Blackhawks Finding Their Wings
By Patrick Hoffman
After being disposed of by the Nashville Predators in four straight games in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, many people wanted if this was the beginning of the end for the Chicago Blackhawks.
In that series, the team was outclassed, out-skated, and outworked. They looked like they did not belong on the same ice and in general, they looked plain old tired.
When this season began, there was still a bit of a sour taste in their mouth and they got off to an extremely inconsistent start. In the ever tight Central Division, they were struggling to remain in the upper echelon of the group and looked like their time as division champions and true Cup contenders were coming to an end.
Fast forward to now (Monday, December 18, 2017) and it appears that the team is finding its stride. The club has won five straight games and has done it with timely goal scoring, solid special teams play, and great goaltending.
As of this writing, the Blackhawks are 17-11-5, which is good for the top wild card spot in the Western Conference. The team is also just five points behind the division-leading Predators.
The main reason why the Blackhawks have had any kind of success this season is because of the play of their netminder, Corey Crawford. In fact, it could be said that he is the team's best player.
In 26 games this season, Crawford, 32, is 16-7-0-2 with a 2.11 goals against average, a .935 save percentage and two shutouts. Those are some All-Star and Vezina Trophy-type numbers right there.
Crawford not only makes the first save, but he puts himself in a good enough position to stop second and third opportunities as well. He also fights for pucks and uses a somewhat unconventional style to keep the puck out of the net. With him between the pipes, the team always a good chance to win games.
Patrick Kane also seems to be heating up for his hockey club. He currently leads his team in points with 34 (14 goals and 20 assists) and is starting to have success playing with Nick Schmaltz (6 goals and 14 assists for 20 points).
Another player that has had a good start to this season is Alex Debrincat. The 20-year-old rookie is second on the team in points with 23 (12 goals and 11 assists) and is playing with the poise of a veteran.
While there is still a lot of hockey left to be played and the team is still in one of the toughest divisions with the likes of the Predators, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets, and Dallas Stars, there is no reason to believe why come the end of the season, the Blackhawks will be in the playoff picture and will have a shot at winning their fourth Cup in eight seasons.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.