Jeff’s 2011-12 NHL Western Conference Spotlight Team (Must Read Info)

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Jeff’s 2011-12 NHL Western Conference Spotlight team: Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup two seasons ago and this team suffered with the Cup “hangover” affect in 2010-11. Chicago managed to make the playoffs barley with a 44-29-9 (97 points), which was good for No. 8 out West. They did lose a lot of fluky games as the puck just did not bounce their way. That trend continued in the playoffs as Vancouver ousted Chicago in the first round despite the Blackhawks outscoring them.

Chicago scored 258 goals and gave up 225 for a +33 differential in last year’s regular season. The +33 ranks seventh out of all the playoff teams last year. What Chicago needs to improve on is very clear. The Penalty kill.

Last season, the Blackhawks enjoyed a 23% Power Play efficiency but had a 79.2% Penalty Kill. The 79.2% PK ranked 2nd to last out of all the playoff teams. Only Phoenix (78.4) was worse and they didn’t go far in the playoffs either. No team has won the Stanley Cup with a below 80% Penalty Kill during the regular season.

Chicago traded Brian Campbell to free up some cap space, but this team has elite talent in their system. You know the big names on offense— Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marain Hossa, and Fernando Pisani. The defense will be better with the likes of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, who will be looking to bounce back from an off year. Chicago has 7 players on defense who are 6’2 or taller. They are all fast and can skate with the best of them. John Scott is 6’8 and getting better.

Corey Crawford and Ray Emery form a strong 1-2 punch in Goal. Crawford had a breakout year in his 4th season going 33-18 with a 2.30 GAA and .917 save percentage. He has great size (6’2) and tremendous blocking skills in net. Ray Emery is probably the best back-up in the league. His career record of 94-53-15 with a 2.67 GAA and .908 save percentage is impressive. Crawford is the man but Emery is good insurance.

Last season showed what happens when you don’t “bring it” each and every night. Every team the Blackhawks faced last season was a big game for that team trying to upset the defending Stanley Cup Champions. That won’t happen this year, only in Boston.

The Blackhawks will be more focused this season, especially on defense, The Power Play will be great and the Penalty Kill will be much improved. Chicago has a plethora of young talent that will only get better.

Jeff’s Projected 2011-12 record: 53-22-7 (115 points, 2nd seed out West)

2011-12 Western Conference Mark Your Calendar pick: Chicago Blackhawks -150* vs. Vancouver on November 6th, 2011

*projected line

The Blackhawks have this game circled and it will be played exactly one month into the season. They lost in 7 games despite outscoring Vancouver in last year’s first round playoff series. The Canucks will be playing its 4th road game in six days. Play Chicago!

by Jeff H/JH-Sportsline

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