Chicago Blackhawks Remain Red Hot as Long Road Trip Comes to an End
The Chicago Blackhawks are off to a fantastic start this season with a 10-0-2 record as the NHL's only unbeaten team in regulation, and that's not even the most impressive aspect of their early-season success.
Chicago has already played 10 road games thus far with an 8-0-2 record away from the United Center, and Sunday's victory over the Nashville Predators ended a season-high six-game road trip for the Blackhawks in which they were 4-0-2.
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville had this to say about the recent stretch (via NHL.com):
It was a great [road] trip from start to finish...I thought their last couple of games were our best. Tonight I was really pleased with the way we started and finished the game.
FROM ELIAS: the 22 points by the Blackhawks are the most by any team through their first 12 games since the 2007-08 Senators also had 22.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 11, 2013
The Blackhawks' dominance on the road proves why they are once again the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Every great team finds ways to win on the road, especially against quality teams.
Not only have the Blackhawks played at least two more road games than all of the other 29 teams in the league, six of their 10 matchups away from home were against playoff teams from last season, including three games against the two finalists in the West in 2011-12 (Phoenix Coyotes twice, Los Angeles Kings once).
The Blackhawks were 18-18-5 on the road last year, but they were able to make the playoffs as a sixth seed because their home record was the fourth-best in the league at 27-8-6.
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Since the Blackhawks have been nearly perfect through 41.6 percent of their road schedule (10 out of 24 road games) after just the first three weeks of the season, it would be surprising if this team failed to win its first Presidents' Trophy since 1990-91.
Chicago's improvement extends beyond its impressive performances on the road. The Blackhawks' play on special teams is also much better this season, and this is the primary reason why they are dominating good teams.
Take a look at how much better the Blackhawks have been on special teams this season compared to last year.
|Power-Play %||Penalty Kill|
|2011-12||26th (15.2 percent)||27th (78.1 percent)|
|2012-13||16th (18.0 percent)||1st* (92.9 percent)|
*Boston also has a 92.9 penalty-killing percentage.
The Blackhawks' power-play success can be attributed to the fine performances from a number of players.
|Power-Play Stats (As of 2/11/13)||G||A||PTS|
|Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa||1||2||3|
In addition to the above players excelling with the man advantage, the Blackhawks are also doing a nice job of entering the attacking zone and moving the puck quickly to create scoring chances, in addition to being aggressive by taking plenty of shots.
As for the penalty kill, the entire team has done a good job, but Corey Crawford has arguably been the team's best penalty killer this season. The 28-year-old goaltender has a 1.62 goals against average and a .935 save percentage, both of which are far better than his career-high numbers.
Crawford's emergence as a top-tier goaltender is the most encouraging part of the Blackhawks' start to the season, and his solid play between the pipes has given the team more confidence than it had last season.
As long as he continues to perform at a high level, the Blackhawks will be incredibly tough to beat because they are playing well in every phase of the game. Chicago is the only team ranked in the top three in goals scored (second) and goals against (third), which proves that this is a complete team.
The best team in the NHL is the Chicago Blackhawks.
The next challenge for the Blackhawks will be to bring their success from the road back to the United Center, which is where their next seven games will be played (including five matchups against teams currently in a playoff spot in the West).
Since the Blackhawks have the best forward depth of any team in the NHL, an improved blue line and a goaltender playing the best hockey of his career, there's no reason to believe Chicago's strong start to the season will end anytime soon.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.
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