Have Colliton and Bowman Turned Things Around in Chicago?
The Hawks started last night's game Sloppy… with a capital "S".
There were a lot of ups-and-downs but ultimately the Hawks end with a nice 5-3 victory.
It's been 29 games since Jeremy Colliton took over. I have been watching very closely but knew to properly analyze a coaching change with the significance that this Quenneville to Colliton had, it was going to take about 30 games or so.
Well, we're almost there and I've been pleasantly surprised with some trend with this team. There's no denying that there are some gaping holes on this roster, however, I'm becoming more optimistic with the way Colliton has this team playing, as well as the moves that Stan has made since he selected a new head coach.
Let's take a quick look at the ones that have stuck so far:
* Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini acquired for Nick Schmaltz
* Carl Dahlstrom recalled from Rockford
* Jan Rutta sent to Rockford
* Colin Delia recalled from Rockford
* Drake Caggiula, Jason Garrison acquired for Brandon Manning and Robin Norell
* Jason Garrison released
* Dylan Sikura recalled, then sent back to Rockford
* Andreas Martinsen sent to Rockford
As you can tell by the way Jeremy Colliton is running this team and who he is giving ice time too, he has been getting his way, but full marks to Stan Bowman for some key moves and decisions.
Colliton believed so much in Dahlstrom, he's turned him and Connor Murphy into an efficient "shutdown" pair.
He's gotten Dylan Strome going by putting him in a spot to succeed with Anisimov and Kane.
Perlini is starting to work his way up the lineup and showing his worth.
Colin Delia isn't being thrown to the wolves, yet slowly brought along the right way. I believe when it's time (if Crawford does not return this season), Delia will be in a great position mentally and physically to take the lead as #1. Will be a bonafide starter in the NHL? That's TBD at this point, but they will be giving him a shot.
Also, a huge improvement lately is the Hawks powerplay. They have launched up to 25th (from last just a few weeks ago) with a 15.9% success rate. They had 1 PPG last night, but in your brain, chalk it up to 3 PPGs with 2 goals being scored right after the man advantage ended.
This is the best I've seen the powerplay look in years, to be honest. The personnel remains, for the most part, the same. They have added Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson but it looks like a tweak systematically, as well as an increase in confidence.
Finally, and most importantly, Colliton is playing talent and hard work over contracts. This is proof by guys like Manning, Rutta and Kunitz (nice goal last night though) either in limited roles or not with the team anymore.
In other news, Jeremy Colliton said on the weekend that is was always the plan to bring Sheldon Brookbank from Rockford to join him as an Associate Coach with the Blackhawks.
This move will see Barry Smith head back to his role of Director of Player Evaluation. This makes me feel better about Colliton's staff. Smith just didn't seem to fit but his role was clear now as he was a mere placeholder until they felt Brookbank and Rockford was ready for that to happen.
The Hawks get no rest though, as the Flames come to town tonight. They're a good hockey team and I like the way they are built for a playoff run. This if Mike Smith can regain his stellar play from the past, all while staying healthy; at this point, that doesn't appear to be highly likely.
Smith's subpar play is A-Ok with 26-year old Czech, David Rittich. He's been great this year with a 14-4-3 record, 2.37 GAA and a .921 SV%. If I'm the Flames GM, Brad Treliving, I would be cautious about riding Rittich into the playoffs, but if Smith can regain some sort of confidence himself, they might be alright.
The Hawks sit 6 points out of a playoff spot but don't get too excited. They have played more games (44) than every other team in the Western Conference with the exception of Vegas and Vancouver. Also, they have 4 teams to leap to make it into that last wild card spot.
As mentioned above, this Hawks team has shown a great deal of improvement as of late with a 6-3-1 record in their last 10. They can score goals with 128 on the season so far, which is middle of the pack in the NHL. That has been with the majority of the season running a pathetic powerplay though. So, if the PP continues to produce, Goals For should not be an issue.
On the opposite end, it's the Goals Against that has the Hawks in 30th in the league. There is no way they are making the playoffs if they can't keep the puck out.
The good news? Colin Delia and Cam Ward have been playing well as of late and look like they could stabilize the goaltending with an improved Blackhawks team in front of them. If Corey Crawford comes back, even better!
Also, the Hawks PK looked great last night and can only go up from here. New assistant coach, Sheldon Brookbank is now in charge so there could be small tweaks to system and personnel. They looked solid last night though and sit 30th in the league (no longer living in the basement) so let's see if they can keep it up.
Finally, Henri Jokiharju is returning to the lineup with his gold medal. He could play tonight or Wednesday as per Scott Powers.
Another tough matchup tonight, following by the Predators on Wednesday. Can the Hawks keep up their winning ways? Or will they fall back into the Hughes race?
See ya out there,