game. "We need it to be more of a threat."

Four more minor penalties were committed by the Blackhawks, giving them eight in the past two games. That's one way they can shore up the penalty kill, by cutting back on taking them.

Blackhawks tie franchise record for shots on goal allowed in one period

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks tie franchise record for shots on goal allowed in one period

Well, things could be going better for the Blackhawks during Sunday's game against the Lightning.

In the second period Sunday, the Blackhawks surrendered 33 shots on goal, tying a franchise record for most in a single period. The previous instance occurred March 4, 1941 against the Boston Bruins, a game that the Blackhawks lost 3-2.

While the Blackhawks tied a franchise record for shots on goal allowed, they actually set an NHL record at the same time. The NHL did not begin recording shots on goal as an "official" statistic until the 1997-98 season.

Consequentially, Sunday's 33 shots on goal allowed in the second period is the "official" record, even though the Blackhawks accomplished the "feat" nearly 80 years ago. Confusing, huh? 

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they also surrendered three goals and scored zero in addition to the plethora of shots on goal allowed. They recorded just six shots on goal in the second period themselves, trailing 4-1 by the time the third period started.