Atop the Sugar Pile 12/29

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When last we scaled Mount Sucrose, Toews was earning Hart Trophy whispers and Crawford was still wandering around the lower realms of Matheson’s “What Dreams May Come.” The Hawks were riding a three-game winning streak that all required extra frames and board games, but since then the Hawks have been getting it done in regulation. The Hawks have won four of the last six by filling the net nearly twice as often as their opponents. Secondary scoring has chipped in 10 of the 19 goals over the six-game span—including a couple rare red-lighters from the blueliners—and the situation in net has faded back to DEFCON 5.

The Dizzying Highs – Viktor Stalberg

This one is easy. Stals may have been a minus last night, but over the past six games, he has been lighting up the ice like Leroy Green. Vik Rattlehead has potted four goals and added three helpers, averaging better than a point a game. Stalberg’s CORSI numbers are equally impressive and his recent surge has made the checking line offensively relevant again. He is better using his size to create space to make plays in the offensive zone, but the root of his success is his speed, which causes matchup problems for bottom-pair D-men. If Q can manage to keep him on that line, his current success may be more than just a streak.

Honorable mention for the summit goes to Hossa (3g, 5a, 8pts, and +7), who had a five-game point streak snapped last night. Hossa has been arguably the most consistent Hawk over the six-game span, but Stalberg gets to plant the flag because he racked up his points in a defensive role with a lot less ice time. Besides, his nomination better serves my secondary scoring storyline in the introduction, so hush.

The Terrifying Lows – Michael Frolik

When a team goes 9-2-1 (or 10-2-1, fingers crossed) in December, it’s tough to find a goat, but let’s be honest: The best thing Frolik has done the past two weeks is mumble through a brilliant parody of a Christmas classic. It’s difficult to come down too hard on Fro because he’s a team player and when he digs, he digs deep. However, as Pat and Eddie mentioned last night, paraphrasing Q, Frolik has to finish with greater consistency. The only other name on the roster with comparable numbers over the last six is riding the Icehog Express right now. Perhaps Frolik will find some of the fire Stalberg left behind on the fourth line.

The Creamy Middles – Corey Crawford, Ray Emery

Everybody’s favorite mouseketeer is back, baby, and reportedly Emery deserves a heartfelt assist for being the wind beneath his wings. The goalie duo split the six games with each going 2-1-0. Razor allowed 6 goals on 77 shots for a respectable save percentage of .922, and Crow stopped 93 of 97 shots for a mighty save percentage of .958. Crow appears more confident and though not perfect, is far better at finding the puck in traffic and directing his rebounds to less dangerous areas than before his siesta. It’s a good thing Crow has responded because the Hawks defense apparently decided to give out shots as stocking stuffers. Crawford has faced 38 shots the past two games, and though he made most of them look routine, more than a few of the saves he made were of the spectacular variety.

Crow credits Emery for modeling better game preparation and supporting him through his slump, and even though an argument could be made that a healthy Salak might have been able to put up similar numbers in relief, the benefit of Razor’s veteran leadership and its influence on Crawford’s recovery cannot be so easily dismissed.

* * * * * *

Despite a few rough patches in November so tragic they might've inspired a Gordon Lightfoot ballad, the Hawks have a good chance to finish 2011 atop the sugar pile that is the league standings. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but enjoy the view knowing that the Hawks will finish the year in stride without having played their best hockey yet. And who knows what little surprises Bowman has planned for the end of February? Perchance to dream...

Bring on 2012.


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