2011-2012 season preview: Chicago Blackhawks

2010-2011 record: 44-29-9, 97 points; 3rd in Central, 8th in West

Playoffs: Lost to Vancouver 4-3 in Western quarterfinals

After struggling at the start of last season and a suffering a tough first-round exit against the rival Canucks, the Blackhawks should be back among the league’s elite. They traded Troy Brouwer at the draft for a first-round pick, then went out and acquired veteran Andrew Brunette to fill a top-six role. Chicago still has great leadership with Jonathan Toews, a top-flight defensive pairing with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and the experience of a team than can go deep. If you believe the Blackhawks can rebound from last season’s Stanley Cup hangover, then you have good reason to think they might hoist the prize again in June.

Offense

Even during their post-Stanley Cup season, scoring was never a problem for the Blackhawks. They finished as one of only four teams that averaged over three goals per game — their fourth-ranked power play certainly helped. Something to watch will be the Hawks second-line center role. Patrick Sharp may be making the move back to the position that he started his career, but Patrick Kane will move from the wing and begin season in the middle. Aside from the usual suspects like Toews, Kane, and Sharp, guys like Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa are waiting in the wings to show their stuff as well. Needless to say, they’re stacked up front.

Defense

Over the course of the season, Keith admitted that things weren’t right last season. Obviously, the ‘Hawks want to get back to the Cup finals and likewise Keith will want to return to the Norris Trophy-level that he displayed in 2009-10. The team will also look to replace Brian Campbell’s offensive awareness on the back end. While Campbell was overpaid, he helped on the power play and solidified the ‘Hawks depth on the blueline (fun fact: Campbell’s plus-28 led the ‘Hawks last season). Look for Nick Leddy to fill Campbell’s skates over the course of the season.

Goalies

Corey Crawford took over the starting role midway through last season and never looked back. In 55 starts, Crawford posted a 33-18-6 record with a strong 2.30 goals against average and .917 save percentage — the numbers were good enough to put him in the discussion for the Calder Trophy. It will be important to prove that he can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump for the full season after signing a brand new 3-year deal worth $8 million. Behind Crawford, Ray Emery was brought in and should be an upgrade over Marty Turco’s performance last season.

Coaching

Widely regarded as one of the most respected coaches in the league during his tenure in St. Louis, Joel Quenneville seemed to push all of the right buttons from the moment he arrived in Chicago — eventually leading the ‘Hawks to the Cup in 2010. Last season, he couldn’t find an answer for the Stanley Cup hangover at the beginning of the season (nor could he decide on a starting goaltender). This season, he should have no problem getting the team’s attention from Day 1.

Breakout candidate

Chicago will ask Leddy to step up and play the significant minutes this season with Campbell’s exodus to Florida. Drafted in the first round by Minnesota, Leddy split time between Rockford (AHL) and the Blackhawks last season. The team will look to Leddy to perform on the power play — if he can fulfill the potential that he flashed last season, then ‘Hawks fans will forget about Campbell by Christmas.

Best-case scenario

When people talk about ‘best-case scenario’ in Chicago, they aren’t concerning themselves with the regular season. If everything falls into place this season, there’s no reason to think the ‘Hawks can’t complete to win it all. Crawford will need to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke, Keith will need to demonstrate that he can return to an elite level and the organization will need to fill Brouwer’s left wing position. If those things come to pass, Chicago will be in the conversation to win it all.

Reality

In a tough Central Division, the ‘Hawks have the talent and depth to complete for the divisional crown. They’re a team that has all the pieces and has proven they can perform at the highest level — they’ll just have to prove they’ve found the motivation that was lacking at the beginning of last season. It’s realistic to expect the Blackhawks to fight with the Red Wings to win the Central. The top spot in the division and the second or third seed in the Western Conference are certainly within the realm of possibility.

Suspension-worthy? Sharks’ Hertl ejected for boarding

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Brad Marchand isn’t the only player who delivered a questionable hit on Tuesday, as Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks is also likely to draw the attention of the Department of Player Safety.

Hertl received a game misconduct and major penalty for boarding Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

For whatever it’s worth, Hertl, 24, hasn’t been suspended in the NHL. It seems like Kulikov suffered at least some ill effects from the hit.

