Blackhawks Soar to the Top

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Everyone assumed that the shortened hockey season was bound to bring some surprises, but there has been nothing more surprising than the start that the Chicago Blackhawks have had coming out of the gate. Through the first full week of the season, the Blackhawks are without a doubt the best team in the NHL. They have won their first six games of the season, the best start for the Original Six team in franchise history.

The Blackhawks finished last season with 101 points, but only managed to finish fourth in the Central Division. They then ended up losing to the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs in six games. Although the Coyotes were a higher seed, it was a disappointing finish for a Blackhawks team who won the Stanley Cup just two years ago.

Many people felt that the reason that Chicago got bumped early from the playoffs last season was the early exit of top point-getter Marian Hossa, who took an illegal hit from the Coyotes’ Raffi Torres in the third game of their playoff series. With him gone, the Chicago offense just was not the same and the Coyotes moved on. But that was not the only thing that concerned the Blackhawks; nobody knew how Hossa was going to return from this vicious hit and if he would be able to produce anywhere near what he did last season.

Well, I’m not sure if it was the extra rest due to the lockout that gave more recovery time or if he simply is just that resilient, but Marian Hossa looks better than ever. In his first six games this season, Hossa has registered five goals (the most on the team) and allotted eight total points (second on the team behind Patrick Kane).

What’s even more impressive than that is the goaltending job that Corey Crawford has done this season. Heading into the season good goaltending was going to be crucial to a team’s success, and the Blackhawks’ goaltending tandem was suspect at best. Crawford may have put together a 30-17-7 record last year, but he had a 2.72 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.  His backup Ray Emery wasn’t much better, posting a 2.81 GAA and .900 save percentage that led him to a 15-9-4 record.

The Blackhawks offense allowed them to win shootouts last year, but this year Crawford and Emery would have to step up and play better if the Blackhawks expected to make the playoffs, and up to this point Crawford certainly has. Emery has been in for one game and given up four goals, but the Blackhawks managed to win that game. The other five games have been the Corey Crawford show; he has kept the Blackhawks in all five games he’s been in net and put up a GAA of less than two and a save percentage over .920. If Crawford and Emery continue to play like this, the Blackhawks will be in very good shape for the rest of the season.

The outstanding goaltending and superb offense of the Blackhawks have left them as the only team to not give up a single point that they have had the ability to attain, and they have done it with style. The Blackhawks came out in the first game of the season and rained on the Los Angeles Kings’ parade as they raised their Stanley Cup banner with a 5-2 victory. They also won their home opener 3-2 against a very tough St. Louis Blues team that was the second best team in the Western Conference last year, so the Blackhawks have shown that they can compete with some of the best teams in the league from last season. As if that weren’t enough, the Blackhawks last four victories (including the one against the Blues) have been decided by one goal, and two of the games have gone to overtime; their latest OT victory, a 2-1 victory at home over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night.

The Blackhawks next game is Wednesday in Minnesota where they will take on the Wild, and I think that they will continue their winning ways. In fact, I think that the Blackhawks are going to be tough to beat all season if they play like this. If there offense produces like they are supposed to, and Crawford and Emery continue to play solidly in net, I think that the Blackhawks can find themselves atop the Western Conference in April.