I know I'm four games behind the quarter-season mark. I apologize. It doesn't feel like the season is already more than 1/4 complete (1/3 completed to be precise) I guess going 16 games without a regulation loss will do that.
Anyways, this new feature, which I call "State of the Tribe", is my quarterly review of how the Blackhawks have been in general, who's been good, who hasn't and some other random thoughts that pertain to the Hawks. As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged. Enjoy.
First Quarter Statistics (also statistics to date): 13-0-3, 29 points, 55 goals for, 34 goals against, +21 differential
First Quarter Summary
Not enough good things can be said about this Blackhawks squad, who have tied an NHL record for longest point streak to start a season and will go for the all time record tomorrow night. They're up there with some pretty impressive company, such as the '84 Oilers and '07 Ducks, which says a lot.
What's behind the success? Well a combination of things. Teams are finding it extremely challenging to match up with the speed, skill and depth of the Blackhawks. The Hawks have one of the strongest one-two punches in the league, followed by a third and a fourth line that are consistently winning match-ups. This is leading to an abundance of scoring, especially secondary scoring.
Not only are the Hawks one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL, averaging 3.31 goals per game (behind only Tampa Bay) but to date they are the second best defensive team in the league, allowing only 1.94 goals against per game (behind only
Ottawa Craig Anderson) While excellent goaltending from Corey Crawford and Ray Emery has been a huge part of it, the blueline corps, which is probably the deepest its ever been, deserves a lot of credit. Niklas Hjalmarsson has had an unimaginable turnaround from last year, when most were calling for him to be traded. And thank Johnny Oduya for being the Brian Campbell-like presence Hjalmarsson seems to thrive with.
What's really impressive about this team is how they've won: 10 of their first 16 games have been on the road. Most of their games have come against difficult conference opponents. They've played in all kinds of game situations and have proved that they can win in all of them (or at least get out with something to show for it) This is indicative of how much character and resiliency this team has.
The Hawks are one of the most dominant 5-on-5 teams in the NHL, which is a stat you always want to do good in. And although the powerplay continues to be a dud at times, the penalty kill is among the league's best, due to change in both structure and execution. I think this is an area where the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit, as do players such as Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik, who have flourished in their roles there.
Right now this team is head and shoulders above the rest of the NHL, not only in the standings but in almost every facet of the game. Their first quarter success has bought them a massive amount of breathing room, should injuries hit hard down the road but as of today it looks like the Hawks could run away with the Western Conference and possibly even the Presidents Trophy, making NHL history in the process.
First Quarter Standouts
So many names to get in here. For the sake of brevity, I'll focus on the handful I think are especially worthy of recognition.
First up is Patrick Kane, who leads the team, and almost the whole league, in points. Kane's confidence with the puck is as good as I've ever seen it (even better than 09/10) and the consistency is finally there for Kane to make a real run at some serious hardware this year.
Credit to Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad for being the Hawks' best line. All three have been monsters on the forecheck and have generated lots of offense with their speed off the rush and power on the boards. The rookie Saad has been really impressive showcasing his speed and intelligence and has proven his value to the team and the organization.
Marcus Kruger has made huge strides. He looks stronger and more confident, which has allowed his underrated skill to shine, giving the Hawks a dangerous 4th line. Not to mention he's been a huge contributor to the penalty kill.
On defense, I'm going to single out the pairing of Hjalmarsson and Oduya, who I think have been outstanding. They've absorbed some big minutes from Keith and Seabrook and are a combined +16 despite getting some tough defensive assignments.
And lastly, both goalies. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have both been remarkable. Crawford looks a lot more comfortable in net than ever before, while Emery, aside from a few soft goals, looks quicker and more confident. People thought the Hawks were scary with mediocre goaltening. Now they're seeing just how terrifying they can really be.
But of course, lots of others deserve honorable mention. Sharp's been solid. Keith is picking up his game. The third line of Bickell, Shaw and Stalberg has been nightmare for teams on the forecheck and Leddy's progress from last year has been outstanding.
First Quarter MVP: Patrick Kane
Honorable mention: Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Corey Crawford
First Quarter Disappointments
While no one's really been a "disappointment", I think you could file one or two players under "needs to pick it up".
To me, Dave Bolland is one of those guys. Offensively he hasn't been doing much, which isn't good considering he's now being relied upon for offense as the second line center. More disturbing is the fact that his line (and him especially) have awful Corsi numbers. While this isn't entirely his fault, it calls into question whether Bolland can handle the expanded role he's been given. The sample size is small and the success of the team won't force any changes, but its something to keep an eye on.
Sheldon Brookbank has been below average. No doubt he's nothing more than a sixth defenseman who can't be heavily relied upon but even then he's struggled, with a lot of miscues and questionable decisions in the defensive zone. Its likely he needs more time to conform to the Hawks up-tempo system and hopefully that time produces a better player.
That's all I got for now. What are your thoughts on the first quarter? Who are your standouts? Who are your disappointments?
First Quarter Player Statistics