Some put at least a portion of blame on Kulikov for turning his back before the check.

Is the major penalty sufficient or should Hertl sit for that hit?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Should Brad Marchand be suspended for elbow on Marcus Johansson?

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Much has been made of Brad Marchand cleaning up his act, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Boston Bruins forward has totally stopped blurring the line between “physical” and “illegal” play.

Marchand was everywhere in the Bruins’ 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, and that was mostly in a good way, scoring a goal and an assist, easily leading all forwards with 20:06 time on ice.

Devils fans were unhappy when Marchand wasn’t penalized for a highly questionable elbow on forward Marcus Johansson. You can watch the infraction in the video above this post. You can also see it in GIF form below.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that the Department of Player Safety is aware of the elbow, and supplemental discipline may come:

Again, many recall other incidents with Marchand, so plenty were unhappy with the situation:

What do you think? Is a suspension appropriate in this case?

More on the Bruins:How will they cope without Charlie McAvoy?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canadiens end Avalanche winning streak at 10 games

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If asked to guess, just about any honest hockey fan would expect the Colorado Avalanche to be surrounded by rebuild talk and the Montreal Canadiens to be reeling off winning streaks in 2017-18.

Instead, the roles have been reversed; the Avs came into Tuesday with a 10-game winning streak, while Montreal is facing some serious soul-searching during a huge letdown of a season.

They flipped the script again tonight, however, as the Canadiens ended the Avs’ run at 10 games by winning 4-2. Colorado’s 10-gamer is the longest winning streak in the NHL so far this season.

The game followed the sort of script Habs management envisioned for 2017-18. Carey Price didn’t need to do a ton, amassing 20 saves. Jonathan Drouin played like the star they pictured, scoring a game-winning goal and collecting two assists. Offense came from four different goal-scorers, with Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, and Nicolas Deslauriers also chipping in.

Montreal flexed its muscles with the Avalanche closing off a back-to-back set. The Habs generated a 40-22 shots on goal advantage, and even with that much puck control, also hammered Colorado with 43 hits.

Even with this win, the Canadiens’ playoff hopes look pretty dim. Meanwhile, the Avalanche really cannot rest on their laurels even after that incredible run; despite piling up 10 consecutive wins, Colorado is just ranked fifth in the Central Division with a slim lead on the Minnesota Wild.

Considering how dour things have been for Montreal, they’ll gladly take a night like this, even if they’ve been in shorter supply than they expected.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers edge Red Wings, stay hot in 2018

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At this rate, Travis Konecny might earn the nickname “OT.”

For the second straight game, the young forward scored the OT-winner for the Philadelphia Flyers. In this case, it salvaged a 3-2 overtime win against the Red Wings in Detroit, pushing Philly’s winning streak to four games.

Red Wings fan left the building booing, as Konency just barely avoided being offside on the decisive goal. Such a finish will probably sting a little extra for Tyler Bertuzzi, who was all over the place in the third period but couldn’t seal the Red Wings’ rally.

Three of the Flyers’ four straight wins have come in overtime, so they’re gutting out some close wins lately.

It’s a sweet deal for the Flyers, as they’ll end the night in the Metropolitan Division’s third spot, even if the New York Rangers win their game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Such a rise isn’t just about this four-game winning streak.

After ending 2017 on a down note (losing three of their last four games of the year), the Flyers are now 8-2-0 in 2018. Tuesday was promising for Philly even beyond its own work, as the Carolina Hurricanes (loss to Pittsburgh) and New Jersey Devils (fell to Bruins) both fell in regulation.

Quite the turnaround for a team that once dropped 10 straight games and saw fans calling for head coach Dave Hakstol’s head, huh?

A strong second period played a big role in Philly’s win. Detroit carried a 1-0 lead into the middle frame, but the Flyers scored twice to take a lead that would ultimately get them into overtime. They generated an 18-7 shots on goal advantage in the second period and a 31-21 edge overall.

The Flyers continue to do enough of everything to win games, and such versatility might just earn them a playoff berth. For all we know, that might even end up battling for a round of home-ice advantage.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.