Monday, Jan. 10, 2011
By Chris Boden
If the Blackhawks had not had themselves a four-point weekend, it likely would've prompted a little deeper probing into what's going on with the defending champs. And let's face it, those two words (much less the actions) are cause for discomfort. Glad we don't have to, at this point.
But they took advantage of two home dates against struggling teams, and even though Friday's turned out to be a little more adventurous than preferred, got some momentum going heading into an important week and interesting stretch. Even though it wasn't exactly a pressure situation, they temporarily buried that 0-for-5 PK stretch with a successful kill against an Islanders power play that had been clicking. They apparently stayed physically healthy, and their core guys got healthier on the stat sheet. All that while honoring their Cup predecessors of half a century ago, who spoke Saturday from experience of the need to at least keep finding effort and hunger, even if other variables are out of their control.
It's a good vibe as they next face a Colorado team they get their last crack at defeating this season come Wednesday, followed by next weekend's home-and-home versus Nashville. After that, it's just three games the final two weeks of the month through the All-Star break. That's when the rest of the West will catch up in the games-played column, and the Hawks will get a better gauge on how much heavy lifting will be required through April 10th. And oh yeah, the first two of those three games to close January come back-to-back, following five days off, at Detroit, then back home versus Philadelphia.
Joel Quenneville spoke between the victories about how he believes this team has an extended win streak in it, and the sooner they pull that off, the better. I went back and looked at how other teams in the West have put together streaks, but have found for most, those hot stretches have been countered with cool - or cold - snaps. Every team's dealt with its share of injuries, and in some cases have fared surprisingly well without key players. But most of all, it's just life in the ultra-competitive, don't-look-too-far-ahead West. Detroit and Vancouver appear to have potentially put themselves in position for the top two playoff seeds. But here are examples of the roller-coaster rides everyone's been through, as well as some of the key players they've spent some time without. The Blackhawks certainly haven't been alone in their inconsistencies through the first three months:
Anaheim: (Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, Andy Sutton, Cam Fowler) Started 1-3-1, 6-game win streak immediately followed by a 6-game losing streak (0-4-2), followed by 7-2-1 stretch, followed by losing 4 of 5.
Colorado: (Chris Stewart, Craig Anderson, Milan Hejduk, Kyle Quincey, T.J. Galiardi) Started 3-1, followed by 1-3-1 stretch, later won 4 straight, immediately followed by 1-3-3, then a 6-game win streak, followed by 1-4-1.
Columbus: (Kristian Huselius, Ethan Moreau) Won 7 of 9, later won 5 in a row, followed by an 0-4-1 stretch, a 1-4-2 stretch, and a 3-game win streak.
Dallas: (Kari Lehtonen, Krystofer Barch, Toby Petersen) Started 5-1, lost 3 straight, won 3 in a row, then lost 3 straight, later had a 6-game win streak, and recently lost 4 of 5.
Detroit: (Brian Rafalski, Mike Modano, Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Brad Stuart) Started 17-4-2, had a 3-4-2 stretch in December, and recently won 4 of 5.
Los Angeles: (Drew Doughty, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene) Started 12-3, then immediately lost 7 of 8, followed by a 3-game win streak. Recently had a 4-game win streak followed by a 4-game losing streak.
Minnesota: (Guillaume Latendresse, Anti Miettinen) Started 10-6-2, then went 1-5-2. 4-game win streak snapped by Dallas Sunday.
Nashville: (Matthew Lombardi, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne, David Legwand, Steve Sullivan, Cal O'Reilly) Started 5-0-3, then lost 5 straight, then won 4 of 5, followed by a 4-game losing streak, followed by an 8-0-1 stretch, then a 5-game loss streak, and have now won 5 straight.
Phoenix: (Shane Doan, Ilya Bryzgalov, Kyle Turris, Martin Hanzal) Started 4-5-5, then won 7 straight. They haven't won or lost more than 2 straight since.
San Jose: (Douglas Murray, Joe Pavelski, Torrey Mitchell) Started 6-5-2. Have had one 4- and one 3-game win streak, but have now lost 6 of their last 8, despite improved play from Mr. Niemi.
St. Louis: (T.J. Oshie, Roman Polak, Barrett Jackman, Andy McDonald, David Perron) Started 7-1-2, and own win streaks of 7, 5, and 3, as well as two 5-game losing streaks.
Vancouver: (Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond) They're healthy in more ways than one now with this 17-1-3 streak. But they started 2-3-2 before winning 8 of 9, followed by a 4-game losing streak.
While the Blackhawks, and some fans may be disappointed where they stand, thanks in large part to a failure to close out games, maybe they deserve a little credit, too. They're still right there, living through the same streakiness as everyone else. But none of those other teams have had the roster turnover the Hawks have had. The foundation they've built for this season through the first half may be shaky, but they're still in position with everyone else to accelerate.
One final thought that Steve Konroyd and I have shared a couple of times on Pregame and Postgame Live. He needs more "meat" on his body of work his rookie season, but if Corey Crawford keeps playing at the level he has, it'll be a shame he'll be overlooked for the Calder Trophy by the impact Couture, Skinner, Hall, Eberle, Fowler and Shattenkirk have had on their respective teams. Bryan Bickell's hanging tough, stats-wise, but the way Crawford's performed - and the way the team seems to play better in front of him - shouldn't be overlooked for finalist consideration if he maintains his pace. Position-wise, he'd get challenged from a workload standpoint by Sergei Bobrovsky. But Corey got his first shootout experience Friday, and his second NHL shutout Sunday. He's living up to the rep that many talent evaluators have been saying for a couple of years: he has the best combination of talent and potential of any goalie the organization's had since being picked in the second round of that stacked 2003 NHL draft.
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.