With forty games of the '08-09 NHL season already in the books, the Chicago Blackhawks sit in a relatively unique position in terms recent of franchise history, the standings and the statistics as well.
For whatever reason, that position heavily involves the number four.
The most obvious "four" statistic is the fact that the Hawks are currently sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference standings.
The Blackhawks have scored 143 goals thus far, which is good enough for fourth in the NHL in scoring. Oddly enough, the Hawks have only allowed 103 goals, which is also good for fourth in the NHL.
So let me get this straight: The Blackhawks are fourth in the NHL in scoring and have allowed the fourth fewest goals in the NHL, and with four games in hand on both the Canucks and Ducks (who have each played 44 games thus far), the Blackhawks sit in fourth place in the West.
Now, I could say that the downside of this otherwise positive trend comes from the fact that the Hawks have lost four of their last seven games. Losses to lowly Colorado and Nashville that saw goaltenders Andrew Raycroft and Pekka Rinne, respectively, stand on their heads were painful to watch.
So too was the 4-0 shutout at the hands of hated rival Detroit. Then, of course, there was the come-from-ahead 6-4 loss against those same Red Wings in the Winter Classic.
But now is not a time to dwell on the negative.
Usually at this point in the season, I take a mental snapshot of the Hawks. I'd look at a team that is performing up to their potential, knowing full well that the injuries, inconsistency and second half swoon are right around the corner.
To that, I humbly tempt the fates by saying: Not this year.
With Martin Havlat and Nikolai Khabibulin both playing for contracts, Hawks fans have been treated to steady and at times spectacular play from both of these highly paid players.
While some can argue that converted winger Dustin Byfuglien has struggled a bit after signing a deal that pays him three million for each of the next three years, players such as Andrew Ladd, Dave Bolland, and rookie of the year hopeful Kris Versteeg have more than picked up the slack.
When reigning Calder Trophy winner Patrick Kane went down with an ankle injury, the Hawks responded with two big wins, scoring eleven goals while only allowing two.
The Hawks have five players that are on pace to break the sixty point plateau with another four likely to break fifty points. Compare that to just one year ago when the Hawks had two players break sixty points and two more top fifty.
I'd go back further, but it gets a lot worse in a hurry.
In other words, soak it up Blackhawks fans. Not because the second half down turn is as inevitable as death and taxes; not because this is as good as the Hawks will be this season.
No, soak up the fact that as Hawks fans, we finally have a team that we can put our faith in. Even if the playoffs don't turn out well, the Hawks, barring a catastrophic, indeed epic failure in the next 42 games, will be in the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
Really take in the idea that the "youth movement" is no longer a mismanagement tag line or excuse that the organ-I-zation uses to borrow time and swindle fans out of their hard earned money.
The real youth movement has finally succeeded, and we can now reap the benefits of our loyalty and patience. Even if a Stanley Cup isn't on the immediate horizon (and who's to say what happens in the playoffs?), we can at least say that the light at the end of the tunnel isn't fading anymore.
Indeed, we have emerged from the darkness of pointless season's past, hungry for a winner, optimistic about our team's chances and ready for the exciting future that this franchise will undoubtedly provide for the old timers and first timers alike.
The Hawks might not be first in the division or in any of the big statistics, but given the recent past of this once derelict franchise, the exhilarating roster that has been nothing short of entertaining night in and night out as well as the potential for attainable future success, I'll take the number four any day of the week, month or year.
Well, this year anyways...
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