Hawks becoming a force

130107_gq_trout_aIt’s been a bit since I’ve been able to write a post on here, but better late than never I guess. Ever since the Blackhawks went out west on their annual Circus Trip, they have become arguably, or maybe not, the NHL’s best team. They currently sit 25-10-2 on the season, which is good for second in the league behind Anaheim. Their goals against average and penalty kill percentage remain at the top of the league, and their goal scoring is among the league’s best. Not a whole lot to complain about with this team at the moment.

All year long, the team defense and goaltending of the Blackhawks have been elite. They rank first in the NHL in fewest goals against per game, second in fewest goals against, and first in penalty killing. Whether it’s Corey Crawford, Antti Raanta, or even Scott Darling between the pipes, the goaltending that the Blackhawks have received has been outstanding and a major reason why this team sits near the top of the league in points. Not to mention that all seven defensemen being used are contributing on both sides of the ice.

Offensively, the Blackhawks rank third in both goals per game and total goals scored. Combine that with the fact that they are second in fewest goals against this year, and you’re left with a league-best +39 goal differential (the next closest is Nashville at +28). The biggest knock against the Hawks’ offense is their inconsistent and underachieving powerplay. They rank fourteenth in the NHL in that category, with an 18.7 percent conversion rate. A team with as much skill as the Blackhawks should be a lot better with a man advantage.

While this season definitely did not start the way that the Blackhawks would have liked, they have completely turned things around over the last month and a half as the numbers would prove. They seem to have that “swagger” back that the 2013 team had in which they always felt they could win any game regardless of the score. Take last game against Nashville for example. The Hawks were down 3-0 about halfway through the second period against the league’s best team when it comes to keeping the puck out of the net. Within a span of seven or eight minutes, the game was tied. The Hawks would eventually win the game 5-4 in a shootout.

It is wins like that one against the Predators (among other factors) that prove this is an elite team that is fully capable of winning their third Stanley Cup in six years. Everything from their goaltending, to their defense, their offense, and their team depth is good enough to be the last team standing come early to mid June. One of the biggest reasons why last year’s team did not defeat the L.A. Kings to advance to the Stanley Cup Final was their lack of forward depth. The fourth line consisted of Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith, and Brandon Bollig. Ben Smith lacked playoff experience at the time, and Brandon Bollig might as well have just stayed on the bench. That line had little chemistry and often sat most of the game forcing the Blackhawks to roll just three lines. This year, however, the Hawks’ most common fourth line is made up of Kruger, Smith, and Dan Carcillo, who I must admit has made Stan Bowman look like a genius for re-signing him. This line sees much more playing time than last year’s and has proven that they can generate offensive chances while being responsible defensively. Joakim Nordstrom, when given the opportunity, has also looked a lot better than he did a year ago and has made the case that he belongs in the lineup on a nightly basis.

The 2014-15 Blackhawks are loaded from top to bottom, offensively and defensively. Their goaltending has been phenomenal, and they have that “feeling” to them that this could be a special spring and early summer. Assuming no major injuries occur, the Blackhawks have to be the favorite to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.

First things first, however: The Winter Classic.

Side note: With one day left in this year’s All Star Game voting, the six current players who would be elected as All Stars by the fans are Zemgus Girgensons, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford.

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