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Updated: February 26, 2013 11:56AM
Let’s not forget that the Blackhawks got off to a good start last season.
It may not be of the we-don’t-like-to-lose-in-regulation-at-all variety like this lockout-shortened season. But the Hawks were the first team to reach 50 points a season ago, beating teams behind their stars and offensive firepower.
It was a nine-game losing streak – a wretched trek that exposed holes, raised doubts about their makeup and warmed up coach Joel Quenneville’s seat – that destroyed that sound start and dramatically dropped them in the Western Conference standings.
It was something that the Hawks never truly recovered from. They were chasing. There were pressing. There were questioned. And they were doubted.
But I just don’t see anything like that happening again this year. A repeat of that horrid stretch — or even anything half as long — seems as likely as John Scott returning to the team to play defense.
It just won’t happen.
Why, you ask?
There are a lot of reasons: the Hawks didn’t undergo major changes personnel-wise like other teams (the chemistry is already there), Patrick Kane is playing like the superstar he can be (and on the wing), both special teams have vastly improved and Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have been walls in goal.
But to me, it’s the maturation of Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw, the emergence of Brandon Saad and having defenseman Johnny Oduya around from the first puck drop that’s really made a difference.
The Hawks’ stars will do what they do and Crawford’s play warrants plenty of praise for rebounding from his soft-goal sickness, but like in 2010, it’s the Hawks’ depth that’s working wonders.
Quenneville has been be able to utilize four lines and three defensive pairings like he did three seasons ago, but rarely could the past two seasons because of worn-out stars and all the inconsistency the new additions added.
Now, it’s just much different, and I look at what Saad, Kruger, Shaw and Oduya are providing on a nightly basis. Their play warrants talk because their play so far this season has made the Hawks a deeper team to contend with, similarly, but not exactly like what Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien provided during the Hawks’ Stanley Cup-winning season.
The points may not be there, but Saad is proving to be a top-six forward. His speed and strength stand out, but his smarts and awareness – what Quenneville likes to call “hockey sense” – are equally as impressive. Just the fact that he’s seeing time on the penalty kill says it all.
Kruger, meanwhile, might just be the Hawks’ shutdown, third-line center of the future, while Shaw, who is actually centering the third line, has shown he can store away all the side antics (which, to be fair, do make him valuable at times) and be effective when he’s smart with his play.
The Hawks were a different team when they added Oduya at the trade deadline last season. And they continue to be a different team this year with him. There is balance back on the blue line. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook no longer have to do everything, and there isn’t as much on Nick Leddy’s plate to digest.
The overall results so far have been stunning. Teams that have accomplished what the Hawks have done to open this 48-game season have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
Of course, hoisting that Cup again was an oft-talked about goal the past two seasons.
But this year, it’s just seems more attainable — an actually achievable goal.
The Hawks are just better put together to do it.