CHICAGO -- Despite a poor performance in the shootout, and a poorer performance on defense in a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, the Chicago Blackhawks continue to play good hockey in the early going of the season.
With a day off the ice on Sunday to reflect back on the week, it's hard to argue with a 2-0-1 mark with both wins coming on the road. Still, the freshest game in everyone's mind is the loss to the Avalanche on Saturday, and hopefully for the team's sake, their defensive woes were a one-game thing.
The record was good but the Hawks steadily played worse throughout the week. Their 60-minute effort in Phoenix was a thing of beauty. They made the Coyotes look like a minor league team chasing the Hawks for the puck.
But the victory in Colorado on Thursday was mostly what Quenneville likes to call "a goalie win" since Corey Crawford saved them early and late in that contest. They did play a great final 20 minutes and killed off a late power play attempt to steal the road win. Again, the Hawks played mostly well in the third period on Saturday but the first 40 minutes were ragged. And then came the fateful tying goal with under two minutes to play.
It's the second time in a week, in a close game, the argument could be made Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy didn't communicate well on a key play. Andrew Brunette contributed by wandering, instead of covering up the eventual goal scorer Gabriel Landeskog, but Keith and Leddy are paid to close out tight games. Brunette isn't winning any Selke trophys anytime soon, though from a technical hockey standpoint, the goal is definitely "on him." In any case, all three could have made a better play.
Despite a gaffe here and there, Leddy is coming on as a much more confident offensive oriented defender. His rush up-ice on Saturday, leading to a Jamal Mayers goal, was sharp. He's showing more and more of that in his game, which is exactly what the Hawks wanted when they promoted him to a top 4 role when Brian Campbell was traded. Quenneville continues to rave about the 20 year-old's game.
There's been much to-do about the Hawks' shootout woes in the early going but the sample size -- six attempts -- is simply too small to panic over. And if you didn't like Quenneville's choice of Viktor Stalberg on Saturday night then you don't know the statistics. Patrick Sharp was 1-for-7 last season in shootouts and 0-for-1 this year. Marian Hossa is 2-for-7 over the last two years. Why shouldn't Quenneville choose a player who was 2-for-2 last year and had just looked fantastic in a recent practice, scoring three times in a shootout drill? What's the drill for if not to find out who's improved in that department?
But all in all getting points in six consecutive games since an opening night loss is nothing to criticize. It's exactly what the Hawks didn't do last season. In fact, consider this: Last year the Hawks had just two stretches of earning at least one point in a game in six or more contests, and the first streak didn't come until mid-January. They already have one in the first two weeks of this season.
Third period breakdowns led to regulation losses last year and nothing in the standings. Even though losing the lead in the final 20 minutes will turn Quenneville's mustache even grayer, accumulating points is the name of the game. We know the Hawks will get their wins, sometimes as easy as Tuesday's victory in Phoenix -- they're that good. But get one point instead of none, or squeaking out two instead of one, will be the difference between waiting until the final day of the regular season to get in the playoffs and securing a spot much earlier.
With the way they are playing at 4-1-2, they're more likely to do the latter than the former.