Chicago Blackhawks are undeniably impressive
It’s quite likely the last place on Earth you’d expect to hear praise for the Chicago Blackhawks’ record-breaking start to this National Hockey League season. But deep in the recesses of Rogers Arena, even the Vancouver Canucks—loath at the best of times to say anything positive about the Hawks—are starting to admit a certain level of awe at the way their archrivals have rolled over their opposition since opening day.
With a late come-from-behind 2-1 victory in Detroit on March 3, the Hawks improved to 19-0-3, giving them at least a point in each of their first 22 games. The fact that the Blackhawks are atop the NHL standings can’t be a surprise to anyone who follows hockey. They are a deep and talented team with a core group of players that won the Stanley Cup three years ago. So the surprise isn’t that the Hawks are soaring—it’s the relative ease with which they are picking off their prey.
In this lockout shortened season, there were to be far more questions than answers on every team. There were supposed to be issues with players who hadn’t played during the work stoppage getting back to NHL speed and conditioning. There were also scheduling concerns, with many games squeezed into a short time period forcing teams into stretches where they would play three games in four nights and four in six more often than usual. And there were worries about how that condensed schedule might lead to injuries.
Some of that has played out around the NHL. None of that, however, has been any kind of issue for the Blackhawks, who have had their best players lead the way; the foot soldiers have followed, and all they seem to do is win.
“It’s really impressive, especially in this condensed schedule when you’re playing almost every other night,” Canucks forward Alex Burrows, who’s had his share of run-ins with Chicago, told the Georgia Straight in a recent locker-room interview at Rogers Arena. “You need a lot of things going your way: you need solid goaltending; you need your defencemen to play well; you need different people chipping in offensively throughout your lineup.
“They’ve been getting that. Their special teams have been good. They’ve had some bounces go their way and they’re taking advantage of that. It’s all credit to them. They’re working hard and making it look easy, but it’s much tougher than that.”
While the Canucks near the midway mark of this 48-game season still searching for consistency in their game, the Hawks have clearly had it since the first day. And that’s the most-remarkable part of the streak. In terms of dictating the outcome of a single game so far this season, the Hawks have not been tripped up by a bad bounce or a bad call, been flat or fatigued, let a red-hot goalie derail their run, or fallen victim to another team’s power play.
Making the start all the more remarkable is the fact that the Hawks played 10 of their first 12 games on the road, where winning with regularity isn’t supposed to be an easy feat. And yet that’s pretty much all they’ve done.
“I’m totally impressed,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “What they’re doing on a nightly basis… I know they’ve got unbelievable players on their top lines, but their kids are stepping in and contributing. Both [Duncan] Keith and [Brent] Seabrook are playing like A-type defencemen, and both of their goalies are playing well too. There is such a thing as getting bounces, but to sustain it for this long is an unbelievable thing…”
Now, one thing the Canucks know better than any team in the NHL is that great regular seasons and first-place finishes mean nothing once the playoffs roll around. And that’s the cautionary tale in all of this for the Blackhawks. As impressive as they’ve been, the postseason is about matchups and finding a way to beat the same team four times in a best-of-seven series.
And although the Hawks are sending a pretty clear message to the rest of the NHL that they appear to be the team to beat, the Canucks know they’re one of the three teams to beat Chicago. In fact, both meetings between the two have been settled in shootouts, so the Canucks have held their own against the Blackhawks and certainly haven’t been run out of the rink.
But that’s another reason to marvel at the Chicago streak. In a season with so many games settled by a single goal, no one has yet found a way to knock off the Hawks in anything other than a shootout. And the longer the streak goes, the bigger the target the Blackhawks become, as now every team they face wants to be the team to hand them their first outright loss of the season.
But through all of that, they’re finding ways to win and gaining a healthy dose of respect around the league.
“Being an athlete, you recognize how hard that is in any sport, and I’ve got to say [that] hockey’s the toughest sport, because there are so many skilled players and so many skilled teams,” Canucks forward David Booth said.” Things can go either way on so many nights, and you can run into a goalie that plays unbelievably and can steal a game. They’re playing really well right now. It is impressive, and that’s why they’re winning.”
It can’t be easy for the Vancouver Canucks to see the Chicago Blackhawks roll ahead, much less to praise them for the way they’re going about their business. But right now, there is simply no denying that what the Hawks are doing—and how they’re doing it—is impressive for so many reasons.