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Blackhawks’ midseason report: Room to grow, crow

Marian Hoss(81) Jonathan Toews have been Blackhawks’ most valuable players. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Marian Hossa (81) and Jonathan Toews have been the Blackhawks’ most valuable players. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Tonight

Red Wings
at Blackhawks

The facts: 6:30, NBCSP, 720-AM.

Updated: February 10, 2012 8:44AM



Game 42 of the Blackhawks’ season is Sunday against the rival Detroit Red Wings. There’s no better way for the Hawks to begin the second half.

Despite earning 52 points in the first 41 games, the Hawks failed to separate themselves from the pack when they had a chance. They should be in a dogfight for the Central Division title with the Red Wings the rest of the season.

“There’s been some good games and some tough games, but overall we’re in the thick of things,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “I still think we’ve done some good things, but we know there’s a lot of room for ­improvement and a lot of areas to get better at.”

With that said, here’s the team’s midseason report: Give them the Hart

I’m going to take the easy way out and say that Marian Hossa (17 goals, 42 points, plus-20) and Jonathan Toews (22 goals, 41 points, plus-14) deserve to be the Hawks’ first-half MVPs. They also deserve serious consideration for the NHL’s Selke Trophy (best defensive forward).

Disappearing act

The Hawks can say all they want about judging Michael Frolik by his defense. But more was expected than five goals — including two empty-netters — 10 points and a minus-8 rating when they signed him to a three-year, $7 million deal. He remains an upgrade over Jack Skille, whom the Hawks traded for him, but he needs to produce. He even has had chances on the top two lines.

Worst defeats

The Oilers’ 9-2 drubbing of the Hawks on the circus trip is a low point. But their poor response to that defeat in their next meeting at the United Center was worse. The Hawks looked nothing like a team with Stanley Cup aspirations or even an angry team in the 4-3 loss Jan. 2. They went 0-for-5 on the power play and saw Daniel Carcillo’s illegal hit on Tom Gilbert change the momentum. As coach Joel Quenneville said, “it was a game we had to win.”

Best victory

The Hawks’ late onslaught in a 6-5 victory against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 25 was an early turning point. They went 8-1-1 in their next 10 games.

Biggest first-half concerns

The Hawks’ goals-against average and penalty-kill rankings are awful. The Hawks are allowing 2.85 goals per game and have a 78.5 penalty-kill percentage. At one point, the case could be made that it was just a few games that skewed those numbers. But not even a brilliant run in December, when the Hawks went 10-2-1, could change them. Both must improve in the second half for the team to stay among the elite in the West.

Biggest non-story

The goalie controversy. Everybody loves one, but there never was one for the Hawks. Quenneville rode Ray Emery’s hot hand for six consecutive games, then returned to Corey Crawford, who had extra work in practice. In the preseason, Quenneville said Crawford would get 50-55 starts, and he’s still on pace for that. But if Crawford slumps again and Emery succeeds, Quenneville will be left with no choice but to stick with Emery as he readies his team for the playoffs.

A surprise showing

It wasn’t a surprise that rookie center Marcus Kruger got a chance on the second line. It was a surprise that he did well enough to stay there for an extended period, and he probably still would be there if not for his concussion. The points weren’t coming, but he was doing all the right things that led to points for Patrick Sharp and Hossa. Kruger is reliable defensively, and his offensive skills, which general manager Stan Bowman always said he had, were starting to show up.

Defensive depth?

The third defensive pairing has been in flux all season, and second-year defenseman Nick Leddy has had growing pains. Steve Montador is the fifth defenseman, but his partner always changes among Sean O’Donnell (26 games), John Scott (20 games) and Sami Lepisto (11 games). The Hawks even gave rookie Dylan Olsen a shot in two games before sending him down Saturday when Montador was activated from injured reserve. Leddy had a solid start with two goals and 13 assists in the first 21 games. But in the last 20, he has only four assists.

Moves are inevitable

Bowman is searching for defensive help in the trade market and is willing to part with picks and prospects. He also is looking for the best forward available, preferably a center. Even if Carcillo and Kruger were healthy, a more seasoned upgrade was being sought. Bowman has done a great job creating a top team with significant cap space — almost $5 million.



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