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Hawks: Leaky defense has allowed 189 goals in 51 games.

Before this season began, I laid out five areas the Blackhawks needed to improve upon in order to have any chance of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

With the All-Star break and bye week upon us, it's time to hand out the grades.

And as you might guess, most of the last-place Hawks (18-24-9) haven't earned many bragging rights.

The envelopes, please:

1. Improved goalie play

After Corey Crawford was lost Dec. 27, 2017, the Hawks' postseason chances took a serious nose-dive with the inconsistent, inexperienced trio of Anton Forsberg, J-F Berube and Jeff Glass in net.

The 2018-19 Hawks desperately needed Crawford to stay healthy and play like the Crawford of old. Neither happened, and with veteran Cam Ward posting the worst save percentage (. 888) and goals-against average (3.87) in the league, it's safe to say the sport's most important position has been mostly a wild disappointment.

The emergence of Collin Delia (4-2-3, .923, 3.00) obviously gives the team some hope, but it's almost definitely too little, too late.

Grades: D for Crawford/Ward; B for Delia

2. Killer Kane

Good season, title season or bad season, Patrick Kane always seems to find a way to produce. And incredibly -- despite the Hawks possibly headed for the worst record in the league -- Kane is on pace to better his 106-point MVP campaign from three years ago.

Kane has 19 multipoint games, eight of which were 3 points or more. He just completed a career-best five-game multipoint streak. He could score 50 goals for the first time in his career.

And he's once again doing it with a revolving door of wingers on the left side.

Kane remains Kane and for his sake, it's a shame such a season is going to waste.

Grade: A+

3. Bounce backs

Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad

and Duncan Keith all struggled last season and needed to rebound.

So how have they done?

Toews has been fantastic. He has 22 goals and 26 assists, and although he wasn't great during the Hawks' two eight-game losing streaks, the captain definitely deserves an A.

Saad has bounced back after a truly dismal season, but is he consistently playing like a $6 million player? Most would say no. Players of his caliber can't go through a 17-game stretch and score just twice. He gets a B-.

Keith, meanwhile, continues to get beat by faster, younger forwards and he's done next to nothing offensively. He gets a D.

It's a tough grade to dole out, but this trio hasn't played well enough to put the Hawks in a good spot on many nights.

Overall grade: C+

4. Team defense

The Hawks have allowed 189 goals in 51 games. That's neck-and-neck with Ottawa for the worst total in the league. Worse yet, there's nobody really close in the Western Conference as the Hawks have allowed 25 more goals than San Jose, 27 more than Edmonton, 28 more Colorado and 30 more than Vancouver.

And those are the next four worst teams.

A month ago things seemed to be getting better, but since the calendar flipped to 2019, the Hawks have allowed 41 goals in 10 games.

Until this area gets fixed, the Hawks will continue booking time in the Central Division cellar.

Grade: F

5. Special teams

First things, first: Even with a decent stretch in which the Hawks have allowed just 9 power-play opportunities over the last five games, the penalty kill still ranks dead last with just a 74.1-percent success rate.

As for the power play, it's nearly impossible to grade thanks to the unit's sizzling performance over the last 16 games. The Hawks would obviously get an F for going 12-for-105 to start the season, but deserve an A+ for going a league-best 19-for-48 since Dec. 18.

Last season, the Hawks ranked 28th on the power play and 20th on the PK. Had the power play been even marginally more effective over the first 35 games, the complexion of the entire season might be different. But it wasn't.

Grade: C-

6. Bonus category

GM Stan Bowman

Bowman's overall grade should probably be a C. He gets a D for the off-season and a B+ for his in-season moves.

In the off-season, Bowman added three players -- Chris Kunitz, Brandon Manning and Cam Ward -- who have done next nothing to improve the Hawks. He also fired Joel Quenneville after 15 games, incredibly odd timing for a coach who has won three Stanley Cups. Fire him before the season or after half the season. The only thing saving Bowman from an F was his ability to move Marian Hossa's contract.

During the season, Bowman pulled off three moves that seem to be working out well:

* Acquiring Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini for Nick Schmaltz.

* Acquiring Drake Caggiula for Manning and Robin Norrell.

* Acquiring Slater Koekkoek for Jan Rutta.

With the trade deadline approaching, it will be fascinating to see what Bowman has up his sleeve.

Stay tuned. Because it figures to be a wild month ahead.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Jan 25, 2019
Words:839
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