CHICAGO (AP) – It was fairly a primary impression. The Chicago Blackhawks started their season with a dominant 10-1 victory over two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, wanting very very similar to a contender to unseat the Penguins atop the NHL.
It has been extra mess than masterpiece since that spectacular opening night time in October.
Chicago begins the second half of the season wanting up at the remainder of the loaded Central Division, the place each group has a minimum of 20 wins and 46 factors. Goaltender Corey Crawford and key heart Artem Anisimov are on injured reserve, and so they do not seem like coming again anytime quickly. Coach Joel Quenneville has tried a number of completely different traces and defensive pairings, however stays searching for the consistency virtually taken with no consideration throughout his lengthy tenure with the Blackhawks.
“We all know our division, our convention is hard,” Quenneville mentioned. “We’re in a horrible spot, a spot we have not been in in a very long time. We acquired to do it ourselves and discover a strategy to climb out of it and work our means by means of it.”
Chicago has made the playoffs yearly since Quenneville took over 4 video games into the 2008-09 season. The Blackhawks received all of it in 2010, 2013 and 2015, however misplaced within the first spherical of the postseason in every of the final two years, together with an embarrassing sweep by Nashville final April.
If Quenneville and firm cannot get again on observe within the closing a part of the season, the group might be headed for wholesale modifications.
“We have had some video games the place we wish to be after which some nights the place we’re means off,” heart Nick Schmaltz mentioned after Sunday’s Four-1 victory over Edmonton. “If we will discover that consistency the place we convey the identical effort each night time – a full 60 minutes is large. Tonight was an amazing displaying of that. Hopefully we will construct off that and proceed to place collectively a robust efficiency.”
The return of Crawford and Anisimov may present a giant raise. Crawford (2.27 goals-against common, .929 save proportion) was engaged on maybe his finest season when he was positioned on IR on Dec. 27. Anisimov, who has 13 objectives, was positioned on the injured record two days later.
Crawford and Anisimov are out with upper-body accidents, and Quenneville has supplied scant particulars on what’s bothering every participant or after they may return. He has indicated Anisimov is nearer to coming again than Crawford, and every participant ought to be capable of return this season.
“Over the course of seasons, we have had some years comparatively injury-free,” Quenneville mentioned. “This 12 months was wanting fairly clear for some time, however they will occur.”
Whereas the accidents and standings are trigger for concern for the Blackhawks, there have been some constructive indicators not too long ago. Vinnie Hinostroza has three objectives and 5 assists in 11 video games since he was promoted from the minors final month, including a speedy presence to Chicago’s high line alongside Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. Younger defenseman Jordan Oesterle has three objectives in his final 5 video games.
Chicago (20-15-6) additionally ought to be capable of tackle some cash on the NHL commerce deadline on Feb. 26. Marian Hossa has been on long-term injured reserve all season, creating some useful salary-cap area for the Blackhawks as they attempt to chase down a playoff spot of their crowded division with simply 11 factors separating Chicago and Central-leading Winnipeg.
“The opposite day we have been plus-five and now we’re plus-five and now we’re nonetheless chasing it,” Quenneville mentioned after the win over the Oilers. “We acquired some work to do. Clearly you are going to should have a great sturdy second half to get in.”
Jay Cohen might be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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