The Chicago Blackhawks finally lost for the first time of the 2013 season on Wednesday.
It was likely a relief to some.
With Wednesday’s 3-2 road shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks can put aside all of the talk that comes with a winning streak, especially one to begin a season.
There’s no more discussion of how long the streak will last and when their first loss will come. It has arrived, and it’s time to move on.
The 2013 team did put itself into the record books by becoming the first in franchise history to win six consecutive games to start a season. But the Blackhawks can now focus on what’s truly important: trying to get into that same record book for winning another Stanley Cup.
While the wins added up over the past week and a half, they were secondary to what the Blackhawks were really showing the NHL. With each penalty killed off, successful power play, Corey Crawford save, Marian Hossa goal, Patrick Kane assist and so on down the line, the Blackhawks were proving to the league they might just have what it takes to be a Stanley Cup contender again.
What the Blackhawks must do now is find ways over the remaining 41 regular-season games to be consistent in those areas. Winning steaks will come and go in the NHL, but consistent play is what prevails -- at least in the regular season.
Even in Wednesday’s loss, the Blackhawks were nearly on par with how they’ve played most of the season and were just a goal away from pulling off another victory. Despite the shootout loss, they still took a point out of Minnesota and upped their total to a NHL-best 13 points.
“That’s a great start,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “The best thing about that is we’re doing a great job of putting the last game behind us and getting ready for the next one. That’s what we got to keep doing: Keep it one game at a time.”
The Blackhawks’ penalty kill has to be the most impressive aspect to their season’s start. Last season, the penalty kill was near the bottom of the league. Now it’s the reason why the Blackhawks have had a chance to win every game so far. A lot of players deserve credit for that early success, but Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger have noticeably stepped up.
The penalty kill units were clicking again on Wednesday. The Blackhawks killed off all four Wild power plays, including one during which Kruger, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson were on the ice for 1:23 to battle off a five-on-three chance. They also killed off in the final three minutes of the third period.
All together, the Blackhawks have given up just one power-play goal on 27 opportunities this season.
“If we happen to be going to the box every once in a while, we have a lot of confidence if the game is on the line we can get the job done,” Toews said of the penalty kill.
The Blackhawks’ power play has also turned itself around this season. It was shut out on two power-play chances Wednesday, but the Blackhawks are still among the league leaders with seven power-play goals.
Crawford’s play also stood out again on Wednesday. He allowed the first goal only after the Wild took three consecutive shots on him, and the second one was off a redirected shot. He was sharp otherwise and made one highlight-worthy save during the 5-on-3 penalty kill, during which he threw his body at a shot and the puck deflected off his shoulder.
If anything, the Blackhawks would like to score more often. They were held to two goals the past two games and haven’t scored more than three goals since their second game of the season.
The Blackhawks’ attention will quickly turn to facing the Vancouver Canucks on Friday. With five more road games ahead of them, the Blackhawks are aware their great start can be equalized with a rocky two weeks away from home.
“We’re on a long road trip now,” Toews said. “Can’t look too far ahead. We especially can’t get satisfied if we win a game or two.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good spot at the top of the standings after seven games. We got to make it even tougher for team to catch us, I guess.”