So, not a lot has changed since the first quarter report. The 'Hawks are still rolling at a shot differential of over +9, which is by far the best in the league, and the goaltending has settled into a nice groove as well. Huet, dominating the split with just over 70% of playing time is T-4 with a 2.08 GAA, and has a healthy SV% of .912, which is in the middle of the pack as far as starting goalies go. To quote Sam in the mid-season report card:
17 of his 31 starts have resulted in two goals or less for the opposition. That's over half. Over half the time he gives the Hawks an excellent chance to win, because this team can pretty much fart two goals a night.
Niemi's stat line is even more impressive, but I think most (sane) fans are still expecting his numbers to average out as he sees more and more time in net.
Through the first 21 games of the season, the 'Hawks had a record of 13-5-2. Through the first 45 (yeah yeah I'm a few games late), that record has improved by 17-5-1 to 30-10-3, which is not only the best record in the West, but also the best home record. With a consistent power play, that record would probably be even better, but that's material for another fanpost entirely. Even better, the 'Hawks are whipping together three- and four-game winning streaks almost effortlessly, and finding ways to put pucks past some of the hottest goaltenders in the league. As a result, there are just a few anomalies that buck the established trend for the second quarter:
- The loss to Nashville was a one-goal game until the final minutes of the third period, and the final goal was scored on an empty net. I can't remember off the top of my head how many empty-netters we've seen this season go either way, either because the 'Hawks have put up a sizeable enough lead that the opponents don't even bother, or because the 'Hawks have generally been excellent at keeping the puck in the offensive end while chasing deficits. Still, empty netters will happen over the course of the season, but in reality that was a 2-1 game.
The other weird one was in Dallas. Fucking Dallas. (I'm sure Huet would agree with me.) Two of the four goals Huet let in before being pulled for Niemi can be partially chalked up to bad luck (losing his footing on ice, puck banking in off Brouwer's skate), but there's no denying that it was a bad game for him. Niemi comes in, faces 14 shots, makes some big saves, but loses the game on a power play tally by Steve fucking Ott. Ott had 3 points in that game, so yeah, maybe we just hallucinated the entire thing. DALLAS DOESN'T EVEN REALLY EXIST, GUYS, IT'S A MIRAGE!
- The Buffalo game was the first one all season where the starting goalie got legitimately outdueled -- usually, if a dude posts a .939 SV%, he'll win the game. Not that night. The 'Hawks carpet-bombed Patrick Lalime with 40 shots, and he was equal to 39 of them. What can you do about that, really?
- The 'Hawks have only been significantly outshot (I'm not counting the games against Pittsburgh or Detroit) twice in the second quarter. Once at Vancouver, where Niemi played probably the finest game of his career. The other time was at Anaheim, and Huet played reasonably well in that game, but the game was lost on the fact of Teemu Selanne remembering that he was actually dangerous on the PP. Since then, the 'Hawks have looked even more impressive in terms of keeping teams penned in their own zones, if possible. Hossa probably has something to do with that, but there's also a growing sense of confidence in all four lines. After a forgettable start to the season, the fourth line is starting to pick up where they left off in the spring, both in terms of physicality and point production, and the Maddin-Versteeg-Byfuglien line is also starting to show some life in the offensive zone. Just imagine Bolland back in the lineup, and keep your drool bucket nearby.
Other than the Buffalo game, the trends have stood up remarkably well: The 'Hawks control the puck exceptionally well, usually outshoot their opponents (sometimes by an ungodly number), and thereby give themselves the best chance for winning each game, with the caveat that the goalies don't have shitty games. When a positive shot differential and decent goaltending coincide, it's been gravy, and I don't envision things changing too much in the second half of the season, even with a possible Olympic fatigue factor.scary good starts when
other teams can't get the puck
(this could be the year)