Forward Progress: Getting to Know the Chicago Blackhawks

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Forward Progress: Getting to Know the Chicago Blackhawks

http://www.post-gazette.com/images4/20070622Wap_kane_450.jpgRepublished with permission from ChicagoSporting 

At 15-13-2 through 30 games, the Chicago Blackhawks have shocked everyone this season—even me, and I've been dumb enough to walk around wearing a Hawks baseball hat for years.

Coach Dennis Savard, inventor of the “Savard Spin-o-rama,” has somehow found ways for his team to win. The Hawks' all-around play has been solid, but they've been led by a surprising group of forwards.

Hawks fans aren't used to seeing their team score, so I figured I'd give a little background on some of the team’s offensive stalwarts.

If December 7th, 1941, is a date which will live in infamy in the American subconscious, April 29th and November 19th, 1988, are dates which will live in “famy” for Hawks fans.

In that wonderful year of 1988, Hawks rookies Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were born—and the franchise would never be the same.

Appropriately enough, Kane wears No. 88.

Maybe Bill Wirtz, R.I.P., had a master plan in keeping the Hawks bad for so long.

For Chicago sports fans not intimately familiar with hockey, dominance like that shown by Toews and Kane isn't normal.

In basketball, it's surprising for a LeBron James or Kevin Durant to light up the scoreboard—but far from rare. Hockey players, on the other hand, aren't supposed to even enter the league until they can at least sprout a mature beard.

There's a reason all those college hockey players you remember seemed like they were almost 30. It was because they almost were.

For Kane and Toews to step into the NHL and get nearly a point per game is flipping insane. All-world skater Markus Naslund scores fewer points per game than the Hawks' duo.

Clearly, the youngsters have many hurdles to overcome and benchmarks to reach before they can truly be deemed superstars—but I'll happily take them as they are.

Truth be told, though, Kane and Toews are only part of the reason the Hawks have a winning record 30 games into the season. Veterans Robert Lang, Marian Havlat, Tuomo Ruutu, and Patrick Sharp have also played like Blackhawks usually do not.

Lang, most famous for being the second-line center behind Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh, has kept pace with the rookies by netting 26 points in 30 games. He's also +12, which leads the team.

The rookies are both negative in that category—but hey, they’re young, and I said they still needed to improve.

Since coming over from the Senators prior to the 2006 season, Havlat has been spectacular for the Hawks...when healthy. He only suited up for 56 games last year and just eight so far this season.

When he's on the ice, though, he's a scoring machine.

Wednesday night against the Kings, Havlat had two goals to lead the Hawks to victory.


Ruutu has also been injured a lot, missing 78 of the 164 possible games over the past two seasons after going ninth in the 2001 Draft. While talented, the Fin brings a different dimension to the forward line: He can score on you, and he can beat you up.

Wednesday, Ruutu fought Brad Stuart and destroyed Lubomir Visnovsky with a hit in the first period. Kings coach Marc Crawford certainly noticed.

“I thought the hit by Ruutu in the first period made a difference,” Crawford said after the game.

Sharp's is a unique case. He's leading the Hawks with 14 goals, but he doesn't have a history of offensive fireworks.

In his first four NHL seasons, Sharp's highest point total was 35. The 2001 third-round draft pick has gotten where is through hard work as much as talent.
 
Combined, these six forwards have the Hawks sitting ninth in the league in average goals scored per game. The past two years, Chicago has been the second-to-worst scoring team in the entire NHL.
 
To give credit where it's due, the Hawks' defenseman and goalies have also been much improved this season. Next week, I'll size up the rest of a most surprising squad.

I mean, at this rate, they might even make the playoffs.
 
(Probably shouldn't have written that; may have just jinxed them. Oh well—if there's one thing a Hawks fan knows, it's failure.

* * * * * * * * *

Écrit près Charlie Danoff

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