The wind that’s coming from the city of Chicago might be from all the Blackhawks fans clapping, cheering and shouting. It’s a reasonable assumption as the Blackhawks are riding the high that comes with a four-game winning streak.
Not since the 1970′s have the Blackhawks had such a good start to a season, but a 40 year gap isn’t enough to slow down the momentum Chicago has been building over the past week.
Chicago’s offense came out of the lockout gate strong, steam-rolling over the Cup defenders, the Los Angeles Kings. Beating last year’s champs is a good way to build confidence, which only grew when the Blackhawks next faced the Phoenix Coyotes, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year and put Blackhawks star, Marion Hossa, in a scary highlight reel. Revenge was humming undertone on the Blackhawks bench as they stormed to a 6-4 win. For the third game of the short season, Chicago finally came home to a sold-out Madhouse and the red carpet treatment. It didn’t hurt that the Blackhawks were facing historical rivals, the St. Louis Blues. A tough, battle-to-the-last-second, war-on-ice led to Chicago holding on for two more points as fans cheered on Madison Street and in their living rooms at home. Chicago was able to bring in the highest regular season game ratings in history that night. More recently, it was in Texas facing the Dallas Stars when Chicago had to come from a 2-0 deficit to win the game in overtime, on the power-play, off a beautiful pass play between Hossa and Patrick Kane.
What this all means is that Chicago is not only powering through the point system, but their confidence is only growing as more games come up on the schedule. Winning the first four gives an ego boost to a team loaded with offensive talent that seem to feed on egos and confidence. Nobody was questioning the offense of Chicago when the season started. These last four games showed why.
One big offensive question mark when the season started was Patrick Kane. Yes, he’s an all-star and his jerseys sell off the racks. But his offensive performance in recent years was causing some to question his contributions to the team on the statistics sheet. Kane played overseas through the lockout, in a similar every-other-night schedule, and his play during these four games has shown what he’s capable of. He currently ranks 4th in the league with seven points in only four games. He also ranks 4th in the league in assists with 5. Kane is proving doubters wrong and flashing images of the superstar he was a few seasons back.
But while the offense is doing it’s job, another spot of thin ice was in question when the season started for Chicago. Corey Crawford was considered shaky at best in his previous seasons with Chicago and some wondered whether or not he would be up for the challenge of a compressed, stressful and hectic season. He said, before the season began, that he would have to prove himself this year. His three wins in four games puts him at the number one spot for goaltenders in the league, and shows signs that he is able to fulfill his promise. A .923 save percentage is 12th in the league standings among goalies and his 1.98 goals against average is good enough for the number eight spot. But what’s more important is that the confidence the offense is feeling, is trickling to the net. Crawford is playing like he deserves a post-season appearance and his teammates, and Chicago fans, are noticing.
Crawford may have some external influence as well. The Blackhawks recently acquired Henrik Karlsson from the Calgary Flames and put him on the roster in Rockford. At only 29 years old and with only 26 regular-season NHL games, Karlsson is young and has talent ready for molding. This was no-doubt on the mind of Blackhawks General Manager, Stan Bowman. Which means Crawford now knows that he has to keep a high intensity to his game or his job description could be changing very quickly. So far, he’s answering the call.
So far, the future looks bright for Chicago. The momentum and enthusiasm is rolling in waves and the team is handling the quick schedule well. The one gray cloud that won’t go away is injuries. When the season is considerably shorter and games are often every other night, injuries play an even more important role. Dan Carcillo has been scratched with a lower body injury, putting a big gap in Chicago’s physical game. Brandon Bollig, Jamal Mayers, and Sheldon Brookbank have all missed games already this season when the Blackhawks could have used their physical presence. If and when Chicago is able to get a full and healthy roster, look for them to be an even stronger team down the line.