After three home games this season, the Chicago Blackhawks have made a powerful statement to the rest of the league: they're for real, and a force to be reckoned with in the coming months.
The 2009-10 NHL season is set up so that the first few months of the season will go a long way in determining playoff positioning at the end of April.
Because of the Olympics in February, the schedule is front-loaded with significant games against conference and divisional rivals because, with a two week break in the middle of the season, there just isn't enough time to spread the games out.
The front-loaded schedule brings this season into focus now especially because of the injuries hitting the rest of the Western Conference.
Detroit lost Johan Franzen last week, Columbus announced they'll be without Jan Hejdafor the next few weeks on Wednesday, and the Vancouver Canucks announced that they're going to be without both Sami Salo and Daniel Sedin for over a month as well. The Blackhawks, of course, are starting their season without Marian Hossa and won't get him into the lineup until mid-November.
As key players continue to drop like flies all over rosters in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks have the luxury of getting their young nucleus off to a strong start before adding Hossa to the mix. And they've done just that, starting the season 4-1-1.
But what's equally important is that the Hawks are beating good teams they'll face in important games later in the season as well. After a tough loss in Detroit's home opener, the Blackhawks came home to Chicago and scored the maximum six points in defeating Colorado, Calgary and Edmonton.
Even without Hossa, the Blackhawks have started the season in a statistically dominating fashion.
They rank second in the Western Conference in goals per game on offense, are second in the NHL in fewest penalty minutes per game and are second in the league in shots on goal per game. They are averaging ten more shots on goal per game than their opponents through six games as well.
Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane have already scored seven points each, while Kris Versteeg has six, all ranking among the top ten scorers in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Brent Seabrook's five points and Brian Campbell's four rank among the top ten for defensivemen in the West as well. Seabrook also ranks third among Western Conference blue liners to date in average time on ice and hits.
On Thursday, the Blackhawks will place Cristobal Huet back in net against a struggling Nashville team that has only scored seven goals in their first five games. Antti Niemi improved to 3-0-0 on Wednesday, putting additional pressure on the expensive Huet to have a strong performance against the Predators.