Going into Wednesday night the Chicago Blackhawks were one of only 2 teams left to have not lost a game so far in the season. By the end of Wednesday night that number dropped to 1 as the Blackhawks lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Minnesota Wild. Despite the shootout loss the Blackhawks have yet to lose a game in regulation this season and have looked very solid through their first 7 games. The question now becomes are the Blackhawks legit Stanley Cup contenders?
As much as a Stanley Cup winning team can fly under the radar, the Blackhawks are a team that is almost always right in the mix but always get over-looked when looking at the teams with the best shot at bringing home Lord Stanley's cup. To no one's real surprise the Blackhawks got off to a hot start in 2013. Led by their captain Jonathan Toews who has 7 points in 7 games, the Blackhawks have been untouchable and are on top of the NHL standings with 13 points.
You can contribute the Blackhawks early success to 3 key areas- The penalty kill, top players performing and Corey Crawford coming up big. When a team is playing well everything just seems to click and the Hawks have been able to click early on.
It would be difficult to look at the Blackhawks early success and not give credit to the penalty kill, in fact their penalty kill has been lights out allowing only 1 power play goal through the first 7 games. The Hawks have been shorthanded just 8 times and have a 96.3% success rate ranking them 2nd, a complete "180" from last season when the Hawks found themselves ranked 27th.
The penalty kill has played a huge part in the Hawks winning and their best effort came on Sunday night when they blanked the Detroit Red Wings on 6 power players. Corey Crawford has been a beast for the Hawks between the pipes and has the best save percentage (.957) on the penalty kill alone. Crawford also shined in the shootout loss on Wednesday coming up big helping to kill off a 5 on 3 that lasted 1:23 and made a huge save to help kill it off.
But as much credit is given to Crawford for the lights out penalty killing you also need to tip your hat to the Blackhawks defence. Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik have turned out to be fantastic on the penalty kill and have even out worked Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland on the first unit.
The Stars Have Been Stars
As key as getting production from your 3rd and 4th line players is to the success of a team, if their star players aren't helping to contribute the success will be short lived. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marion Hossa have all gotten off to hot starts combining for 26 points through the first 7 games. While everyone expects Toews and Kane to be lighting up the league the real surprise is the hot play of Hossa who has recovered nicely from his concussion in last years playoffs. Hossa has scored 5 goals, putting up 9 points and has arguably been the Hawks hottest player to start off the year. In addition to the big 3, Patrick Sharp has put up 6 points and defencman Nick Leddy has put up a solid 5 points.
The Blackhawks have been scoring goals all throughout the line up and deserve some major credit for coming into the season after a short training camp, immediately heading out on the road and for bringing their games to next level- what they're doing is nothing short of incredible.
Perhaps what has been most amazing about the Hawks 6-0-1 record is they have played 5 of their first 7 games away from the United Center and they still must go through 5 more road games before getting to play a game in front of their home fans. After the tough road trip the Hawks will have the benefit of playing a 7 game home-stand and if their strong play continues can all but lock up the Western Conference in the next month.
Back to the original question- Are the Chicago Blackhawks the real deal? Yes they are the real deal- they have almost complete control over the west, are 3 points up on the St. Louis Blues in their division and they haven't shown any signs of slowing down their incredible start. In fact the shootout loss to the Wild on Wednesday may have been good for the Blackhawks serving as a wake-up call as they embark further on their road trip. Their defence against the Wild wasn't as sharp as it has been and if they want to continue their hot streak will need their defence to be sharp almost every night.
While their dominate penalty kill will likely stagger off, their offence and defence have always been strong. Barring any injuries and hoping Corey Crawford keeps up his stellar play the Blackhawks could be the team to watch in the Western Conference and I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the Western Conference Finals.