We are exactly a quarter of the way through the Blackhawks’ season already, and they still haven’t lost a game in regulation. The Blackhawks, 10-0-2, lead the NHL in wins, road wins, and points (22). Most people expected a few losses on this recent 6-game road trip (myself included), but the Hawks earned at least a point in each game.
The road trip started off with the Hawks losing in a shootout to the Wild, followed by another shootout loss to the Canucks. It seemed as though the offense of the Hawks was beginning to come back to reality after a torrid start to the season.
Their next game in Calgary can only be considered a miraculous win. Ray Emery played one of the single greatest games that any NHL goalie has played over the last 5 years or so by stopping 45 of the 47 shots that he faced; many of which were high quality chances. After allowing the go-ahead goal to the Flames with about 35 seconds left in the third period, the Hawks pulled Emery for the extra attacker. Following a perfect cross-ice pass by Kane to Oduya, the puck eventually found its way to the stick of Marian Hossa, who shot it in past a distraught Mikka Kiprusoff with 4 seconds left to tie the game. The Blackhawks would go on to win the game in a shootout. This was the turning point of their road trip, as the Hawks went 3-0 in their final 3 games of the trip.
Following their victory over Calgary, the Blackhawks went into San Jose to take on a then “hot” Sharks team. The Sharks made it 2-0 early in the first period, but the Hawks battled back and ended up getting a 5-3 victory. This win made it very clear who the best team in the West was.
From San Jose, it was on to Phoenix. This game was over after the first period. The Blackhawks scored twice on 5 on 3 powerplays, and ended the first leading 4-0. Many of the players credited Jamal Mayer’s early fight with Raffi Torres for their boost in energy and play. The Hawks would end up winning this one 6-2, and Joel Quenneville has called this their best game of the season so far.
Last night, the long road trip finally came to an end in Nashville. The Blackhawks again dominated this game from start to finish, often making it seem like they were playing with a man-advantage when they really weren’t. The final score ended up being 3-0, giving Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks their first shutout since April of 2011. Every other team in the NHL had at least 2 shutouts last year.
So now the Hawks come home for a 7-game home-stand, which isn’t exactly favorable for the home team. Playing at home for 7 straight games doesn’t allow the players to be around each other and bond as much as they do on the road. One can only hope that they don’t fall out of sync and turn this long home-stretch (every game against a good team, by the way) into a losing streak.
Some people, myself included, are almost scared by the Hawks’ fast start. We all know that there is no way that they can keep up this type of play for the whole season, but is this just an incredibly hot start, or is this a sign of things to come from here on out?
While I am staying very cautious and not jumping the gun on this team, I do believe that the Hawks are as good as they have been playing thus far. This team is absolutely loaded with offensive skill, their defense is playing fantastic, and the goaltending has been just what the doctor ordered. People forget that Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson all had “off” years the past 2 seasons. This year each of those guys, along with Oduya and Leddy, are playing great and up to their potential (Leddy can still be better). Offensively, the line of Hossa, Toews, and Saad has been nearly unstoppable. Brandon Saad has been a very nice addition to the team this year and seems to be getting better each game.
And how about Patrick Kane? He is playing out of his mind right now and was just named the number 1 star of the NHL for this past week. He has at least one goal in 5 straight games and is second in the NHL in points with 19. If he keeps this up, he will without a doubt be a Hart Trophy candidate at the end of the season.
Looking forward, this 7-game home-stand is going to be a major test for the Hawks, and it all starts tomorrow night against the streaking Ducks. After the Ducks, the Hawks will play the Sharks, Kings, Canucks, Sharks, Blue Jackets, and Oilers. All of those games, with the exception of the Columbus game, are going to be tough tests for the Hawks on their home ice. Normally a long stretch of home games bodes well for most teams, but this one for the Hawks could be a bit of a trap given the fact that they are going to play some top teams and haven’t lost yet in regulation.
While we all thought we would know a lot more about this team after their 6-game road trip (and we do), I think that we will know even more following this long home-stand.