Biggest Takeaways from Chicago Blackhawks' Start to the 2013-14 Season
Three games don't make up an NHL season, and that's good news for the Chicago Blackhawks. With 79 games to go, the 'Hawks have all the time in the world to focus on what has been ailing them over the first week and a half of the season.
Let's be honest: Chicago isn't in this for another crazy season-opening win streak. They aren't playing to be the Stanley Cup favorite that is constantly getting mentioned on the NHL Network, and they certainly don't care about whether they are rising or falling in various power rankings.
The only thing that matters to the Blackhawks is a return to the Stanley Cup Final. Still, there have been a few things that we've learned about this club so far in this young season.
Heavy Is the Head
It's a fact that every Stanley Cup champion in the history of the NHL has had to come to grips with: Every single night, the opposition is going to try to raise its collective level of play to make a statement against the most recent Cup winner.
The 'Hawks have seen this in all three of their games so far. The Tampa Bay Lightning refused to die during the second contest of the season, coming from behind and eventually stealing the victory in overtime.
A trendy Cup-winner prediction heading into this season was the St. Louis Blues, and they showed why on national television as they downed the 'Hawks with a late-game winner. They played Chicago tight and hard, and managed to score with only 22 seconds left.
There will not be a single easy game on the schedule for the Blackhawks because of the target on their backs, and they need to settle in with that fact.
Every Second Matters
Chicago, of all teams, should know that every shift and every second of every game counts. Hockey is a game that really boils down to momentum, and the 'Hawks have not done a good job controlling that aspect of their game so far in this early season.
They've had two games snowball and get away from them, and while the season is a distance run and not a sprint, every point counts. All they need to do to remind themselves of that is look at the final Western Conference standings from 2013.
Plus giving up leads in the third period, frankly, isn't something that champions make a habit of doing.
The 'Hawks have a strong group of leaders in the locker room, so this shouldn't continue to be an issue, but so far it has been in 2013-14.
Rock Solid Power Play
The Blackhawks didn't have issues preventing power-play goals in 2013. The penalty kill was one of the strongest in the NHL and had a 87.2 percent kill rate during the regular season—good for third in the league—according to NHL.com.
On the other side of the coin, Chicago struggled with the extra man. The exact opposite has been the case so far this year.
The 'Hawks have clicked at a very strong 36.4 percent through three games on the power play. That percentage will likely drop as the season wears on, but if they can continue to score around 20 percent of the time, then they'll be one of the best special teams groups in the league.
That is, if they can fix their suddenly abysmal penalty kill. Their PK group is currently the worst in the NHL.
The Shots Keep Coming
With one of the most well-balanced and lethal attacks in the NHL, the more Chicago is shooting, the better off they'll be. In 2012-13 they were posting an average of 31.1 shots per game, and that hasn't changed one bit so far in 2013-14.
They're still remarkably capable of piling on the shots, and only the San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens are averaging more attempts on goal than the 'Hawks. Chicago is actually outpacing 2013's numbers a bit, as they are shooting an average of 33.7 times a game right now.
With players like Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa firing away, it's only a matter of time before the goals start coming and the slashes start falling in the win column.
Brandon Saad Is for Real
We all know how tough the sophomore year in the NHL can be. Some players slump a bit as the scouting reports on their tendencies make the rounds and the opposition is able to adjust. That doesn't seem to be an issue for Brandon Saad though, as he's been outstanding for Chicago through three games.
Playing second fiddle to the likes of Kane and Toews, it could be argued that Saad has been the best forward for Chicago through the early part of the season so far. His two-way game shines, and he's become a player that can both attack a lead and protect it.
With four points through three games, Saad is in the NHL's top 25 scorers and has really been strong for the 'Hawks so far.