Chicago Blackhawks: Goaltending Fueling Hot Start
After a dramatic 4-3 overtime victory at the United Center, the Blackhawks improved to 13-0-3 on the season. The win matched the record for the most consecutive games with a point recorded to start a NHL season. The Hawks could break the record, which is held by the 2006-2007 Anaheim Ducks, on Friday night against the Sharks.
There are multiple reasons to explain the Blackhawks' remarkable start to this shortened season.
Chicago is second in the league with a 3.3 goals per game average, according to ESPN.com statistics. The Hawks' penalty kill has also vastly improved and is third in the league with a kill percentage of 87.9 through the first 16 games. When compared to last season's percentage of 78.1, the improvement is obvious.
The Blackhawks are also getting production across the board. Chicago has 12 players on its roster with at least six points, and only Sheldon Brookbank and Brandon Bollig have yet to record a point this season.
But the biggest reason for the Blackhawks' record-breaking start is what was feared to be the team's biggest weakness.
The goaltending tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery has been outstanding through the first third of the season. Crawford and Emery are two of the four goalies in the league that remain undefeated in the regular season (along with Roberto Luongo and Viktor Fasth), an extraordinary feat.
Crawford has shown monumental improvement since last season. He is third in the NHL with a 1.65 goals against average and is tied for third in the league with a .935 save percentage. Last season, Crawford had a 2.72 goals against average and a save percentage of just over .900. Crawford also recorded the team's first regular season shutout since March of 2011 in a 3-0 victory over Nashville.
Who has been the biggest reason for the Blackhawks' fast start?
Another big surprise has been Emery, who has stepped up in the last three games without Crawford.
Emery has a 2.27 goals against average and a .925 save percentage, which is more than coach Joel Quenneville could ask from his backup. Emery also had a dazzling 45 save performance in a 3-2 shootout victory against Calgary.
Through the first 16 games of the season, the Blackhawks have allowed more than three goals in one game (a 6-4 victory over Phoenix). Last season, the Hawks surrendered more than three goals four times during the same span of games.
What was thought to have been the biggest question for the Hawks heading into the 2013 season has become their winning answer. Chicago's goaltending unit has been the biggest reason for the Blackhawks' success, turning them into one of the most complete teams in the NHL.
The Blackhawks have firepower offensively and have shown improvement on defense, but if Crawford and Emery continue to play consistently, the Blackhawks will be championship contenders.
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