By Adam Hess
The NHL is set to take a three-day break this week to recognize the Christmas holiday, as they have done for some years now.
Every year the League takes Christmas Eve and Christmas off, and this year teams will have December 23 off as well, with action returning on Canada’s Boxing Day, December 26.
This Christmas break serves as a bit of a halfway marker for the regular season, as it’s just about three months after the season started and there are still three months remaining in the season.
As the Blackhawks near their halfway point both figuratively and literally, there are still many questions surrounding the team and their status as a real contender this season.
The Blackhawks haven’t quite looked like the dominant team that many have come to know thus far this year, though they have still played well enough to find themselves right in the thick of the playoff race near Christmas-time.
“I think our (start) has been very good,” GM Stan Bowman said on Monday. “But the area we are working on is trying to get a little more balance.”
However, a number of consistent issues and question marks exist in the Blackhawks lineup, many of which may not be so easy to solve.
First and foremost is the Blackhawks blue-line, which has been extremely lackluster for much of this season. They have struggled to drive play from the back, despite the early presence of Trevor Daley, who is known as an offensive defenseman who moves the puck well. Daley, as I wrote last week, never quite found a fit into Joel Quenneville’s system, and as such was shipped out of town for Rob Scuderi, who has been pretty much awful since coming over.
Still, more issues than that persist. Scuderi’s most consistent partner thus far has been Michal Roszival, who has been just as bad. I’m not sure what else you expect from slow, old defensemen. In addition, Brent Seabrook has struggled to control the possession game as he normally does, despite posting some incredible scoring numbers earlier in the season while Duncan Keith was injured.
Another issue that has plagued the Blackhawks early on this year has been their lack of a skilled, productive third line. For as long as Quenneville has been here, he has liked to roll three strong scoring lines, but this year he has been unable to put together a good combination of players to fill that line.
Teuvo Teravainen struggled there, and Marko Dano couldn’t quite produce and was subsequently sent back to Rockford.
Dano’s situation is another issue in and of itself. Here is a player who was very impressive and productive in a short NHL stint last year in Columbus, but has struggled to perform as well in Chicago. He has been in Rockford for most of the season, but one wonders if that’s really the best environment for him to develop in.
While the Blackhawks are certainly not in a dire situation going forward, these issues on the blue-line, third line, and what role Dano is to play in the organization this season will certainly have to be addressed in order for the Blackhawks to have hopes of repeating as Champions this year.
“We have to get in the playoffs,” Bowman said. “We don’t assume anything.
“But I think we are past that orientation stage. Now everyone knows, ‘This is where I am, and where I fit,’ and the next phase is to just keep playing well on a consistent basis.”