Friday, December 25, 2009

And We're Back...

Okay, so it's been a while, I realize. Two posts ago, I was pondering whether or not the Blackhawks would keep Kane, Toews, OR Keith, as if not all would stay. Thankfully, a sports organization actually did what I wanted them to, they signed a strong, young nucleus of great players by keeping all three. Since that time, the Blackhawks have proven themselves quite capable of being considered a top-tier team in the NHL.

As we near the midway point of the NHL season, the Blackhawks still sit at the top of their division. They boast quite a few victories over some real contenders. In this list include the Flames (twice; once coming from behind by 5 GOALS!), the Sharks (twice; at one point during one of the games, the Blackhawks led 7-0), the Penguins, and the Kings. Sure, the Blackhawks lost to the Kings once (in a shootout) and the Sharks once (by a goal), but the 'Hawks have looked impressive.

The Blackhawks have really been sporting a one-two punch in net with Cristobal Huet playing well at the moment and back-up Antti Niemi answering the call nearly every time (he has only lost twice, one of them in overtime). Together, the Blackhawks have 7 shutouts; the most in the league.

The goalies aren't the only ones working either. Most of the shutouts are due to solid defensive play that have kept the goalies from needing to make very many saves. And when you don't have to make many saves, it's easier to make those more difficult stops. The 'Hawks can thank one of the best defensive pairings in the league, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, as well as the young and promising Niklas Hjalmarsson. Cam Barker has been playing up to his potential ever since the Blackhawks brought him back from his much-deserved stint in Rockford last season. Also, a player that hasn't impressed me much, Brian Campbell, has played well the last 5 or so games, so let's hope that continues.

Finally, the Blackhawks offense has been solid. It has been hard to count them out of any of their games. They usually don't have much trouble winning when they score first. Even when they don't score first, they have come from behind in several games this season. Recently, the 'Hawks fell behind the New York Rangers 1-0 in a game that the Blackhawks were dominating. The 'Hawks managed to tie the game and pull out the win in overtime. Also, the Hawks fell behind against the Bruins one week ago, 1-0, in a game that they battled back and eventually won in a shootout. Lastly, I must mention the game against the Flames early on in the year, in which the Blackhawks fell behind 5-0 at one point in the first period before the 'Hawks scored 5 unanswered goals to tie the game and force it into overtime. In overtime, Brent Seabrook notched the game-winner (the first of three game-winners he would notch so far this year).

On top of all this good news, the Blackhawks also have taken advantage of opportunities to get ahead of the ever-threatening Red Wings. This year, the Red Wings have struggled with many injuries. After the Blackhawks lost in their first meeting with the Red Wings, they picked up two shutouts against them this last week. One Red Wings posted on a comment board after the game something to the effect of "You Blackhawk fans better not get used to beating the Red Wings. If you didn't notice, the Red Wings are missing 9 players and the Blackhawks are only missing one." I decided not to get involved in a war of words online, but I had to disagree with the guy's statement in two ways. First of all, the Blackhawks had 4 players out that game (Dave Bolland, Adam Burish, Ben Eager, and Cam Barker). Secondly, and more importantly, just because the Red Wings were not at 100% when the Blackhawks posted the two shutouts, it doesn't mean that the Blackhawks aren't the better team. If you think about it, part of being a good team is staying healthy. The fact is this: the Red Wings are mostly old and experienced players which make them good, but also more susceptible to injury. The Blackhawks are young and quick, which make them good, but also means that they may not have all too much experience. The Blackhawks were just able to exploit their advantages better during the two shutouts.

All of this is good news and is very promising. I'm almost afraid to say it because most of the time I'm let down, but the Blackhawks have made a believer out of me this year. And I know I'm not alone, because in the final minutes of the shutout in the United Center, the home crowd chanted "We Want the Cup!" Let's get going...

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