Everyone is astounded at the Chicago Blackhawks’ points streak. It’s gone beyond amazing – it’s come to the point that words become inadequate to describe it. The best teams in the Western Conference have tried and failed to hand them their first regulation loss of the season. It’s like the Blackhawks have some encrypted code that can’t be cracked.
I’m not here to give you the key to that code. Instead, I’ll tell you why they’re so hard to beat. It has to do with the fact that the Blackhawks you see on the ice now are not the same players who struggled for most of last season. It all comes down to a few major factors.
First, there’s no one line that does all the scoring. In the past, the top two lines were known for their skill and speed, while the bottom two were mostly checking lines. But take a look at who’s scored goals this season – guys like Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw, who are on the bottom lines. There’s grit on those lines, but they also have at least one guy on each who can score. Focusing your energy on stopping the top lines leaves you at the scoring mercy of the other two.
Along that same train of thought, all of the lines as well as the defense can bottle up the other team in their own defensive zone. Notice in Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings how lopsided the shots on goal were. In fact, it’s happened quite frequently. That comes down to forcing turnovers and then cycling the puck once they have possession. The split-second decisions to pass or shoot have gotten better as well, and screening in the crease is actually present when it wasn’t in the past.
A side note to the lines is that Patrick Kane is now firmly at right wing. The Blackhawks’ grand experiment of putting him at second line center went worse than expected, with Kane having, at least in his mind, a terrible 66-point season. The constant bouncing between center and wing burned him out too quickly. With Dave Bolland at center, the second line is as strong as the top line, if not more so.
Finally, there’s the goaltending. In a league where teams rest net duty firmly on the shoulders of one goaltender and use his backup only to rest him, Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have done the unthinkable and split net time. It’s not so much a physical change in their play as it is a mental one, and the change in focus has worked. Emery was named the league’s third star for February, while Crawford leads the league with his 1.41 goals-against average and is second with a .945 save percentage.
When you take each of the mentioned parts as a whole, you can see that they’re working like a well-oiled machine. The Blackhawks are a far cry from where they were at this time last year. If they can hold their winning ways, they’ll be virtually untouchable.