We’re just four days into 2014 but for the Chicago Blackhawks, there has been plenty to talk about. There have been accolades, continuing streaks, individual disappointments and, oh yeah, more points.
Entering Saturday’s games, the Blackhawks are once again atop the Western Conference standings and their goal differential (plus-44) is second only to the St. Louis Blues (plus-51). So while the Blackhawks take a day off to rest and refresh for Sunday’s tilt against the San Jose Sharks, we make some random musings on their recent games.
1. Antti Raanta continues to be this season’s Ray Emery. Raanta, who was named the league’s co-rookie of the month for December, is now 11-1-3 after claiming another victory on Friday night. And now he’ll get to add to that as the Blackhawks reassigned fellow backup Jason LaBarbera to Rockford this morning. Yes, we talked about it earlier this week regarding Raanta and where he should play, here or Rockford. It’s the smart move to keep him here. Raanta may be new to the North American game but he’s not new to goaltending. He’s 24 and seasoned in the net, even if most of that is across the pond. He’s earned the right to stay.
2. Brandon Saad was obviously disappointed that he didn’t make the U.S. team for the upcoming Winter Olympics but we’ll disagree with one thing he said earlier this week. Saad, who was reportedly one of the last to be cut from consideration – he could be one of the first brought on if there’s an injury – told reporters that “it doesn’t matter if you’re the last cut or cut early on.” Not making the team was not making the team. Well, not really. There’s enough talent in this country now that there’s a big difference between first and last cuts. Saad’s successful stint on the top line last season, Calder Trophy finalist recognition and continued work this season earned him careful and late consideration. And if he keeps up at this rate, we’re guessing he’ll go from last-minute cut to no-brainer selection in 2018.
3. Oh, and no big surprise that Saad moved back to left wing on the second line in the Blackhawks’ 5-3 victory over New Jersey on Friday. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Wednesday that Saad likely would: “I still look forward to him getting back on the left, making a move or two to see how that plays out. But I like how things are looking so far, so we’re not there yet.” With offense being lackluster at the start of the Devils game, Quenneville has his opening to make the move.
4. One side note on this whole Team USA thing: any doubt that, because of the Bobby Ryan brew haha, the Ottawa forward is the first call-up in case of injury?
5. A side note to the previous side note: if there was this much furor over players who did/didn’t make it to the U.S. squad, what’s it going to be like when Team Canada is selected on Tuesday?
6. Patrick Sharp recorded his second hat trick in his last five games on Friday night, and now has 25 goals on the season. If he’s not selected for Team Canada, we’re boycotting everything made in that country outside of Kokanee. Hey, we’re only human.
7. Patrick Kane earned the league’s No. 1-star accolades for the second consecutive month. If he wasn’t in Hart Trophy talk before, he’s certainly there now.
8. Corey Crawford told us Wednesday that he wasn’t worried about rust or movement issues off his lower-body injury – “our guys practice pretty hard, so the pace is good and they make it easy to get back into it,” he said. Judging from his return on Thursday night, he wasn’t kidding.
9. Bravo to the Rockford IceHogs, whose bobblehead of the great Scotty Bowman actually looked like Scotty Bowman.
10. Joel Quenneville collected his 689th coaching victory on Friday night and is now just three behind Dick Irvin (692) for third on the all-time list. Still laughable that some wanted him gone following (gasp) two first-round losses with a revamped team.