Anatomy of Chicago Blackhawks' Incredible Streak

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2013

Anatomy of Chicago Blackhawks' Incredible Streak

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    The Chicago Blackhawks have made it known that they plan to dominate the NHL in 2013.

    Through the first two months of the season, they have not tasted regulation defeat. They have roared into new territory, and they continue to build on their record-setting performance every time they take the ice.

    The Blackhawks have played 22 straight games (19-0-3) without a regulation loss following their 2-1 shootout victory at Detroit on March 3. They are scoring clutch goals, playing airtight defense and getting superb goaltending.

    No surprise there, as that formula has been winning hockey games for years. 

    However, there are specific reasons as to why the Blackhawks have gotten off to such a tremendous start and why they have been able to sustain their excellent play.

Loss to Phoenix Coyotes in 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    The Chicago Blackhawks faced the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs last year and fully expected to win the series.

    Even though the Coyotes won their division and were the third-seeded team, the Blackhawks had little reason to think they would get more than token opposition. The Coyotes had never won a series since moving to the desert prior to the 1996-97 season.

    The series was tight from the start, with the two teams splitting the first two overtime games in Phoenix. The third and fourth games in Chicago both went to overtime. However, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford let up soft goals in both overtimes, and the Coyotes went back home with a 3-1 lead in the series.

    Another overtime game followed, but Jonathan Toews scored the winner for the Blackhawks this time. However, Chicago had nothing left in Game 6, and the Coyotes took the series with a 4-0 triumph.

    The Blackhawks were smoldering after the loss, and the pain of the defeat stuck with them throughout the offseason.

Joel Quenneville's Hot Seat

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    Joel Quenneville was a hero in Chicago when the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup.

    It was the team's first title since hoisting the cup in 1961. When that 49-year drought ended, the Blackhawks and their coach were treated like kings.

    However, the year after the victory, the Blackhawks did not make the postseason until the last day of the season. They were then eliminated in the first round by the hated Vancouver Canucks.

    When the Hawks were also knocked out in the first round in 2012, Quenneville knew the pressure was on, according to the Daily Herald.

    Throughout the offseason, it seemed that management would not accept another first-round defeat in 2012-13. Quenneville made changes to his coaching staff in an attempt to improve his team's preparation.

    Quenneville's message has clearly gotten across, and his players are buying into his coaching methods.

Opening Day

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    There's nothing like a hot start to light a team's fuse.

    After the lockout ended, the Blackhawks knew they were in for a test as they went on the road to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the opening game of the season.

    The Kings celebrated their title by raising their championship banner, but while the Kings were still taking bows, the Blackhawks were playing hockey.

    They started the first period as if they had rocket fuel in their skates. Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Michael Frolik scored for the Hawks in the opening period, and they raced out to a 3-0 lead.

    They finished off the Kings 5-2 at the Staples Center, and that victory gave the Blackhawks the confidence to know that if they could beat the defending champions on their home ice, they could achieve great things the rest of the year.

Patrick Kane Raises His Game

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    Patrick Kane has been a key player for the Blackhawks since his rookie year in 2007-08.

    As a 19-year-old, Kane scored 21 goals and 72 points and won the Calder Award as the NHL's Rookie of the Year.

    Kane has scored 20 or more goals in each of his first five years. He also scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2010 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

    While he had his moments, there was something missing about his game. Kane had been the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. He had been a good player, but he had not been dominant.

    He also had a series of off-the-ice incidents that reflected poorly on him over the years. In short, Kane had been immature.

    According to the Chicago Tribune, Kane vowed to change after cameras had caught him behaving in an embarrassing manner while partying at the University of Wisconsin during the summer.

    Kane has performed at a consistently high level in the 2013 season. Joel Quenneville expects him to be one of the Hawks' best players, and he has delivered.

    He shows no signs of slowing down, and he has been among the league's highest scorers since the start of the season. Kane has 11 goals and 15 assists along with a plus-10 rating through the Hawks' first 22 games.

Goaltending

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    At the start of the season, there were legitimate concerns about the Blackhawks goaltending.

    Corey Crawford was a good-but-not-great goaltender who had not distinguished himself in Chicago's 2012 postseason loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. Ray Emery was a decent backup who seemed capable of spectacular games on occasion but lacked consistency.

    What had been a question mark has been answered emphatically. Crawford and Emery have performed brilliantly.

    Crawford has a 10-0-3 record with a 1.41 goals-against average and a remarkable .945 save percentage with two shutouts. With Crawford slowed by injuries in February, Emery was named the NHL's Third Star for the month.

Jonathan Toews Leads the Way

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    Jonathan Toews is the 24-year-old captain and leader of the Chicago Blackhawks.

    He is a spectacular contributor on the ice. He scored 57 points in an injury-plagued 2011-12 season after scoring 32 goals in 2010-11.

    Toews scored seven goals and 22 assists in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' MVP. But numbers and accomplishments don't begin to tell the story for Toews.

    He is a superior defensive player, and he dominates in the faceoff circle. He also takes his leadership role seriously and congratulates every Blackhawks player after each game as they leave the ice at the United Center.

    He has played as hard as ever in 2013, and the Blackhawks know that Toews is at his best when the game is on the line.

Role Players Excel

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    It's not enough for a team's stars to come through if they are going to run off a long streak without losing in regulation.

    While Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith have been superb, the Blackhawks have gotten contributions from the supporting cast as well.

    In Chicago's 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 28, Andrew Shaw scored a key goal that took the wind out of the Blues' sails.

    Head coach Joel Quenneville has gotten contributions from Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Nick Leddy, Marcus Kruger and Johnny Oduya all season long.

    Oduya was acquired by the Hawks in Feb. 2012. The Blackhawks are 31-2-7 in regular-season games with Oduya in uniform.

    When the non-superstars make consistent contributions and don't make mistakes, a team like the Blackhawks are able to keep their winning ways intact.

Calgary Miracle

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    The Blackhawks may not have lost a game in regulation, but it hasn't been easy. The streak almost came to an end in Calgary in early February.

    After dropping a 2-1 shootout in Vancouver on Feb. 1, the Blackhawks had little left in the tank when they played at Calgary the next night.

    Still, the Blackhawks hung in there for most of the night, and the score was tied 1-1 in the final minute of the third period. Jay Bouwmeester appeared to give the Flames the victory when he scored with 35 seconds left, but the Hawks would not die.

    Marian Hossa scored the equalizer with two seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. Neither team scored in the extra session, but the Hawks won in the shootout as Patrick Kane scored the only goal.

    This was a game that Ray Emery dominated, registering 45 saves in addition to three stops in the shootout.

Penalty-Killing Expertise

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    It helps to have excellent special teams play if you are going to win consistently in the NHL.

    While the Blackhawks have been slightly above average (12th) on the power play, they have been stellar on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks rank second in the league, having killed off 89.7 percent of their opponents' power plays.

    In the video above, rookie Brandon Saad scored a shorthanded goal early in the third period to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 victory over San Jose on Feb. 22.

Puck Possession

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    The Blackhawks know how to hold on to the puck.

    Instead of chasing down the opponents when they have possession of the puck, the Blackhawks find a way to keep the puck for the majority of the game.

    This is due in large part to their diligence in the defensive zone, their ability to win faceoffs and their talent at making accurate passes.

    When the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup, their ability to maintain possession was a big reason for their success. In 2013, it is a big reason for their ability to keep a zero in the "L" column in the standings.