The Chicago Blackhawks currently sit atop the Western Conference standings. Don't let that lofty position go to your head. The competition is going to be intense as we approach the midpoint of the 2013-14 campaign.
The 'Hawks picked up a point Friday despite a 3-2 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks to run their NHL-leading point total to 56. Chicago holds an eight-point advantage over the Canucks, who occupy the sixth playoff spot in the West.
Thanks to the schedule, Vancouver is the only conference team the 'Hawks can accurately measure themselves against.
Both Chicago and the Canucks have played 38 games through Friday night, the most of any team in the NHL. As of now, some teams have played as few as 34 games, including some teams that might interest Chicago fans. Here's how the top five teams in the West look right now in terms of games played and points earned:
Each of those other four teams is in action Saturday, by the way. Just behind the Canucks is Colorado with 47 points in 34 games.
Now, I know we can all do the math. Just the same, let's see how the standings look if all the teams have 38 games in the books and each team earns all the possible points available to them.
The Sharks would be sixth in the conference with 54 points. This probably is worse news for the Canucks and their 48 points, but 'Hawks fans should also take note.
Obviously, this is not feasible, as several of these teams play each other in the next few games. It does show that while you can point to a lot of factors placing Chicago among the elite teams in the conference, in no way is anyone running away with the top spot.
The Blackhawks have done well to claim 12 points in their last 10, especially with Corey Crawford injured for the last six of those games. There are a lot of positives to pull from the season as we approach the new year.
Patrick Kane has points in 23 of his last 24 games. Duncan Keith is having a superb campaign on the back end. Rookie Antti Raanta has come up from Rockford and given the Blackhawks an opportunity to win nearly every night.
Just remember that there is a lot of the season to complete and that the competition is closer than you may think.