Hawks set up for more success in January

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks woke up on Sunday with a great view of the New Year -- from the top of the standings. No club can boast as many as the Hawks’ 52 points, achieved with a 24-10-4 mark through the first three months.

They posted a monster December (10-2-1) and have dominated their home games (14-3-3) all season.

And in January, when the Hawks only have three road games on their schedule before the All-Star break, there is no reason they can’t continue racking up the wins. Playing at home with rest between games simply has a nice rhythm for a player. And the Hawks know what’s lurking in February -- a nine-game road trip -- and need as much cushion as possible.

The exclamation mark they put on December with a fantastic 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday can’t be overstated. It was playoff hockey, and the Hawks didn’t blink after getting down 1-0 and 2-1. Maybe the best thing about the game was it lived up to the hype, and the hype was generated by the teams as much as the fans.

“This is right where we need something,” coach Joel Quenneville said before Friday’s game. “Everything is going to be at stake tonight. It’ll be good measuring for us.”

How often do you hear Quenneville talk about a regular-season game like that? It’s not worth any more than the two points at stake on Monday against the Edmonton Oilers, but of course, we know there is more meaning to it.

If Quenneville and his players were curious to see how they stacked up against the hated Red Wings, what do you think fans were thinking? Glass half-empty pessimists could easily make the case the Hawks hadn’t been playing good competition or were fortunate to have such a home-friendly month. “Bring on the Wings and then we’ll see how they do,” was probably going through many minds. Especially against a goaltender -- Jimmy Howard -- having a fantastic season. This is no Steve Mason they were facing.

Even if the Hawks had narrowly lost the game it wouldn’t have (and shouldn’t have) mattered much. Their game against the Wings was as good as any all season, especially on the defensive end.

Has anyone noticed Duncan Keith has improved to plus-12 and Brent Seabrook is plus-11? Those numbers went north mostly in December. Each played two games they were minus in and none since Dec. 8.

As talked about many times, they are the key players -- outside of the goalies -- to the Hawks’ success. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg did nothing on Friday and a lot of it had to do with Keith and Seabrook. Keith, in particular, continues to improve his game and an All-Star bid is a real possibility. His critics have been quiet because he’s been good.

Seabrook’s winning score on Friday had a tinge of irony to it. Detroit is the team that gets goals from its back end, not the Hawks. Of the players on the rosters from Friday’s game, and even with Seabrook’s third-period blast, Chicago has just 12 scores from blue-liners. Detroit has 27.

Every statistic needs perspective, though, and while goals might not be coming, the transition game has been. Still, a few more blasts like Seabrook’s and the Hawks can add another dangerous element to an already dangerous offense.