Monday, December 11, 2006

Blackhawks not so black and blue

In just a couple weeks the Chicago Blackhawks have seen their fortunes turn for the better. Under new head coach Denis Savard the team has gone 4-0-3, managing atleast a point in all seven contests to bring their record to 11-12-5, moving them back into the picture in the Western Conference.

In an Original Six city, the state of affairs is truly disappointing for the few Blackhawks fans that make it out to the United Center. The NHL club frequently gets outdrawn in attendance by the AHL Chicago Wolves, often drawing less than 10,000 fans. But at this point the NHL club has nowhere to go but up and maybe that will inspire the fans in one of the most traditional hockey markets to come back.

Getting Martin Havlat back from injury is huge. The Blackhawks winger has three goals and two assists in his two games since returning from an ankle injury. He has 18 points in nine games, for an average of two points per game. He's only 25, and minus some injury troubles he's encountered in his career in Ottawa and just recently in Chicago, he has the potential to be one of the league's most explosive scorers. His individual talent alone has made highlight reels many times this season all while only playing in nine games.

In signing Peter Bondra, who is just two goals shy of 500 for his career, the Blackhawks will pick up some scoring and veteran leadership that will help deal with the loss of Michal Handzus, who tore his ACL and is out for the season.

Another factor to look at is the man between the pipes in Nikolai Khabibulin. The Russian goaltender maxed out on a huge contract after winning the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the pre-lockout season of 2003-2004, and played terribly on a Chicago team that was just as terrible last season. But now the 33-year-old has turned things around. After returning from a broken finger Khabibulin has put up solid numbers and currently stands at 9-4-2 on the season with a goals against average of 2.53 and a save percentage of .919%, similar to the numbers he put up in his more successful years with Tampa Bay and Phoenix. But for a guy who's never won more than 32 games in a season, the Blackhawks are depending heavily on him to live up to his contract and most importantly, stay injury-free.

Things looked so good at the start. With Marty Havlat healthy and Khabibulin in net, they looked to contend.

Both got hurt.

All looked lost, but now they are healthy and I think the 'hawks will be a big part of the playoff race.
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