Chicago Blackhawks: 5 Takeaways from the Blackhawks First Two Months of 2011-12
Sitting pretty atop the Western Conference standings are Joel Queneville's Blackhawks with a record at 12-6-3. For a team that has been so successful thus far, there are still a number of things that are just hard to put a finger on. They have been very hot at times sporting the third best offense in the league and they have been really bad at times too (See Saturday's against Edmonton or the inconsistent special teams play)
The Blackhawks record would signify that this team has had more good times then bad, and there is no doubt that such is the case. Going forward we need to look at what has happened so far through the first quarter of of the season to see where the Hawks have thrived and dived in 2011.
1. Patrick Kane Has Been Fantastic at the Center Position
When asked in an interview by the Chicago Sun-Times, Ken Hitchcock, the coach of the St. Louis Blues described Patrick Kane as a "nightmare" at the center position, elaborating "With a player who is that strong, competitive and patient with the puck, we all kind of dreaded that day when he was going to move to the middle of the ice. When you come with a one-two punch like that (Talking about Toews as well), it's not a lot of fun."
At the beginning of the year, conventional wisdom would have told you that Jonathan Toews had to be the leader in assists at the 20-game mark of the season. But for a player like Patrick Kane, with what he brings to the table, is it any surprise that he sits atop the team lead in assists?
Kane is a born playmaker and he has shown that from the moment the puck dropped in the first game of the season. Kane has 15 assists and seven goals putting him second behind Marian Hossa in his point total for the season with 22.
Maybe the most impressive part of his game besides his amazing stick handling is the fast yet smooth pace that he brings whenever he steps foot on the ice. If you give Kane an inch of space and he will go a mile which should frighten any goalie in the NHL.
Kane's success could simply come from his motivation. Many people (including myself) were left scratching their head whenever Joel Quenneville made the executive decision to put him at center in the preseason, and he has proven his doubters wrong so far.
He has not shown any signs of his abilities declining, and let's face it, since he is new at the position and with the drive and the passion that he has. The Blackhawk wearing No. 88 can only get better
2. The Hawks Are Sunk Without Seabrook and "Dunk"
Regardless if we are still waiting for Duncan Keith to return to his Norris Trophy winning form, Duncan Keith remains one of the best defenseman in the league and one of the most, if not the most important player to the Chicago Blackhawks.
After missing a week and half due to injury, Duncan Keith came back looking strong with his line mate Brent Seabrook, but looked the polar opposite in the past two games, where the Hawks have looked like the lowly team from Trinidad in the movie Mighty Ducks 2, losing games to Calgary and Edmonton by the combined score of 14-4, which could be contributed to the defense in which Keith leads.(Never fear though).
Keith's major battle is between the ears and you would have to believe that he will get it figured out and the Hawks will get over these two most recent losses.
I understand what Quenneville was trying to do before the move to put these two back together. He thought that having the two on the ice at separate times would create a sense of uneasiness for the opponent.
But these guys are such "ice eaters" (Like an "innings eater" in baseball, I just made it up) that it is seemingly irrelevant. As long as these guys do what they do best and Niklas Hjalmarson and Nick Leddy can step up than this becomes a non issue.
3. Special Teams: Not Just for the Chicago Bears
12-6-3 is a nice place to be sitting considering how bad the Penalty Kill was the first 10 games of the season. The 'Hawks ranked as low as 29th in the Penalty kill. It has since been retooled by Quennville, and the Hawks now sit at 13th.
However since the Hawks have started to figure out the power play, their penalty kill has fallen off the wagon a bit in their last 10, if only even a little. Once these two aspects both finally hit their stride the Hawks could be described as unstoppable.
More importantly if the Hawks stay disciplined, which is one of the best aspects of a Joel Quenneville team, then they will continue to play at a high level and the issues will be minimized. Such could be said about any team in the league, but I think this is very important for this team that has struggled in one aspect or the other on Special Teams so far this season.
4. Solid Goalie Play Is All It Takes
Corey Crawford has shown glimpses of greatness on some nights and has looked like Swiss cheese the other ones. As it stands right now he finds himself on the downswing with his save percentage falling to .901, allowing 47 goals which is the fourth most among the top 30 goalies in the league.
Looking at the given information you may think that the Blackhawks are in trouble, Personally, I don't think this is the case. The fact that Crawford has struggled as of late shouldn't be that alarming considering it is only his second year in the league and he has done enough to keep the Blackhawks in all of their games (with the exception of a few.)
Crawford has a unique style as a butterfly goalie and with help from Goaltender's Coach Stephane Waite, Crawford should continue to keep the Hawks in position to stay in the win column.
Realistically the Hawks aren't in need of an elite net minder like Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek, in fact they only need him to play at an above average level. I am not saying that striving for mediocrity (or even above mediocrity) is the answer at anytime.
My point is, this team has the tools in place to take a deep playoff run with the formula of the great coaching that Joel Quenneville brings, partnered with the high powered offense that has put the Hawks third in the league in scoring, as well as sound defense that this team is team is so capable of playing.
The Blackhawks Love the United Center
I realize that it is not a mystery how great the United Center is. In fact, this slide may be a shameless plug to share my appreciation to all the Squawks out there (A term made famous by Mark Silverman and Tom Waddle on their radio show on ESPN 1000 for describing a passionate Blackhawks fan.)
Every night the "Madhouse on Madison" is absolutely electric. You have to think that opposing teams absolutely hate playing in this building. The Hawks have managed to lose just one game in regulation at home with a record of 7-1-2.
They look like a different team at home, and how could you not get pumped up to playing in front of fans that don't stop screaming from the time the National Anthem is played?
It is nearly impossible to get into the building at a reasonable price these days because of how passionate this team's fans are. Week in and week out, it seems like more people are falling in love with guys like Toews, Kane and Hossa (which I would be remised, if I failed to mention how great No. 81 has been this season)
Maybe it's because of the NBA lockout that the Hawks have seemed to be more loved this year, but one has to believe it's the great city of Chicago recognizing and taking advantage of greatness day in and day out, believing in the chance that they will get to celebrate like they did in 2010. And personally, I think that hope is valid, because this team isn't going anywhere but up in 2011-2012.