1. Goaltending, goaltending, goaltending
Corey Crawford struggled in his sophomore season as an NHL starter, which is largely why the Hawks were bounced in the first round by Phoenix last postseason. But the Hawks felt he could bounce back and look like the 2010-11 version of Crawford who was outstanding. Well, they were right. Crawford has been dynamite this season and, when he's been injured, the Hawks haven't lost step with veteran backup Ray Emery, who also has been terrific. Both goalies are among the league leaders in goals-against average and save percentage, and they're a major reason why the Hawks win nearly every night.
The Hawks' 2010 Stanley Cup roster was stripped of its depth because of salary cap problems, with the club losing the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg, among others, the summer after their Cup victory. Add in the Brian Campbell trade a year later, which netted the Hawks valuable cap room, but I'd argue he was never replaced as a No. 3 blueliner, and you have a Hawks team that was too top-heavy in relying on its star players last season. But the late-season pickup of defenseman Johnny Oduya was brilliant. He's been extremely good and, really, filled that spot from Campbell on the second pairing. The offseason additions of Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival added another layer to the blue-line group. Nick Leddy's development has also been important. The Hawks can actually roll three defensive pairings with confidence this season and not play Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook every single shift. Up front, players such as Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger have developed into a more reliable and effective supporting cast underneath the stars. In other words, the Hawks have depth again.
3. Special teams
Brutal, that's what Chicago's special teams were last season. They were 26th on the power play and 27th on the penalty kill. The power play this season still isn't great, but it's improved to being middle of the pack in the league, while the penalty kill has been terrific, top five in the NHL. You can't go this long without a regulation loss without good special teams.
4. Patrick Kane
The Hawks' leading scorer is a new man this season after putting up a career-low 66 points last year, a second straight season his point production had decreased from the career-high 88 he put up in 2009-10. He's better focused and seems more committed this season. And he's been electrifying. Hart Trophy winner this season? Could be.
5. Stan Bowman didn't panic
The Blackhawks GM deserves more credit for not losing faith in his group last spring after losing in the first round to Phoenix. Two straight first-round losses in the playoffs since their Cup win can put a lot of pressure on a GM, and some guys in his shoes might have been tempted to shake up the roster. But Bowman believed in this group. He added Brookbank and Rozsival but otherwise stayed patient. What do they say about the best moves made sometimes are the ones you never made?