It wasn’t long ago that there were serious questions being raised about the Chicago Blackhawks, as invalid as those questions may have been.
In the days prior to their annual Circus Trip, in taking at least a six-game trip out west, the Hawks were hovering in and out of the Western Conference playoff picture. While it’s barely even December, the fact that the Blackhawks were not firmly in the thick of things certainly had a fair share of folks in the Windy City a little nervous. This was especially amplified by the fact that the offensive powerhouse was having trouble finding the back of the net with any consistency.
A large part of that was due to the fact that the Hawks continued to run into hot goaltenders and had an extremely low shooting percentage as a result. Their Corsi was off the chart on a nightly basis, as they routinely outshot and outpossessed their opponents, but the goals weren’t coming for them. As it turns out, the goal output was only a matter of time, and after their six-game swing out west, the Blackhawks have their groove back.
Led by the likes of Patrick Kane, who has been on an absolute tear of late, the Hawks have worked their way up to sixth in the Western Conference standings, just three points back of the conference-leading Nashville Predators. Despite their relatively low standing at this point, the Hawks are actually tops in the conference in their goal differential, with a plus-26 for the year. And the elite label doesn’t end there.
The Blackhawks are surrendering the fifth lowest amount of shots per game, and are allowing the second least amount of goals per game in the league, as a result. Their goal output is improving, as they’re up to eighth in the league in goals per game, with special teams that feature an improving power play (which is up to 15th in the league in its percentage) and the league’s best penalty kill, which is keeping teams off the board at a rate just over 91 percent.
Corey Crawford has quietly been one of the best goaltenders in the league throughout the year. In handling an enormous workload, Crawford has a 1.87 goals against average and a .929 save percentage, with both figures coming in with the game’s very best. He’s struggled to find his consistency during the regular season in the last couple of years, but now it looks like the playoff version of Corey Crawford has made his presence known in the 82-game slate as well.
Kane has been exceptional, both in putting the puck in the net and setting up his teammates. He has 23 points in 24 games and has been on a tear. Jonathan Toews is second on the team, and is tied for the team lead with 10 goals. Kris Versteeg has regained his form and is a source of secondary offense, as well as Brad Richards, who looks like the bargain signing that Stan Bowman hoped he was acquiring this summer. And this is a team with a snakebitten Marian Hossa (just three goals on the year) and an injured Patrick Sharp. Which means there’s still another level.
Add in the elite blue line with Norris Trophy winner/contender Duncan Keith and his partner Brent Seabrook, who appears to have regained his form of old, and this team is every bit the powerhouse that we all expected them to be heading into the year. There’s a reason this is such a long season. A slow start for a team like this, or like the Los Angeles Kings, isn’t particularly significant. And right now, the Blackhawks are demonstrating why.